Child-bearing for the uninitiated

Last time I wrote something for this column, I wrote about a book that deals with problems and questions I face in my own life (God’s Good Design). This time I’m writing about a book that’s not really for me. In Fearfully and Wonderfully Made: Ethics and the beginning of human life, Dr Megan Best writes about the stuff that married (or about-to-get married) people need to know—things like contraception, pregnancy, infertility and IVF. She wrote the book “in response to many requests from Christians who are struggling to find the information they need to think clearly about the morality of reproductive technology” (p. 9). I’m not married and I have no children. I’m hardly the target audience for this book, yet it fascinated me.

The information on current pregnancy screening practices alarmed me. The facts on abortion distressed me and made me angry all over again at how commonplace it now is. The chapters on infertility and miscarriage and stillbirth gave me a much greater understanding of the heartbreak so many people I know go through. The material on assisted reproductive technology (ART) made me realize what a massive ethical minefield faces any couple that heads down that track, and how difficult and stressful any ART process is.

But the brilliant thing is the way these chapters sit within a larger argument that flows through the entire book—an argument for the value of human life based not on health or ‘normality’ but on the fact of God having created us in his own image. Megan begins by articulating the ethical dilemmas we regularly face these days:

Is it ever right to have an abortion? What about the case of a young girl who has been raped? Or what if the baby has something seriously wrong with it and we know it can’t survive? What about the right to have a child? When we ‘create’ test-tube babies, are we saying we know better than God who should be a parent? Is IVF ever OK for Christians? (p. 11)

In addressing these difficult questions, she explains the biology of how human life develops and then discusses the theological and philosophical questions of when life begins and when it deserves protection. She also talks about biblical teaching on human relationships and provides a model for ethical Christian decision-making. At the end of the book, after discussing the topics I mentioned earlier and the mechanics and ethics of various treatments, she includes a very helpful chapter on whether Christians should be using medical technology at all to manipulate child-bearing, touching briefly on the areas of healing and suffering.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made is a valuable resource for all kinds of people. It’s been written to educate people (like me) who know next to nothing about many of these topics. Where technical information for healthcare professionals is included, it’s marked out from the main text in sidebars so that it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the main argument. Both a general index and a Scripture index are included, as well as some excellent appendices on (i) the pill (and whether it can cause abortions); (ii) commercial markets created by the abortion industry; (iii) human genetics; (iv) umbilical cord blood collection; and (v) recommended resources for further exploration. And scattered throughout (again, marked off in sidebars or with italics) are lots of personal stories, which give these issues a human ‘face’. These are real stories—some heartbreaking—from real people.

If you ever find yourself counselling couples experiencing difficulty in having children, this book is for you. If you have questions about the ethics of various contraceptives or pregnancy tests or assisted reproductive technologies (like IVF or surrogacy or freezing embryos), this book is for you. If you’re married but are yet to have children, this book is for you. If you’re about to get married, this book is for you. [I’ve been struck by the number of my friends who are particularly interested in the first appendix in the book: ‘Does the oral contraceptive pill cause abortions?’]

In the end this book is also for me, regardless of whether or not I end up having children, because it helps me care for friends who struggle in these areas. It’s also for me because it clears up many misunderstandings that float about in the media, and arms me with the information I need in order to fight—publicly and privately—for the value of human life. For that is what we’re engaged in: a fight; a fight we cannot leave up to others.

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