Book Review: Christian Bioethics by C. Ben Mitchell & D. Joy Riley
Publisher: B&H Academics
Reading Level: Moderate
Karl Barth once said, “theology is ethics.” If Barth was correct, this symmetry would explain why a general understanding of ethics requires a thorough understanding of theology. And to lack a theological framework is to be stuck with makeshift ethics. B&H Academics is rectifying this situation in its “Studies in Christian Ethics” series by expanding the theological and ethical knowledge of Christians. The volume by C. Ben Mitchell and D. Joy Riley, both with degrees in medical ethics, Christian Bioethics then is properly subtitled “A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Professionals, and Families.”
The format of Christian Bioethics is not immediately appealing. Written as a type of discussion between Mitchell (“philosopher-theologian”) and Riley (“physician”), each chapter works its way through a topic in straightforward question and answer manner. This approach distracts from the information-laden material. The authors should have co-wrote with a singular direct voice addressing the reader instead of each other. However distracting this is, Christian Bioethics is still written expressly to communicate terminology, information, and ultimately conclusions. Both authors stress the importance of patients knowing more about medical situations and their subsequent ethics (34-42). This is true as well for pastors/theologians seeking to interpret the Scriptures correctly to guide their understanding of these situations (28-32).
The content of Christian Bioethics is comprised of three major categories, “taking life” (chapters 3-4), “making life” (chapters 5-7), and “remaking/faking life” (chapter 8). The chapters dealing with “taking life” are the least useful ethically. Though the information provided on brain death and the distinction between “pain” and “suffering” (75-86) are valuable, both authors seem to skirt the issue of addressing specific questions, situations, and ethical dilemmas. A hint for why this is the case might be found at the start of the second section. After stating that death related questions are “still important questions” (109), Mitchell proceeds to emphasis that the bigger ethical questions on the horizon are related to “making life.” Subsequently, it is in these chapters that Christian Bioethics takes its firmest stance on ethical and unethical behavior as it pertains to infertility, assisted reproductive technology, and embryonic research. Pastors and families will benefit greatly from the information and ethical discussion found in these chapters.
In the concluding chapters, Mitchell and Riley provide an interesting discussion of transhumanism (chapter 8) and a general conclusion. Once again, the information element of Christian Bioethics is on point. However, the theological reflection, though correct, is minimal and only tacked on at the end as a type of evaluation of transhumanism’s shortcomings.
In conclusion, Christian Bioethics excels in providing information to pastors and laymen. Though it does so in a strange format, with inconsistent emphasis on practical ethics and theology, Mitchell and Riley provide a valuable entry to Christian thought in these difficult realms. Individuals seeking more theological reflection or discernible answers to specific questions will be best served looking for a deeper, more thorough work.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.