Monday 10 September 2012

Living and Dying Ethically

Photo courtesy of wiki commons
Frequently there are news items that challenge me and bring up various questions. It was little wonder therefore, that this weeks news regarding the expansion in distribution in the RU486 tablet ( which is prescribed to terminate early stage pregnancies) gave me pause for thought (SMH and Australian).

The debate surrounding the use of this medication, is a sensitive one, and has been bubbling away since around 2006 when the drug was first given a very limited release  in Australia. The 'Therapeutic Goods Administration' (TGA) recently decided to allow a wider use of the drug. This will no doubt see the discussion heat up again. This post will not cover the issue of abortion directly, I write though, as I have found a recent read through of  Case #17 entitled  "Living And Dying Ethically" quite timely as I think through many of the issues that arise from these recent news articles.

All the articles of  Case #17 were useful in light of  the current debate, and well worth a read. Megan Best's article entitled "Embryo Liberation" is very insightful. While it isn't about abortion, it examines the ethics surrounding the use of embryos for research, (after they have been discarded as potential IVF embryos). The article investigates the question of when life begins, exploring first the basic biology of conception. Best concludes that fertilization,

"… is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte (egg). The embryo, from the time it is created, is a unified, unique, dynamic, self directed whole, not just a collection of cells."

Megan Best explains that secular views concerning the issues surrounding the embryo debate come down to a matter of person-hood. She contends that human personhood is not merely a matter of biological conception. Secularists see personhood as demonstrated through such things as self awareness, a rational nature and the ability to exercise this nature. The question of personhood is also overridden by many in the debate, as they consider consequentialism (ie in short, the end justifies the means approach).

Our community has decided that, while the destruction of developing humans may been seen to be regrettable, the potential consequences of their destruction—medical cures through embryonic stem cell research, improved IVF, freedom to women through availability of some contraceptives and abortion—justify the use.

Finally Dr Best concludes her thesis with an investigation  into the biblical view surrounding the debate. In essence she states there is is no doubt that the Bible indicates that we have a relationship with God that originates in the womb, supporting her conclusion with various biblical references.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

As stated in the introduction of this post, the issues involved in the RU486 debate are challenging, emotive, and understandably we often wish to avoid the discussion altogether. However I would recommend a re-reading of Dr Megan Best's excellent article, as it clearly defines many of the views and history of the issues surrounding the debate. Increasing our understanding of all the relevant information and becoming more familar with all the facets of the discussion, will ensure we may better be informed, and be able to constructively contribute to future conversations regarding this most difficult topic.

The main article I reference in this post is available as free download from the CASE Website. CASE Associates receive Case magazine 4 times per year as part of their benefits. For blog followers who are yet to be CASE Associates you can sign up HERE or order a single copy HERE.

Edwina Hine (New College and CASE)

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