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Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 81–82 

Book Review

Bioethics: A Christian Approach in a Pluralistic Age

Scott B. Rae and Paul M. Cox. Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 1999. 336 pages.

Reviewed by George Dirks

Scott B. Rae and Paul M. Cox, professors at Talbot School of Theology, have joined minds to author the foundational volume in Eerdmans’ “Critical Issues in Bioethics” series. The stated goal of the authors is to provide “an assessment of various approaches to bioethics that are particularly influential today, and then develop a framework for a Christian approach in comparison with these approaches.”

The first of the book’s three sections reviews “Influential Approaches to Bioethics.” The first chapter, devoted to religious approaches, features William E. May and Richard A. McCormick as examples of Catholic thinking. Rae and Cox also review the writings of Protestant {82} bioethicists Paul Ramsey and James M. Gustafson. The chapter ends with brief discussions of Fred Rosner and Immanuel Jakobovits, Jewish writers. One strength of the book is that the authors offer a useful conclusion to each chapter. So at the end of chapter one they indicate that in developing their approach to bioethics, they take an eclectic approach to the ideas of the religious ethicists just mentioned.

The next chapter, limiting itself to Beauchamp/Childress and Engelhardt, reviews secular approaches to bioethics. Useful evaluations of the positions of these men are given. Engelhardt attempts “to construct a basis for bioethics in the midst of a postmodern culture and world” characterized by what he calls “a polytheism of perspectives.”

Section one with its review of religious and secular approaches to bioethics is more demanding reading than the rest of the book. In fact, the general reading public might find this section difficult and tedious.

In the book’s second (and main) section the authors present the “primary theological concepts” they believe should inform a Christian perspective on bioethics. They explore such concepts as the image of God, personhood, and the importance of death as a conquered enemy in ethical problem solving. In dealing with ethical problems related to the edges of life, Rae and Cox build a strong case for the “continuity of personal identity” “from the earliest stages of development” (conception) to death.

The final section of the book talks about “Employing a Christian Approach” to bioethics. Given the fact that Christians have been marginalized in the debate over bioethics, the authors suggest a way for maximizing the possibility of Christians being heard in the secular world. They see the challenge this way: “Doing bioethics in a secular society involves thorough grounding in the theological notions underlying bioethics, but articulating those positions in ways that are not solely dependent on one’s theology.”

In the final chapter Rae and Cox offer “A Model for Bioethical Decision Making.” In it they present seven directives for informed decision making. But as they say, there are no easy or painless solutions to ethical dilemmas.

For those new to the field of bioethics, this book may be a bit of a “baptism by fire.” The authors have provided an informed introduction to a tangle of complex issues centering on life’s beginning and end.

George Dirks
Instructor in Old Testament, Director of Learning Resources
Bethany Bible Institute, Hepburn, Saskatchewan

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