In the Service of Human Life
Tree on a hill on a starry night
Applied Bioethics in stylized text
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In the Service of Human Life

The Human Person

The human person is beautiful, unlike anything else in the created order. Each person is endowed with a soul, intellect, and reason. We find our source and purpose in the fact that we’re created in the image and likeness of God. The human person is an intricate fusion of the physical and spiritual; our soul works in concert with the physical nature of our body to form our personhood.

The essential element of the human person is the soul. The soul is not a physical component of our body. Rather, it’s the principle that animates it. It’s the foundation, the part of a person that makes a human life so precious and valuable. To put it simply, the soul is what makes you, you. The human body has unique identifiers of the individual, such as fingerprints and DNA. In the same way, your soul is unique to you and unrepeatable.

In order to be considered a human person, there are two requirements. A human person must posses a body and a soul. The creation of body and soul , and their fusion together, occur simultaneously at the moment of conception. As the first cell of a new human body is created, a soul is infused and thus a new human person is created.

The genius of this idea of the human person is that it treats all people as equal. This is not a theoretical or a utopian concept of equality. It’s an idea with very practical applications. It resolves any bioethical question to the benefit of the human person. It promotes deference, respect, equality, civility, and it defends the weakest and most vulnerable.

In order to be a human person, you do not need to have a perfect body, or a perfect intellect, or a perfect spirituality. You only need a soul and a body. In sickness or health, poverty or wealth, incapacitated, unconscious, maimed, disabled, or receiving a Gold Metal on the Olympic podium, your innate value remains. That value is unchanging and unchangeable throughout the duration of your life. No action that you take can diminish your inherent value. No action by any other person, group, organization, or government can reduce or withdraw the dignity and value of the human person. No circumstance can impact this status: it is constant and complete.

In every time, culture, and place, the dignity of the human person is something that must be rigorously defended. Although we may have an intellect, our flawed nature leads us to selfishness. We tacitly approve of the degradation of other human persons, so long as we’re not adversely affected in the short term. We turn a blind eye to genocide in foreign lands, the plight of migrants, racial animus, the false legality of abortion, or the usage of the death penalty because we’re comfortable. We do the same when we ignore people on the street, neighbors who need our help, or coworkers who are being gossiped about. The universality of the human person means that the degradation of any single human person adversely affects all of us.

The human person has a definitive beginning. A soul is fused with a body at conception and from that moment forward, a unique human person exists. The human person is owed reverence, respect, and protection. Every individual has a duty to give the same deference to their fellow man.

Disordered

The human person is a miracle in the created order. From the first moment of life, as a singular cell with a single copy of its own, unique, unrepeatable code of DNA, a person stands apart from all other creatures. A fusion of generations of genetic mutations, every person represents a truly new creation.

Sadly, the process of human development is fraught with complications. Many lives end in the earliest days of gestation. Others don’t make it to term. Too many children die in their first days of life, a result of complications from birth or because of structural defects. It’s no easy task to repeat the code of DNA countless times, to divide cells and grow organs, build systems, and then get them all working together.

Part of what it means to be human is to deal with deficiencies. The human body is complex and there are myriad of genetic bugs passed from generation to generation. Each one of us, in our uniqueness, struggle with dysfunctions and deficiencies. Every system and organ in our body present opportunities for things to go wrong. Some are genetic, others environmental, and still others a result of our own choices.

Despite the disorders and dysfunctions, we remain human. No matter our age, whether in our first moments after conception, or celebrating our 101st birthday, we retain our humanity. We retain our unique status in the world, a one time occurrence, having never been before, and never to be repeated again.

Some dysfunctions are minor, and others are life altering. From diabetes to renal disease, congenital heart defects to bipolar disorder, industrial accidents to injuries on the battlefield; our circumstances shape our lives. Some disorders require institutionalization, others require structural changes to our bodies, and most require some lifestyle adjustments. Nothing diminishes or reduces our humanity. Not the loss of a limb in a tragic car accident or a required daily dose of an antipsychotic medication.

Ethical norms, whether codified in law or not, demand a liberal application of respect to the human person. Mentally ill or political prisoner, newly conceived or terminally ill, intellectually disabled or addicted to opioids, every patient, every person, has a life worthy of respect and protection.

Our dysfunctions and disorders do not define us, nor do they dictate the level of care and attention that we deserve. Acute illness or chronic condition, we all have lives worthy of living because of who we are. Our life is a gift to our family, our community, and our world. And there is no condition, no change of status, no action that can ever diminish that gift.

Basic Transplant Ethics

The Boneyard is a magical place for pilots and aviation enthusiasts. When the Department of Defense retires an aircraft, it’s flown out into the Arizona desert and parked on a massive military base. Surveying the rows of thousands of aircraft, you get a sense of the history of military aviation in the United States, and the amazing stories that behind these planes.

It’s not just airplanes from the 1950s and 1960s parked in the Boneyard, but even models that are still flying. Early models of the F-16, or example, rest at the Boneyard, preserved in the arid climate. While some of the planes at the Boneyard may be recalled to active service, most won’t. They are a resource to operational flying units. When a part breaks, the maintenance crew can call down to the Boneyard and ask for a canabalized part. This is particularly helpful if the needed part is no longer in production. Technicians will review the Boneyard inventory, find the part on one of the parked planes, remove it, and ship it to the squadron. This cost effective technique allows for older, non-flyable planes to continue to add value beyond scrap metal.

The progress that we’ve made in the field of human organ transplantation is remarkable. Gravely ill people are able to receive organs that give them a new lease on life. In most cases, organ transplants are an ethically valid procedure. Organ donations can be made by a still living person or by a recently deceased one. Donating organs is ethically valid if there is consent on the part of both parties, if the donation is done with the intent to prolong the life of the receiver, if the donation won’t cause immediate harm or death to the donor, and if the organs are assigned to patients within the established guidelines of prioritization.

The danger that organ donation presents is that it can be perverted easily. These perversions take an ethically good technology and create a grave moral evil. A less common perversion would be the intent. If the donor wants to give up an organ for an irrational reason, that would make the transplantation unethical. This would be something like a person hates a particular organ and wants it removed. Again, not very common.

Informed consent presents the second major perversion, and this one is more common than any of us would like to think. Organs that are stolen by individuals, or governments, and transplanted, even if they save someone else’s life, are done so unethically. Harvesting organs from political prisoners, through medical experimentation, or any other associated ghoulish activity is decidedly unethical, again, regardless of the outcome.

Finally, any organ donation that would create direct and immediate harm to the donor, or even death, would be unethical. This would include a donor’s heart, both lungs, both kidneys, eyes, or any other complete organ that’s required for life or whose removal would constitute a harm to the donor. Organs that are removed from a donor who is still alive, whose heart is still beating, are markedly more useful than those removed from a recently deceased donor. Even just a few minutes can make the difference between an organ being viable for transplantation. However, despite this medical fact, the integrity and dignity of the human person demands that they be seen and treated as a person, not a retired airplane sitting in the desert waiting to give up all of its most valuable parts.

Our code of ethics provides the guardrails by which we ensure that technologies and procedures created for good ends remain that way. The human body has many parts that can be useful to preserving the lives of others, but they can only be used ethically if they are freely given and the dignity of both patients is protected.

Reversability

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Religion & Bioethics

We’re all at fault for our polarized culture. In public and private debate, we retreat with haste to ad hominem attacks and identity politics, arguing against a point (or a person) instead of strongly advocating for our own view. One of most effective tactics is to claim that the opposing party is attempting to impose their religious beliefs on another. That argument is disingenuous on its face, because in all debate, one party hopes to convince the other of the merits of their worldview.Read Article