Hello and welcome to this GCSE RE podcast on Religion and Medical Ethics
This topic asks you to explore Christian beliefs about a range of ethical issues
arising from medical science. Remember not all Christians believe the same
thing: some Christians believe one thing and other Christians will believe
Specifically this unit focuses on 4 topics
1. Different Christian attitudes towards abortion;
2. Christian responses to issues raised by fertility treatment and cloning;
3. Christian attitudes towards euthanasia and suicide;
4. Christian beliefs about the use of animals in medical research.
An introductory comment -
Christian beliefs about the issues in all of the topics in this unit are influenced
by their belief in the Sanctity of Life. This is a crucial concept that you have
to understand. All Christians believe that life is a gift from God and it is
therefore special and holy – this is what the word sanctity means : special and
holy. Christians believe that if you end a life you are going against God’s
plan. God has a plan for every person and if you end someone’s life you are
interfering with that plan.
Topic 1 – Different Christian attitudes towards abortion
The Sanctity of Life is important when you look at different Christian attitudes
to abortion. Not all Christians have the same attitude towards abortion
because different Christians think life begins at different times. For example,
Roman Catholics and Fundamentalist Christians believe that life begins as
soon as the sperm fertilises the egg. Roman Catholics believe that as soon
as the egg is fertilised it has the potential to be a human person and so has to
be given the same rights as a born person – this means that if you terminate a
pregnancy you are killing a person and this is murder therefore abortion is
Other Christians think life begins later on in the pregnancy, perhaps when the
heart starts to beat, and these Christians think that as long as the abortion
happens before life begins it is acceptable.
Some other Christians (like the Quakers) always try to do the most loving
thing. They think abortion is wrong but believe that if someone really feels
they have to have an abortion (perhaps because they were raped, the child is
deformed or if there is danger to the mother) the most loving thing to do would
be to help and support that person. They believe it is important not to judge
that person because in the New Testament Jesus said ‘Judge not lest you be
Some fundamentalist Christians in America, who strongly oppose abortion,
have taken their beliefs to the extreme – thinking that in order to protect
innocent unborn foetuses, it is acceptable to kill medical staff at abortion
clinics. Virtually all other Christians would see this as an unacceptable action.
Finally, you need to remember the principle of double effect: All Christians
believe that saving the life of the pregnant woman is the most important action
if continuing a pregnancy will kill the woman. Even Roman Catholics believe
that in these circumstances the pregnancy should be terminated. However,
they would not call this an abortion because the purpose of the medical
procedure is not to abort the foetus, it is to save the woman’s life e.g. an
ectopic pregnancy. Unfortunately the operation to save the woman’s life also
terminates the pregnancy and this is what is meant by the principle of double
effect – it (1) saves the mother but (2) terminates the pregnancy.
No Christian church will bury an aborted foetus.
Topic 2 – Christian responses to issues raised by fertility treatment
There are a number of different types of fertility treatment and you need to
know what these involve. Some Christians believe all forms of fertility
treatment are wrong because if you cannot have children it is all part of God’s
plan – in the Old Testament God made Abraham’s wife Hannah infertile for a
long time in order to test Abraham’s faith, before finally allowing her to
become pregnant when she was more than 80 years old. Other Christians
only disagree with certain types of fertility treatment.
Artificial Insemination involves the sperm being placed inside the woman’s
uterus artificially – this procedure can help a lot of women become pregnant.
Most Christians accept this form of fertility treatment for married couples
(referred to as AIH – Artificial Insemination using the Husband’s sperm)
because all it does is help people get pregnant naturally. However,
sometimes donor sperm is used (referred to as AID – Artificial Insemination
using Donor sperm) and a lot of Christians (e.g. Roman Catholics) think that
this is wrong because it introduces a third person into the relationship
between the husband and the wife and can be seen as adultery; it can also
cause tension in a family once the child grows up because they will have a
different biological father.
IVF or In Vitro Fertilisation, which makes a ‘test tube’ baby, involves the
removal of a number of eggs from the woman. These are then fertilised in a
Petri dish using either the husband’s or a donor’s sperm before two or three of
the best embryos get implanted in the woman’s uterus. (The use of a donor’s
sperm creates the third person in the relationship problems referred to
Any other embryos that were fertilised but not implanted are then destroyed.
It is because of this last step that Roman Catholics and Fundamentalist
Christians think that IVF is wrong. Remember that they believe that life
begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg, so they believe that the spare
embryos that are destroyed are already alive and destroying them is murder
(this is the same as their argument against abortion and again refers to the
sanctity of life). Christians who do not believe that life starts when the egg is
fertilised by the sperm do not disagree with IVF treatment, although most
Christians only believe that IVF treatment with the husband’s sperm is
acceptable. As Jesus was a healer, to heal childless couples is the loving
thing to do.
For women who cannot produce eggs, they can use eggs provided by a donor
but this again is wrong for some Christians as it involves a third person.
A surrogate mother will agree to be made pregnant by the husband’s sperm
and carry the baby to term then hand it over once it is born. Again – three in a
relationship and also the surrogate mother may not want to hand the baby
Cloning is making an exact copy of a living thing using live cells from the
original. The first cloned animal was Dolly the Sheep – an exact copy of the
original. Some Christians oppose cloning as it is not natural and wrong that
humans should play God. Other Christians think that as Jesus was a healer, it
is good that science can help heal people e.g. with cloned organs.
Topic 3 – Christian attitudes towards euthanasia and suicide
Euthanasia is a greek word that means ‘a good death’ – it is used to describe
‘assisted suicide’. Because they believe in the sanctity of life most Christians
are against euthanasia – if you remember, they believe that God has a plan
for everyone and we shouldn’t interfere with this plan.
Some Christians believe that in some circumstances euthanasia can be the
most loving thing to do (e.g. if someone is dying in a lot of pain). There is an
organisation called Dignitas, based in Switzerland that carries out assisted
suicides. You may wish to refer to the story of Ann Turner, the doctor who
was assisted to die by Dignitas, or Daniel James the young 23 year old rugby
player who was paralysed. Most Christians, however believe that human life
is sacred and people should not take life away. These Christians would argue
that people who are dying could go to a Hospice. Hospices are often
Christian organisations, which take care of people who are dying by providing
them with pain relief and support so that they can die in dignity.
In general Christians think that suicide is wrong. In the past it used to be seen
as a very serious sin and people that committed suicide were not allowed to
be buried in the church cemetery. Today most Christians take a much more
sympathetic approach to people who try to commit suicide. They think that it
is important to show love and support to these people so that they no longer
wish to kill themselves.
Topic 4 – Christian beliefs about the use of animals in medical research
This topic links with the work you did on Science and Religion. The things
you learnt as part of the topic on Humans and Animals as part of that Unit will
be useful for this topic. If you remember, the key points from this were that:-
Some Christians believe as we are the superior race and have dominion
over all creatures we use animals for medical research
Other Christians believe we are all God’s creatures and so we have a
responsibility to care for other animals.
So, in relation to medical research, because some Christians believe that
humans are God’s most important creation, they believe it is acceptable to
use animals for medical research if that will help find cures for human
However, because a lot of Christians also believe that they have ‘stewardship’
over the earth, they should take care of animals and not treat them cruelly.
This means that even though they may be used for medical research, they
should be treated well and not made to suffer unnecessarily.
That covers the 4 topics in this Unit – just to remind you here are the
Topic 1 – Abortion
Catholics and Fundamental Christians believe life begins at conception and
life is sacred. As God gave life only he can take it away. Abortion is therefore
murder. Some Christians think that life begins later in pregnancy and so an
early abortion is acceptable.
Other Christians believe that abortion can be justified if the mother has been
raped, the baby is deformed or there is a danger to the mother.
The only reason Catholics might accept an abortion is the double effect where
there is danger to the mother and baby.
Topic 2 – Fertility treatment
Some Christians do not accept fertility treatment as a baby is a gift from God
and it is God’s will if the woman falls pregnant.
Other Christians may accept fertility treatment as it is the loving thing to do to
enable a couple to have a baby.
Different types of fertility treatment include AIH – artificial insemination with
husband’s sperm and AID – artificial insemination with a donor’s sperm. Some
Christians do not approve of AID as it introduces a third person into the
IVF involves fertilising eggs outside the womb and storing them in a glass
dish. Several fertilised eggs or embryos are implanted back into the woman.
The remaining eggs are destroyed – which some Christians view as murder.
Egg donation enables some women to become pregnant – but there is still a
third person in the relationship.
Surrogate mothers will become pregnant though AI or IVF and carry the baby
to term, handing it over to the parents when it is born.
Cloning enables an exact copy to be made from living tissue. The possibilities
are to help people with replacement organs or other body parts. Some
Christians oppose cloning as it is not natural.
Topic 3 – Euthanasia and suicide
Euthanasia is another name for assisted suicide. Most Christians do not agree
with euthanasia as life is sacred and a gift from God. People who are ill can
go into a Hospice where they will be looked after and cared for.
Some Christians would support Euthanasia as it would be the loving thing to
do to help someone who is in great pain or who has no quality of life.
Christians disagree with suicide – only God has the right to take life. However
today people are more sympathetic to attempted suicides because they
recognise the suffering these people are enduring.
Topic 4 – Animals and medical research
Some Christians believe we are the superior species, made by God in his
image and given a soul. Humans have dominion (control and power) over
other creatures so it is OK to use them for medical research for the benefit of
Most Christians also believe we have stewardship over the world and its
animals so we should not cause unnecessary suffering to animals.
The sorts of questions you might get in this unit include :
For 1 mark a definition question – ‘what is …...’
For 2 marks state 2 facts about the topic.
For 3 marks describe Christian beliefs about the topic. (Either give 3 separate
points or give 2 points with explanation).
For 6 marks explain different Christian attitudes about the topic. This asks you
to detail the different Christian attitudes and why they have them. When you
plan to answer this 6-mark question, imagine 2 columns headed ‘Some
Christians’ and ‘Other Christians’.
The last question is for 12 marks. It will give a statement and ask you to
discuss it, giving opposite viewpoints and also referring to Christianity.
This should be answered in 3 sections.
First give you own opinion with reasons for your beliefs i.e. give the what and
the why. Then follow on giving an opposite point of view with reasons for
Secondly write about what some Christians believe, with reasons and if
possible a reference from the Bible or a quote.
Thirdly, state what other Christians believe as a different viewpoint, giving
reasons and also a reference from the Bible or a quote.
I hope you find this podcast useful to help you with your revision. Remember,
ask your teacher for any extra help if there are some things you still do not