Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Top Twelve Bioethics Books

Sep 24, 2006

Today more than ever those concerned about the meaning of personhood and the dignity of human life need to be aware of the many developments in medicine, biotechnology, the life sciences, and the ethical dilemmas associated with them.

Be they the older bioethical dilemmas of abortion or euthanasia, or the newer varieties, such as cloning, genetic engineering or stem cell research, these recent developments in science, medicine and technology have repercussions for us all. Indeed, the brave new world implications of much of this is upon us all right now.

Thus believers especially need to be up on these issues. We do not all need to be experts, nor can we. But most of us can at least acquaint ourselves with some of these issues, and seek a general position on them arising from Judeo-Christian considerations.

Hence this list. There are of course many thousands of books on bioethics that have appeared over the past several decades. And of those, perhaps only a minority would come from a more conservative, moral or pro-life point of view. It is from those that I draw. And these twelve books are penned mostly by people who also make a profession of faith. Thus most are guided by, and representative of, Judeo-Christian principles and teachings (admittedly, mainly from the Protestant side in this case).

This is by its very nature a selective list. For example, I have left many good volumes off this list. Also, I tended to select newer titles over older ones, simply because of the cutting-edge nature of biotechnology. But some of the older authors, such as Paul Ramsey, should not be neglected.

Given these constraints, it can still be maintained that these twelve volumes are among the best books to be consulted for those wanting an introductory handle on the various bioethics issues, and wish to think intelligently and ethically about them.

If even several of these volumes were carefully digested, the reader would be well placed to enter many of the bioethics debates of today. And given the vital importance of these topics, that is my aim: that more people, especially believers, would enter the debate, and offer a much needed, and informed, voice.

(Because most of these books are fairly similar in approach, I will not offer annotations of each. They generally start with an overview of bioethics, and then have separate chapters on various topics, such as abortion, or cloning, or IVF, or designer babies, and so on. However, most of these books have been fully reviewed by me on this website.)

Here then are the top dozen, listed alphabetically:

Cameron, Nigel de S., The New Medicine: Life and Death After Hippocrates. Crossway Books, 1991.

Cameron, Nigel de S., ed., Bioengagement. Eerdmans, 2000.

Colson, Charles and Nigel de S. Cameron, eds., Human Dignity in the Biotech Century. InterVarsity Press, 2004.

Foreman, Mark, Christianity and Bioethics. College Press Publishing, 1999.

Kass, Leon, Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity. Encounter Books, 2002.

Kass, Leon, Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs. The Free Press, 1985.

Kilner, John, et al., eds., Cutting-Edge Bioethics. Eerdmans 2002.

Meilander, Gilbert, Bioethics: A Primer for Christians. Eerdmans, 1996.

Peterson, James, Genetic Turning Points. Eerdmans, 2001.

Rae, Scott and Paul Cox, Bioethics. Eerdmans, 1999.

Smith, Wesley, Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World. Encounter Books, 2004.

Wyatt, John, Matters of Life and Death. InterVarsity Press, 1998.

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4 Responses to Top Twelve Bioethics Books

  • I would have thought that to be truly ethical you should have a list of books which gives the contrary view.

    Don Osborn

  • Thanks Don

    Yes and no. On some issues it is not at all necessary to give all points of view. I do not think we need to hear paedophiles and rapists justify their positions, for example. Most people do not believe in the “equal time” approach to many issues. Most governments for example are happy to bombard their citizens with anti-smoking information. They do not for a moment feel it is necessary for the tobacco industry to come along and present their viewpoint in the interests of fairness. Most people would have no problem with such a ‘lack of balance’..

    And it also depends on what your purposes are. My website is coming from a certain point of view, and there is no concealing that. As I said in the intro to this article, there are plenty of books around on bioethics. However, those books that take a pro-life and more cautious approach are few and far between. Thus it was my intention to highlight those volumes. Walk into any decent bookshop and there will be plenty of books on bioethics taking the contrary view.

    Given that the position I hold is admittedly a minority position, at least amongst the elites, it seems fair to be able to point those titles out to those who are interested.

    If you are unhappy with this selection, there are of course hundreds of websites and other sources that will list the titles you may be interested in.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, thanks for the great list. I like how you include books that anticipate discussion of the “other side” like Colson and Cameron’s book. I was curious if one of these books was more your average adult education level for adult ed class (Sunday school) in a church context.

    I am looking for such. I believe I heard once that the most daily adult reading level material was the newspaper and they chose to use a 6th to 8th grade vocabulary to be understood by the most readers. This topic necessitates a willingness to learn the meaning of new words. Smile.

    Speaking of which I’m curious about a book. Joni Erickson Tada of theodicy fame due to her diving accident and youth culture (some years back) and more recently on embryonic stem cell research, has apparently co-authored a book with the more scholarly writer Nigel Cameron. Have you read it? I think it has the phrase ‘for a brave new world’ in the title.

    I was wondering if this might be what I’m looking for for this 7 week adult ed class in a church that normally does the ‘how to raise kids’ and ‘how to manage money’ and a Biblical book elective classes and rarely does any let alone a prophetic pool of social implication issues like the oxymoronic “biotech/ethics”. Do you know? We’ve ordered the material “Playing God” but I’ve never used it or seen it used before and it clearly was not a huge seller again in a world that studiously would rather not know.

    Thanks again for your list.

    Joe Whitchurch, Indiana, USA

  • Thanks Joe
    Yes I was tempted to add that title to my list. It is quite new, but written on a fairly popular level. So it should be ideal for your class. It is:

    Eareckson Tada, Joni and Nigel Cameron, How To Be a Christian In a Brave New World. Zondervan, 2006.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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