Friday, February 15, 2013

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Dr Megan Best

This recently published offering by Dr Megan Best offers Christians an excellent resource into the minefield that is the ethics surrounding the beginnings of life. Today we live in a world that enables us to choose when and when not to have babies, to decide whether to keep such babies in utero, to screen for potential disabilities and to create babies apart from the act of sex. We are used to such options, in fact most of the Western world has come to expect them as a right.

Yet how often do we stop and think through the ethics of it all? Many of us can testify that as Christians once you do stop and ask questions about contraception, abortion, genetic screening and IVF, you are met either with blank looks of “what is all the fuss about?” or at times, outright hostility from others at bringing ethics into the debate.

But we want to be informed. This book provides the information in one volume that many of us have been looking for for some time. Dr Best starts by clearly explaining the basics of reproduction and then how we would go about forming an ethic around it.  Her view is that life is created from the moment of fertilization (when the egg and sperm fuse).  As Christians, we choose to value any life that is made, no matter how it is made (whether in a woman’s body or in a laboratory), because it is a gift from God.  This therefore informs her ethic of how any life, whether in embryonic or adult form (or anywhere in between), should be preserved and protected.

From there she leads the reader step by step through the minefield that is modern medicine, technology and reproduction, with chapters addressing:
- contraception
- abortion
- screening procedures in pregnancy
- when abnormalities are detected in screening
- infertility
- miscarriage and stillbirth
- assisted reproductive technologies (IVF, surrogacy, etc)
- decisions regarding leftover embryos
- human embryo research and stem cells

Each chapter describes the science, medicine and technology involved and then draws it all together to form a Christian ethic about each.

The entire book is suffused with a grace and understanding of the choices women (and men) make and how they get there. She understands how the desire to have a child can be overwhelming, as can the grief associated with the loss of a child, or the change of expectations and the challenges of having a child with disabilities. She is pastorally sensitive and aware. Yet this is a book which is designed to provide information, and there are times where the information will be hard to read for those who have lived it, are living it or are supporting others through these life events.

It is medically detailed and scientifically thorough. Throughout there is additional information for medical professionals, which I think makes this book required reading for all Christians doctors, at least those involved with these stages of life. Having said that, it is very readable – I read it from cover to cover, even though it is obviously designed to be used more as a reference resource.

We will certainly be recommending this book to all couples at or entering this stage of life. We will be adding it to our marriage preparation book list.

There were a few specific things I was challenged by:

1. Abortion. This is a harrowing chapter. Abortion procedures are described in detail and she wisely warns readers at the beginning. What struck me most however were the statistics of abortion: 1 in 3 women in the UK, USA and Australia will have an abortion in their lifetime. What was clear what that there is little to no support for women as they make this decision. Even more so, I suspect that in our churches we are not caring for the women among us who have had abortions, because they are too terrified of being judged to voice their pain. How many women are being shut out from truly believing in God’s grace and that He forgives because of our lack of sensitivity and awareness?

2. Pregnancy screening for disability – what it involves and what it solves. We have watched a number of dear friends over the years get results from screening that shows their child will have a disability. What they are quickly shocked by is that the only cure for their child’s disability is to terminate the pregnancy, and that is the only solution proposed by medical staff.  They have to fight to keep their baby.  Dr Best argues that we are seeing a program of early eugenics in society, as people are choosing only to keep the healthy and the whole. She deals with the issues of disability well throughout the book, and touches on the impact this has for long-term services for the disabled. Parents with disabled children can witness that people are heartless enough to suggest that in choosing to have their child, they have placed a burden on society. What type of humans are we when we do not care for all members of society, especially those who are more vulnerable?
Consider…the decreasing tolerance for imperfections in our community. When did we decide that any of us were more perfect specimens? We are all of us damaged; it is just more noticeable in some than in others. And why is physical brokenness tolerated so poorly while moral brokenness is not just tolerated but chronicled, accepted and even celebrated in magazines and newspapers? (p461)

She finishes with some challenging words:
[while doing research for the book] What I found left me deeply unsettled as I realized the extent to which our society has decided to accommodate selfish adults at the expense of the children involved. We want ‘perfect’ children through genetic screening, freedom from inconvenient pregnancies, and the ability to override normal human biology when it suits us – all at the cost of embryonic and fetal human life. (p461)
This is a challenging book which raises numerous issues regarding reproduction today.  I am very glad Dr Best has done the work and the research, there are many of us who will benefit.

You can read the introductory first chapter on the Matthias Media website.


Unknown said...

Very interesting review Wendy. I had heard about the book and was interested to read it, thanks for the reminder.

Unknown said...

I also meant to add its great that there is a book that discusses the ethics of things such as IVF because I have never heard it talked about and don't understand the issues. I am shocked by the abortion statistics so it would be good (or not!) to read more about it.

Petrina said...

Thanks for the review, Wendy. I'll add this one to my list.