We live in an age characterised by rapid developments in the sector of biotechnology. Great strides have been made in the realm of genetic engineering and molecular biology, and scientific research has brought new discoveries to public attention, culminating in the completion of the mapping of the human genome. Admirable as these developments are, they have nevertheless created many problems and dangers.
The science of bioethics attempts to set limits and boundaries, so that the challenges and problems arising from biomedical research and the biotechnological revolution can be confronted in the best possible way. The aim of this book is not simply to describe the issues surrounding the various medical discoveries, although the author sets out the basic elements that are indispensable for understanding what has been written. Rather it aims to consider bioethical problems from the perspective of the Orthodox Church.
As mentioned in the preface, the book deals with the root of bioethical problems from the standpoint of the Church’s theology, not with the details. Orthodox bioethics is not defined by ethical and moral rules of behaviour. It approaches bioethical problems on the basis of Orthodox criteria with regard to life and death. The details and problems are handled in a pastoral way, and on a personal level.
In the first part of the book, ‘Bioethical Problems and Orthodox Theology’, the writer, in the light of contemporary research, answers questions about three fundamental and interconnecting aspects of human life: the beginning of life, the prolongation of life, and the end of biological life. He responds from the viewpoint of Orthodox theology to the ethical dilemmas brought about by scientific discoveries and the prospects these open up. Contemporary genetic and bioethical problems are briefly outlined, together with the Orthodox theological approach to dealing with them. Contemporary biomedical research projects, when carried out without checks or restraints, violate both nature and humanity. The Orthodox teaching is underlined, that the uncreated, creative and life-giving energy of God is present within the whole of creation, even within DNA.
The second part, ‘Specific Bioethical Issues’, provides comprehensible answers to the ecclesiological and pastoral questions raised by the analysis of bioethical issues. The Church lays down basic theological principles without violating people’s freedom.
In the chapter ‘Euthanasia and Related Bioethical Problems’, the writer sets out the Church’s views and standpoints on euthanasia and leads us to the conclusion that ‘a meaningless life ends in a meaningless death’. The boundaries between theology and science are emphasised, and it is made clear that science cannot replace the Church, because science is unable to overcome death. Orthodox theology does not hinder research on scientific subjects, and respects medical science when in stays within its boundaries and does not intervene in God’s jurisdiction.
The ‘General Bioethical Principles’ that Orthodox researchers should take into consideration are listed. Overall, the aim of Orthodox bioethics, from the theological perspective, is to propose to contemporary man what the meaning of life and death is, so that he may turn his biological life, which is a gift from God, to good account and overcome death.
Μητροπολίτης Ναυπάκτου Ιερόθεος