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Bio Engagement: Making a Christian Difference through Bioethics Today
  1. N Fennemore

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    Edited by N M de S Cameron, S E Daniels, B J White. William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2000, £14.99, pp 265 + xiii. ISBN 0-8028-4793-5

    This book is concerned with advocating a pro-life stance rather than with detailed discussions of the medical ethics of biotechnology. The essays are written from the particular Christian perspective of conservative evangelicanism and the writers are committed to the verbal inspiration of scripture. It is a book which will be of interest to a certain section of the Christian church. One constraint with this approach is the sense of the discussion taking place “in house”, calling Christians of like mind to defend a pro-life stance on health care. Occasionally writers with contrasting points of view are mentioned but there is no sustained discussion of their arguments. The pervasive advocacy of the pro-life view only occasionally yields to a recognition of the complexity of the issues and the general, unacademic, level of the discussions does not provide any detailed argument and support for the ethical presupposition of the book, which is simply assumed.

    This is a work that takes its cue from the idea of “engagement”; the wide ranging discussions of biology and biotechnology currently taking place are not covered, rather the focus is on abortion, and to a lesser extent, euthanasia. Several essays show how Christians holding pro-life views can best make their position known, how to defend their view in encounters with the media and what to do when moral perplexities are presented in clinical practice or training. Case studies are used to support the overall programme of the book and are not subject to the analysis which might have been expected.

    More technical, ethical discussion occurs in the section Law and public policy, where there is an awareness of the complexity of the issues relating to the use of unfertilised eggs which might later be fertilised. And in Casey's essay, How the law will shape our life and death decisions: the case of the human embryo, there is detailed discussion of various important court cases in the United States. But here again the argument seems to presuppose too much to make his case convincing no matter how interesting the hints towards ethical solutions might be. In keeping with the theme “making a difference”, Casey concludes his paper with a proposal for legislation. There is an interesting criticism in this section of the liberal outlook, namely that liberalism ends in its response to those who object to liberalism.

    Overall then there is a paucity of technical discussion of medical ethics in this book. Even the practical discussions are couched in the manner of advocacy rather than analysis. The particular Christian perspective does not seem likely to make the book useful from the point of view of developing discussion even among Christian ethicists. Christian medical practitioners who share the outlook of the authors will be encouraged to advance their views in the present climate of opinion, where decisive battles are won by political lobbying. But even some who are sympathetic to the stance of this book, including this reviewer, will demand more sustained argument and sophisticated presentation of their view.

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