Christian ethics, like Christian theology, is a human
enterprise. It is a human enterprise that engages in critical
reflection on moral life. One of the tasks of Christian
ethics is to uncover the principles, norms, and values that should
and really do inform Christian communities in their struggle to
answer the ethical question: what ought we (I) do in particular
 Like most religions, Christianity has a text. The Bible
reveals God's intentions and desires of and for the human race,
provides insights and commands for a moral life that is faithful to
God. While Christians are free to employ other sources for
making ethical decisions and to seek guidance for the moral life,
The Bible is the central text that shapes and forms the followers
of Jesus Christ. The locus of Christian ethics, then, begins
with the story of God's magnificent grace which entered and
continues to enter multiple cultures in which humankind "live[s],
and move[s], and have [their] being" (Acts 17: 28).
 However, in these contemporary times, the manifestation of
God's grace in and among multiple cultures raises some
questions. Is it possible to have universal principles,
norms, and values which serve as foundations for responsible
decision-making? Does honoring, respecting, understanding,
and engaging the many voices emerging from multiple cultures
contribute to ethical and moral ambiguity and relativism?
What is right and what is wrong? One of the implications of
these questions is that it appears there may be conflicting
perspectives on Christian ethics.
 In regard to this "problem" of the plurality of Christian
voices, it may be helpful to identify some of the various
approaches theological ethicists employ in the discipline of
ethics. One approach would be the more secular or
philosophical understanding of ethics (e.g., Alasdair
MacIntyre). A second approach would be, theological in
nature, as expressed, for example, by Reinhold Niebuhr and his
realistic approach to the intersection of faith and politics.
A third approach, liberation ethics as exemplified by the works of
African American women and men or feminists, focuses on the
"underside," the poor in society and what they think about ethics
and morality. A fourth approach is a more traditional
perspective that engages key doctrines and their implications for
ethics and morality. Robert Benne exemplifies this
perspective. Each of these perspectives provides a framework
from which members of the various Christian communities can answer
the question: what ought we (I) to do in particular situations?
 Bioethics: A Primer for Christians is a book that
seeks to provide a distinctively Christian perspective.
Representing, in my opinion, the fourth perspective with some
leanings toward the second perspective, Dr. Gilbert C. Meilaender,
Jr., a theological ethicist serves as a member of the faculty of
Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is also one
of the distinguished members of the President's Council on
Bioethics. The author's social location (a Midwestern
university with Lutheran foundations) and service (membership on a
presidential council) contributes to his writing a book that is,
indeed, a primer that can be easily read by laity, clergy, and
students at the college and seminary level. His purpose,
then, is to write Christian ethics directed to the Christian
community about "bioethics." People outside the Christian
community are welcomed to listen to the conversation.
 Bioethics is organized around what should or ought
a Christian think and do about issues like procreation and
reproduction, abortion, genetics, prenatal screening, suicide and
euthanasia, refusing medical treatment, who decides about medical
treatment, organ donation, and human experimentation. Several
chapters have been rewritten and the argument, Meilaender says, has
been clarified in another chapter. A new chapter appears on a
topic currently occupying public debate, research on embryos.
In my opinion, that makes this new edition worth reading.
 While I may have already suggested the problem of the book,
let me state it clearly. The fundamental problem
Bioethics seeks to address is the minimalist rights
language embedded in so much of bioethics. Said differently,
since citizens of the United States of America live in a
participatory democracy with pluralism of all kinds, in order to
maintain a "civil" society one must adopt a least common
denominator approach in order to secure consensus of the population
about guiding principles one can employ in making biomedical
decisions. Meilaender, and here I would agree with him,
believes that Christians have a different language and vision to
offer in the public debate on bioethical matters.
 Bioethics begins with "a Christian vision."
The author identifies various elements which constitute that
vision. The first, baptism, grounds what a Christian should
think and do relative to bioethics. God acts by naming and
claiming individuals, in baptism. However, this naming and
claiming connects individuals in "community with God", with other
individuals named and claimed by God through baptism.
 The second element is what constitutes a human being,
finitude and freedom. Individuals are finite because we exist
in "time and space." Individuals have a body and
history. Individuals are free; that is, we have the capacity
to "transcend the limits of nature and history" (4). This
dual nature of individuals leads to Meilaender's ethical position:
given that a person is both finite and free, a Christian ethic
related to scientific medicine and progress must "be prepared to
say no to some exercises of human freedom" (4-5). A
continuing phrase throughout the text is that one can exercise his
or her freedom, but "within certain limits."
 The third element of Meilaender's Christian vision is
"person and body." The primary thrust of this discussion is
how we define a person. Meilaender's take is that personhood
is not something achieved at a certain point. Personhood
happens throughout our journey of life. There is a beginning,
our journey, and an ending. A person is a person because they
have a history. However, there will be times when individuals
may not have "certain empowering cognitive capacities."
Persons lacking those capacities are non-human; they are "the
weakest and most needy" (6).
 The fourth element is suffering. Our author suggests
that Christians ought to be of two minds. On the one hand, we
should care for those who suffer. On the other hand, we
should not believe suffering will be eliminated or serves no
purpose. These two minds are grounded in a belief that God in
Jesus Christ, our resurrected Lord, can bring some good out of
suffering. Thus, as Christians we will not always be able to
provide people what they want or desire relative to health.
Ultimately, suffering is not victorious because Christians have a
different language and vision of what constitutes life.
 The final element of Meilaender's Christian vision is
"disease and healing." Here we encounter Meilaender's second
use of a biblical reference. Employing 2 Chronicles chapters
14-16, Meilaender argues that the story of King Asa raises the
question of how we secure ourselves in the world. In stark
clarity to the human impulse toward immediacy in everything,
especially medical care, security tests whether we trust God.
Here Meilaender concludes that doctors are not saviors and 'health'
is not 'Health." Therefore, one does not have to fear
approaching medical science because we can trust that God cares for
us through doctors and others.
 This ethic Meilaender applies consistently throughout
Bioethics. In the remainder of the review I want to
focus on the new chapter dealing with research with embryos.
Following that I will conclude with some constructive remarks.
 The problem of stem cell research continues to occupy
public debate. Stem cell research remains in the public eye
because it touches on a group of intimate issues. Among these
are abortion, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, heart disease,
and diabetes. Stem cell research also tugs at our spirit
because of the potential it has for regenerative medicine. At
a more deeper level, and here one can hardly disagree with
Meilaender, stem cell research pushes the Christian community to
become clearer about its beliefs.
 Meilaender, as he does throughout Bioethics
applies the Christian ethic he believes is a proper one. That
is, if one concludes that the distinctive calling of medicine is to
heal, that does not mean the "mission should proceed without any
limits" (111). Saying no is appropriate, especially since the
human has the capacity to transcend; that is develop more creative
therapies to illness.
 Meilaender does us a great favor, I think, by including two
of history's well known examples of research ethics gone bad, the
Tuskegee syphilis and the Nazi concentration camp debacles.
Meilaender suggests that these two examples illustrate the "nothing
is lost position," especially in the context of what to do with
'spare' embryos. Since these embryos are going to die anyway,
why not use them for the good that may emerge from their
death? Here the author wonders about the application of this
argument for research on embryos.
 I couldn't agree more with Meilaender on this point.
Christians of good will ought to be concerned about a "nothing is
lost" position. Not only must Christians be concerned about
the argument, Christians ought to be concerned about the ethos
which supports this type of thinking. What is it about the
human spirit that fosters this understanding of the human
 I would contend that what fosters this type of spirit is
one's understanding of the human being. As the Tuskegee
syphilis experiment and Nazi concentration camp debacles lifts up
for me, at least, is the sinful tendency to reduce people created
in the image of God to mere objects to be used for a multitude of
 A deeper issue, for me, is the theology. That is,
reducing human beings to mere objects implies that God made a
mistake. There is immense complexity, for example, in the
Tuskegee syphilis experiment. My own research into the issues
of health, the dispensing of health care, and the discipline of
bioethics, reveals that race, gender, and religious persuasion has
everything to do with deeply held religious beliefs of scientists
and doctors. My question is what of the theology, ethics, and
morality of Christian people who failed to speak out, on the basis
of their deeply held religious beliefs, about the wrong being
conducted by research scientists?
 Bioethics: A Primer for Christians is a useful
book. The book delivers on its purpose. One may not
agree with the author's position; namely, saying no to medical
progress but recognizing that there are limits on the human impulse
to exercise freedom. Readers will appreciate, in the end,
that Meilaender concludes that, as followers of Jesus Christ, our
call is "to retain a sense of responsibility for health and a
spirit of compassion for those who are ill" (122). Our hope
"for Health and Wholeness" resides in God who entered and continues
to enter the human situation; yet overcomes and lives.
 If there are criticisms of Bioethics, they are
two. I would have appreciated a little more conversation with
theologians and other scholars of African descent on some of the
issues of bioethics. For example, theology written by women
and men of African descent have something to say about what
constitutes a Christian vision, health, and matters related to
bioethics. Or, as I have discovered, other disciplines like
law, philosophers, and medical personnel have something to say, for
example, about procreation and reproduction concerns within the
African American community. Here I would direct the reader to
Dorothy Roberts book Killing the Black Body: Race,
Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (New York: Vintage
Books, 1997). Or, one would do well to read
African-American Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics, edited
by Harley E. Flack and Edmund D. Pellegrino (Washington, D.C.:
Georgetown University Press, 1992).
 My second criticism is the lack of guidance for pastoral
care. While Meilaender does provide some examples, how does
one conduct ministry in light of what he thinks should and ought to
be a Christian ethic related to bioethical issues?
 In my opinion, thinking about bioethical issues is
necessary. That is one task of Christian ethics.
Another task is putting some feet on the thinking. While one
may not want to prescribe what a Christian ought to do, I believe
those of us who have taken on the vocation of theologian or
ethicist should embody our own thinking. In the spirit of our
author, God does work through us, to bring hope that our God is a
loving and just God.
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 5, Issue 11