Human Dignity

The Christian Hippocratic Tradition in Medicine

To some people it may seem anachronistic that the aim of Ethics & Medicine is to ‘reassert the Hippocratic consensus in medicine as seen through the lens of the Judeo-Christian tradition.’ What is Hippocratic medicine?
Podcast Episode: 
150

Sanctifying Life in the Early Church

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Evidence from both Christian and pagan sources reveals that the pre-Constantinian Christian churches practiced a broad and holistic sanctity-of-life ethic. A review of the documents can only deepen our confidence that a sanctity-of-life ethic is neither a modern nor merely a political innovation but instead goes back to the very origins of our tradition. But the very comprehensive nature of that ethic challenges our truncated contemporary versions, in which conservatives tend to pick out birth and end-of-life concerns and liberals focus on issues like hunger, war, and racism.

Podcast Episode: 
139

When I Was Hungry, You Gave Me to Eat: The Dignity of Hand Feeding in Persons with Dementia

Preserving the dignity of those who inhabit Nursing Homes at the end of life—individuals frequently bearing the concurrent burden of dementia— is a critical feature of cultures that embrace compassion. In the United States, such persons comprise a demographic estimated at five million. One demanding aspect of care in this population is feeding. The ethical dilemma resides in the choice between hand feeding by staff or family versus feeding tubes. Hand feeding is adopted when it is comfortable and safe, that is, unaccompanied by aspiration; and although human intimacy integral to hand feeding would be preferable, feeding tubes have become de rigueur in contemporary medical practice. As Kenneth Ludmerer poignantly asked, might the efficiency in time and effort derived from feeding tubes, as well as their reimbursement as medical procedures, be the dynamic driving choice in this context?[1] Recent publications are noteworthy in this regard.

Podcast Episode: 
145

The New Testament and the Sanctity of Life

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After much delay, I return to the long-promised summary essays drawn from my slowly developing work on the sanctity of life (forthcoming from Eerdmans). Prior essays offered an overview of what I mean by the sanctity of life and what the Old Testament contributes to an understanding of life’s sanctity.

Podcast Episode: 
114

How Much Brain Do I Need To Be Human?

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Some time ago on a hospital ethics committee consult, the patient was an anencephalic child, born in the hospital’s NICU. The physician had brought the case to the committee and held the view that no symptoms should be treated aggressively. One of the ICU nurses who was caring for this child was surprised that this case came to the ethics committee at all. In the course of the meeting on this case, she stated her view when she said, “She’s not a person; let her die.” Though the discussion did not go in the direction of organ donation prior to death, if the issue had been raised, this nurse would likely not have had a problem with that either.

Podcast Episode: 
113

Medicine's Public Enemy Number One: Prevailing Attitudes towards the Least of Those with Down Syndrome

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Recently, I undertook a comprehensive review of Obstetrics and paused to reflect upon the dramatic changes wrought for practice during the intervening interval. The time elapsed represents slightly more than a single generation. Nonetheless, I am left anxious for those persons who will yet inherit Down syndrome. They are indeed endangered, but still full members of humanity.

Podcast Episode: 
110

The Old Testament and the Sanctity of Life

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I have long promised to offer on this website glimpses into my new book on the sanctity of life, which will be published in the Eerdmans/CBHD “Critical Issues in Bioethics” series. I am happy to finally begin delivering on that promise.

In an earlier column I offered my working definition of the sanctity of human life. It is worth repeating here. I keep it in front of me as a plumb line as I write this book each day:

Podcast Episode: 
87

Discount Babies, Discounting Dignity

Violations against human dignity, sadly, abound in many of forms. The problem of mass labor exploitation is one that has not gone unnoticed, yet it seems little progress is being made to correct this wrong. Adults and children in all parts of the world are victims of societies that have elevated economic prosperity over human dignity. Poor working conditions, long hours, and low wages are just the tip of the iceberg. A recent set of allegations reported by ABC News confirms what we already knew.

Podcast Episode: 
76

The Sanctity of Life: Rethinking Eternal Truths in a New Political Era

This past weekend a passionate but relatively small percentage of Americans marked "Sanctity of Life Sunday" and lament the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion on demand. Understood as a single-issue movement focused on abortion, or perhaps a bioethics movement focused on abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell destruction, the "sanctity of life" cause is not exactly flourishing in election-year America, circa 2008.

Podcast Episode: 
75

Can Technology Change Human Nature?

Groups like the World Transhumanist Association hope that we will soon be able to change human nature and become posthuman. Recent advances in the neurosciences and biotechnology have fueled these hopes. Christians rightly recoil from attempts to change human nature because we recognize the fundamental importance of being created in the image of God. David B. Fletcher has pointed out that certain of these technological advances would alter the moral standing of “engineered” individuals, because they “would no longer straightforwardly be persons, but would in fact be in important respects, things.”[1] This line of reasoning is consistent with a long philosophical tradition that holds that the mind is the sine qua non of personhood and that it is personhood that grants one membership to the moral community.

Podcast Episode: 
63

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