Suffering, Bioethics, and the Gospel

In the past, I’ve noted that Gilbert Meilaender (a Lutheran theologian and bioethicist) has written some helpful essays and books on bioethics.  Specifically worth noting is the third edition of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians.  In the opening chapter, he says the following about suffering.

“Suffering is not a good thing, not something one ought to seek for oneself or others.  But it is an evil out of which the God revealed in the crucified and risen Jesus can bring good.  We must therefore always be of two minds about it.  We should try to care for those who suffer, but we should not imagine that suffering can be eliminated from human life or that it can have no point or purpose in our life.  Nor should we suppose that suffering must be eliminated by any means that is available to us, for a good end does not justify any and all means.”

“Unless we are thus of two minds, understanding suffering as an evil which can, nonetheless, have meaning and purpose, medicine is likely to go awry.  It seeks health – but not Health.  The doctor is a caregiver, but not, we must remind ourselves, a savior.  Ultimately, all of medicine is no more than the attempt to provide care for suffering human beings.  That care, however, cannot by itself offer the Health and Wholeness we ultimately need and desire.  If we respect the  moral limits that ought to bind us, we will not always be able to give people what they desire.  We may not be able to give the infertile couple a child, the elderly man an old age free of dependence, the young woman freedom from the child she has conceived, parents the healthy and ‘normal’ child they wanted, the terminally ill patient a painless death.  But we can and should assure them that the story of Jesus is true – that the negative and destructive powers of the universe are not the ultimate powers whom we worship” (p. 7).

If you don’t have this book, and are looking for a solid Augustinian and Christian perspective on bioethics, you’ll want this one: Bioethics: A Primer for Christians.

shane lems
hammond, wi

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