The Necessity for Orthodox Bioethics

31 January 2016
[Previous Publication:]


For the Orthodox Church, even if some of this may be necessary, desirable and interesting, as an approach it represents patterns of one-dimensional thinking with one-sided earthliness and temporality. It is centred not on people as persons, but as individual values, with rights; not on societies as means of inter-personal and spiritual stimulation, but as interests, administrative blocs and legal entities. This is why an effort is being made, not to find the truths and principles which should be inspiring us, but rather to formulate legislative regulations and accords for our protection. According to such views, the truth seems not to describe that which actually is and to which we have to conform, but rather expresses that with which we agree.

Medical Ethics and Modern Practice in Medicine

So the term bioethics often acquires the flatter sense of ‘a code of ethics’ and leads to positions which are called ethical but in fact have no relation to the mystery of humankind, nor to our worth, to our ethos or even to our morality. When God is not on the horizon of our thinking and in our perspective, it is natural that the concept of what is morally right will be relativized or even distorted.

In this way, a system of bioethics has been shaped according to which the refusal of two parents to terminate the pregnancy of an embryo who has been diagnosed prenatally as having a health problem ‘is morally reprehensible’[3]. By the same token, assisted dying is considered an act of mercy, while sexual identity is not a matter of anatomical and physical evidence, but is defined as a right of personal choice[4]. So secular bioethics is rather pro-choice, pro-termination of life and pro-sexual orientation. In other words, it establishes, as a right, the kind of life, the hour of death and the practical application of sex. It does not set out a system of moral values, but justifies rights. It is not very ethical![5].

As opposed to this, the need to find boundaries between intervention and invasion, between that which denotes life and that which thoughtless human arrogance dictates, between that which brings pain relief to the human body and that which draws the soul away from its destination, between love of life and disrespect for the human person, between the extension of life and hindrance of death, brings to the surface a bioethical system with features of a spiritual nature. This is what concerns us as the Orthodox Church.

Society is attempting to show how all-powerful we humans are through the control of life, the biological completeness and perfection of the human being. The Church, on the other hand, sees the majesty, the sanctity, and the destination of people by following and demonstrating the traces of God, since people are made ‘in His image’.

Bio-medicinal research has now touched on very sensitive chords in human existence. This is why, if problems such as respect for self-determination, life and death as mysteries, the spiritual and deterministic expression of the soul, the sanctity of the body, of sexual orientation, of the creation, of the laws and forms of biological life, the common growth of the body and soul, and the balance between truth and human kindness are answered, this will shed light on the dilemmas generated by transplants, artificial insemination or assisted reproduction, gene therapy, cloning, research into the human genome, interventions in nervous or genetic cells and so on. The struggle with the above questions is what is defining the identity of spiritual bioethics.

The reduction of people to mechanical systems and the overwhelming stress on the body and the biological dimension, to the detriment of the soul, especially when this is accompanied by arrogant proclamations- all of which is so frequent these days- could well lead to catastrophic decisions and implementations, as well as to the rejection and de-sanctification of the human person. (see note 2).

[To Be Continued]

[3] National Bioethics Committee. Opinion on Prenatal and Preimplantation and the treatment of the embryo: ‘Although in extreme cases (such as when the interested parties face serious fertility problems) acceptance of the birth of children with serious health damage might be accepted, as a rule it is morally culpable. Indeed, even if this acceptance is based on the particular metaphysical ideas (rather than the mere selfishness) of the future parent, this is no reason to overlook the fact that the quality of the future life of a new person is being inadmissibly ignored’ (

[4] LUNACEK Report on the EU Roadmap against homophobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity ( +REPORT+A7-2014-0009+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN).

[5] James Watson, the ‘father of DNA’ claimed: ‘We are the products of our genes. No one else is going to take care of us or give us rules for how to behave, except ourselves. I am against society imposing rules on individuals for how they want to use genetic knowledge. Just let people decide what they want to do’. (International Conference, Lyons, 2003). His collaborator, Francis Crick said: ‘No newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live’.