Gilbert MEILAENDER, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians, 3rd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co., 2013. pp 146. $16.00. ISBN: 9780802867704. Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026
This third edition of Meilaender’s primer on Christian bioethics updates the information contained in his previous two editions. As a primer, it is a well-written introductory text for any non-specialist who is venturing into the unfamiliar realm of contemporary medical and scientific advances, and provides a basic Christian orientation and responses to the major ethical questions resulting from such advances over the past half century.
In his second edition (2005), Meilaender had updated the original text concerning three topics of ongoing ethical debate: with regard to abortion, the embryological evidence against “twinning” as the point of new human existence; with regard to organ donation, the unfinished neurological debates concerning the precise definition of brain death; and with regard to embryonic research, the destruction of viable embryos and even the looming possibility of cloning embryos solely for research purposes (also with eventual destruction of those embryos). Medical advances and resulting ethical debates on these three particular topics had necessitated some significant modifications after only nine years since the publication of his first edition (1996).
With this third edition (January 2013), Meilaender has further refined the overall text of his primer and has now included an expanded discussion on the increasing social concern to protect the Christian conscience in the practice of contemporary medicine; he asks his audience exactly who should have the ultimate authority to make these medical decisions. In his Introduction, the author contends that the Scriptures shape a vision of concerns “for what we Christians ought to say in order to be faithful to the truth that has claimed us in Jesus.” He then articulates his overall Christian vision and how that vision should inform the ethical concerns surrounding procreation versus reproduction; procured abortion; genetic advances; prenatal screening; suicide and euthanasia; refusal of medical treatment; organ donations; human experimentation; embryonic research subjects, etc. His reasoning is clear, straightforward and very down to earth.
Overall, this is a very readable primer that would be suitable for upper level undergraduate and graduate bioethics courses. With its uniquely generous and ecumenically balanced approach, this text could be easily combined with a pertinent cross section of official ecclesial documents from any particular church/denomination to work well in any Catholic or Christian university, college or seminary environment.