Today on the Academic blog I interview Dr. Joy Riley, coauthor with C. Ben Mitchell of the new book Christian Bioethics: A Guide for Pastors, Health Care Workers, and Families. Dr. Riley shares her insights on the book and current ethical issues in medicine that impact our daily lives.
B&H: Please tell us a little about your background and current roles—and one thing most people don’t know about you.
Joy Riley: I am the executive director of a non-profit educational corporation, The Tennessee Center for Bioethics & Culture. In that capacity, I speak and write about bioethics topics, like medical ethics, including the Hippocratic Oath, organ transplantation, end-of-life, and some genetics issues; reproductive technologies; stem cell research; and cloning, among others. I serve on the ethics committee of one hospital in the Nashville area, and function as an ethics consultant for another.
Most people do not know that I grew up in a log cabin. There is a reason for that. When my eldest son was in kindergarten, he asked me if I knew Abraham Lincoln. My reply was, “Not personally.”
B&H: Christian Bioethics is written in the form of a dialogue between you and Dr. Ben Mitchell, which is a bit unusual for a book on this topic. Why did you decide on this format?
Joy Riley: Dr. Mitchell has been an important mentor for me, but our vocabularies are very different. When we came to this project, we discussed how to meld our voices. It was his suggestion to make it a dialogue. I think it gives the reader a more authentic experience to hear the different ways one can come to these topics.
B&H: In your experience, what are the three most common bioethical issues that the average American encounters?
Joy Riley: The pervasive results of the sad transformation of medical care from the Hippocratic ideal to the consumer model; end-of-life issues; and infertility/reproductive technologies are three common areas which affect the “average American.”
B&H: How can pastors become better equipped to help their members handle these issues?
Joy Riley: Pastors are uniquely equipped to teach their congregations about the sanctity of human life, and the message of the Imago Dei is essential to communicate. Increasingly, issues are argued from an incorrect and incomplete definition of compassion. A correction is needed. Pastors and congregants alike would find reading Dr. Mitchell’s and my book a good place to begin.
B&H: Some evangelical commentators have pointed to a shift in opinion on the issue of abortion in the US toward a more pro-life position. Do you agree that this is a trend? If so, have evangelicals helped bring it about, in your view?
Joy Riley: I recently watched the recorded newscasts of the major networks from 22 January 1973, the date of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. The televised responses to those decisions included ones by Alan Guttmacher and at least two Catholic Church leaders. The Catholic Church carried the weight of the pro-life position for a substantial time before they were joined by large numbers of evangelicals. It appears that the evangelical response is continuing to build, and that is a very good thing.
The faces of those involved in the Washington, D.C., March for Life, held on 22 January each year, seem to be trending significantly toward younger ones. That is also good. When people can truthfully face the reality of what abortion is, and its myriad destructive effects, their attitudes toward abortion change. A physician friend of mine recounted his experience. He said that on the morning of one day, he was “pro-choice.” As he turned over and over the procedure of abortion in his mind, though, that changed. He came to realize that abortion causes the death of a unique human being. At the end of that day, he could no longer countenance abortion. It is the truth that changes us; inasmuch as Christians continue to live and proclaim that truth, a further shift will occur.
B&H: What do you see as new or emerging bioethical challenges in the next 10 to 15 years?
Joy Riley: The question of “What does it mean to be human?” is one that will continue to confront us. Whether that concerns the melding of human with machine, or how we treat persons who are different from us, I think this is the telling question. The question is not original with me, but it is extremely important. Another area of concern is how we treat others who have something we need, like sperm or eggs, a kidney, a liver, etc. To what lengths are we willing to go to procure something we need or want? Where are the boundaries?
B&H: What are the resources that Christianity can provide to meet those challenges?
Joy Riley: When the plague stalked Europe, many Christians ran–not away, but toward, the plague. We have a similar opportunity today. We can prepare ourselves to run toward these challenges, loving our neighbors as ourselves along the way. Judaism and Christianity teach that we as humans are made in the image of God. Christianity uniquely provides the hope of persons made anew in Christ. Building on that, we need to educate ourselves about the issues. This book provides a place to begin.
Download a sample chapter here.