Vergil puts these words into the mouth of the Trojan hero
Aeneas when he was shipwrecked in a country he feared was populated
with barbarians, in which case he would have been able to establish
no common bond: "These men know the pathos of life, and mortal
things touch their hearts." It is always comforting to know
that we live in the midst of people with human feeling for others,
that we are not surrounded by callous, uncaring, unprincipled
beasts. To live otherwise, to exist among folk with no moral
sense and no belief in the authority of a higher power not only is
intolerable, it is down-right dangerous. One cannot survive
long in such an arid spiritual environment.
 Anyone who has not been in a coma for the last thirty years
may wonder if Aeneas' judgment about American society would be so
generous. That the Terry Schiavo case would result in such
"red state, blue state" fragmentation over whether a helpless woman
should be starved to death, a debate carried out bitterly even
within the Churches, indicates something is not right with the
moral patrimony of the nation. And, when denominational
leaders sound so certain about the "Christian alignment" of the
national budget, but obviously lack any overt prophetic passion for
the 1.1 million deaths of innocents by abortion, that just might be
a sign that something is terribly lacking in the moral perspicacity
of American Church leaders. By any light, American society is
in urgent need of a moral compass.
 Morality gives us the rules by which we live with
others. It is the code, spoken or tacit, governing how we
behave in our relationships with others, or at least how we wish we
would behave under life's many challenges and temptations.
Moral strictures limit what we do. That is their essential
function. And they provide the basis for our thinking and
judging about the worthiness our own and others' actions.
 No sane person, no matter how base, is devoid of all sense
of right and wrong. No culture provides a unique moral system
completely alien to that of other civilizations. C. S. Lewis
spoke of the "Tao", or universal moral compass, that is shared by
all human civilizations - including those deemed "barbaric".
Even Nietzsche, who denied the existence of a universal moral law
valid for all times, had to admit: "A tablet of virtues hangs over
every people." This tablet is morality. And it is part
of the fabric of human existence.
 For the soul immersed in the biblical view of morality,
"right and wrong" are not subjective judgments arrived at by
autonomous, self-guided individuals, but are part of a standard
grounded in the eternal law of God. This law is, as the
psalmist says, "a lamp unto our feet" (Ps. 119: 105). Its
sanctity consists in its ability to guide us to God Himself (Ps.
43:3), even if it cannot make us right with Him. The Bible
speaks of such a divine morality as a thing we ought to delight in,
something that, under ideal conditions, could serve as our
counselor in times of perplexity and confusion. From the
biblical perspective, morality is given by God and is intended to
lead its devotees to perfect wisdom (Prov. 2: 6,7).
 By and large, Lutherans are not at home with this view of
morality and divine law. Because we understand the
theological use of the law as a mirror that reveals our spiritual
warts and drives us to Christ, we tend to be cautious about
ascribing a positive function to moral codes. Further, as
clergy more influenced by a Barthian than a Lutheran view of law,
we get seduced into an antinomian stance toward morality. Add
to that the tendency of seminaries and students to dismiss theology
as a serious "science" of life, and it is no mystery that
Lutheranism, like Protestantism, has fallen into deep confusion
over some of the gravest moral questions of our time.
 That is what makes so urgent this book written nine years
ago by one of Lutheranism's premier ethicists. Gilbert
Meilaender is one of Lutheranism's brightest lights in the field of
bioethics. He is the Phyllis and Richard Duesenberg Professor
of Christian Ethics at Valparaiso University in Indiana and a
member of the President's Council on Bioethics. In this book,
he provides Lutheran clergy and laity with a most welcome challenge
to the pervading secularist outlook of our day, and offers concrete
guidance on many of the perplexing ethical challenges arising from
the recent explosion of technological innovations in scientific
medicine. This small book is chock full of wisdom for the
modern soul. And it is solidly grounded in a Christian
perspective on life.
 The book's starting-point is stated up front: this is a book
written by a Christian for those who share Christian belief.
Others are welcomed to listen in, but no apology is rendered for
speaking of public issues from the creedal stance of Christian
faith. Meilaender acknowledges that much public argumentation
on medical ethics is based upon a minimalist, lowest common
denominator ethic. He has no intention of following this
approach. Rather, he writes for those who see in the God of
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the same Lord who was incarnate in Jesus
of Nazareth. His purpose is to say what followers of Christ
ought to think about public issues, if they are to remain true to
the faith they hold. Many of the problems he deals with are
new - the result of lightning fast technological advances in
science - but the wisdom he seeks to bring to them comes out of a
tradition that extends over the millennia.
 The book is remarkably "user friendly". A preacher
looking for insight into the major themes challenging faith from
the arena of scientific innovation has, in this book, solid
guidance for her ruminating. A classroom teacher,
leading a study of medical ethics, has here a quality text for
students. And the pastor searching for sound reasoning among
the clamor of contemporary voices confronting his parishioners, has
a resource of much depth and thoughtfulness.
 Chapter One uncovers the "background beliefs" underlying
any thoughtful Christian critique of the cultural assumptions of
our day. They can be quickly summarized:
a. Whenever speaking of the "individual", the Christian cannot
have in mind someone fully autonomous. We neither receive our
dignity from our parents' conferring it upon us, nor do we create
it ourselves; it is inherent from our being in communion with
God. This view makes imperative our protecting the dignity of
every person, no matter how weak or imperfect.
b. There is a created duality to human nature: we are both
finite and free. Thus we are limited by our creatureliness -
we will never be "gods", regardless of how technologically clever
we become. But we are blessed with a "freedom", a capacity
for self-transcendence that impels research into the frontiers of
human knowing. Kept in balance, this means we can stretch
toward the skies in the field of science, but that doesn't mean we
should always follow every impulse to tinker with our
humanity. "Ought" is a limiting concept for those who hold to
the Christian faith.
c. The present-day enthrallment to the concept of "personhood" -
based upon the capacity to fulfill certain criteria - is
unacceptable from a Christian standpoint. Believers see
dependence as an essential ingredient of our humanity, not as
something disqualifying us from the human family. Attempting
to fathom the human mystery by inventing artificial criteria for
what constitutes a fully human person is shallow and demeaning, in
the view of faith.
d. Suffering is an evil. But it is not the greatest
evil. Suffering ought to be addressed by the Christian.
But it should never be the Christian's goal to arrogate himself to
the mission of eliminating all suffering. Our task is to try
to care for those who suffer; but we should never assume that we
can erase suffering from the human scene in this life.
e. Lastly, we can always wish that a particular illness will be
cured in us. But we must not think that medicine can ever
bring us wholeness. That is God's purview.
 With these principles firmly fixed, Meilaender proceeds to
deal with the pressing medical\scientific issues of our day.
And he does it with intelligence, sensitivity and brevity.
This book truly qualifies as a primer: it is the book that provides
a foundation for pastors wanting to think through the medical
muddles of our day from the stand-point of Christian belief.
 Ten of the chapters are centered on the key bioethical
issues of our time: procreation (a warning against
the 'I want a child at any cost' trap;) abortion
(I was impatient with his careful, rational, low-key approach to
this vital issue; but am forced to admit the power of his
persuasion;) genetic engineering (an important
distinction between somatic and germ cell therapies;)
prenatal screening (a warning against "quality
control";) suicide and euthanasia (with the
attendant issues of autonomy and suffering;) refusal of
treatment (a sterling discussion of the difference between
aim and result;) who decides to end treatment
(including a great question to ask before leaping to 'death as a
solution';) organ donation (a caveat against "a
noble form of cannibalism";) human experimentation
(a reminder that the march of progress of human history is not
itself redemptive;) and the use of embryos
for research (the Christian way of life involves renunciation when
the alternative is sacrifice of character.)
 Three key insights are hidden within this book's pages,
ideas not outlined in chapter one, nor given extended treatment,
but all of which are central to a truly Christian approach to
science and technology in the realm of health and wholeness.
First is the importance of using words with integrity. When
arguing for one side in a heated debate on questions of public
import, it is way too tempting to slant the argument by verbal
sleight of hand, and dishonesty. This is especially true in
the abortion debate where "choice" is made to sound noble, and a
human in the fetal stage of development is spoken of as a blob of
tissue. But it also applies when describing a comatose person
as a "vegetable", or as "on life support" when the person relies
only on a feeding tube. Meilaender reminds us of the power of
words to either enlighten or poison a discussion, and of the stakes
involved when we intentionally or carelessly misrepresent the
 In chapter ten, we are confronted with the reality of the
different goals of scientific medicine and clinical medicine.
Most patients want to be treated for their ailments, not used as
scientific objects for the benefit of research. It is vital
that we not allow medicine to be transformed from "giving care" to
sufferers, into "using suffering" to advance the exciting frontiers
of scientific knowledge. The myth of Prometheus alerts us to
the ambivalent blessing that science can be. It would be a
horrid society in which care of persons took a back seat to
 Lastly, permeating this book is a most wholesome Lutheran
'blik' on society and the human creature. Its essence is an
anti-utopian, anti-grandiose estimate of humanity and its
achievements that harkens back to Paul, Augustine and Luther.
This Lutheran emphasis refuses to be carried away with Arcadian
visions of a 'new humanity' engineered by scientific and
technological creativity. Meilaender consistently resists all
such allurements, and repeatedly asks us to reign in idealistic
fantasies in favor of a world of limited possibilities and
 If there is any flaw in the book, it is the lack of a
general discussion of philosophical ethics. It would be
welcome to have Meilaender's "take" on cultural relativism and the
current fad of considering all moral judgments subjective.
But this is nit-picking to the 'n'th degree. Truthfully, I
was unable to find some way in which this book failed to fulfill
its stated aim.
 There is not a chapter in this small book that fails to
inform and enlighten. There is hardly a superfluous sentence
in the entire volume. This book (along with Robert Benne's
The Paradoxical Vision, Carl Braaten's No Other
Gospel, and Braaten and Jenson's Christian
Dogmatics), ought to be required reading for any seminarian
seeking ordination in the Lutheran Church.
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 5, Issue 11