For many years now, in ethics classes for teenagers, I have been using the concept that artificial wombs look like they will be available in their reproductive lifetime as a debating topic. Now, news of an artificial womb for animals makes this discussion even more pressing.
Then, this weekend, we read:
Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group, is aiming to carry out the first human head transplant within 10 months and then wants to begin trials on brain transplants…Hundreds of people who are dying or paralysed have had their bodies or brains cryogenically preserved in the hope that medical science will be able to bring them back to life and cure their conditions… “We will try to bring the first of the company’s patients back to life, not in 100 years. As soon as the first human head transplant has taken place, i.e. no later than 2018, we will be able to attempt to reawaken the first frozen head,” said Prof Canavero.
My own denomination (worldwide Anglicanism) with the rarest of exceptions focuses on one issue only. For three decades now the Anglican bus has been circling the does-the-Bible-allow-committed-same-sex-couples round about. There have been many who have ended up off the bus through the years of centrifugal force. And I don’t see a lot of people even trying to get on this bus while it’s going round and round in this circle.
As an aside, woe betide anyone applying the roundabout theories beyond homosexuals with any consistency to heterosexuals (see here and here – ps. it’s a year, later this month, that we have been waiting for a response to the latter ‘here’.)
The roundabout debate may be being presented as an ethical issue, but it is being pursued (as I’ve indicated) as an exegetical one (ie. it is primarily about interpretation of Biblical texts). This means that there has been little to no development in agility in different ethical theories and, importantly, no development (consequentially) in facility to engage and dialogue beyond the church’s edge with the majority context (where Biblical exegesis carries no weight). The result is that when it comes to the sort of significant issues facing the wider world (the sort of issues I began this post with), we Christians have no shared grammar with non-Christians and no real voice in that wider world.
For most clergy and church leaders I encounter, words like ‘consequentialism’, ‘deontology’, ‘utilitarianism’, ‘natural law’, and ‘proportionalism’ have little meaning. Rather than being agile with such distinctions, conversations such clergy initiate with me are often at the level of “How do you feel about…?”
If we Christians are to have any traction in today’s world, I posit that (as well as agility online and with spirituality) we need clear competence in ethics in an increasingly complex world where the two examples I began this post with are merely two amongst a mushrooming number of developments where we humans need to have the wisdom and the will to decide whether just because we can – should we?