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Matters of Life and Death (Book Review)

spring 1999

From nucleus - spring 1999 - Matters of Life and Death (Book Review) [pp37-38]

Matters of Life and Death - John Wyatt - CMF/IVP - £9.99, Pb 256pp

Fetal screening, abortion, reproductive technology, genetics, infanticide, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Today’s healthcare dilemmas raise fundamental questions about what it means to be human. This thoroughly researched book comes at a crucial time in the fast-changing climate of contemporary medicine. John Wyatt presents a credible and challenging Christian response to the ethical minefields that face us in our future careers.

He begins with an exposition of the most important current influences on bioethical thinking, including scientific reductionism, biotechnology and ethical diversity. These are contrasted with the biblical worldview of humanity and health. Each complex issue is then explored in depth. Profound insights combine with personal anecdotes as Professor Wyatt looks to the Bible for a way forward.

The strength of this book lies in the author’s experiences as a neonatal paediatrician, daily engaged in matters of life and death. He is no detached theorist; here is a man who has had to make exceedingly hard and painful clinical decisions. He has wept with families as their tiny babies died. He writes:

‘...suffering in another human being is a call to the rest of us to stand in community. It is a call to be there. Suffering is not a question which demands an answer, it is not a problem which requires a solution, it is a mystery which demands a presence.’

John Wyatt excels in the art of clearly expounding complex theological and scientific concepts. He also writes imaginatively, describing God as an artist and human beings as his ‘flawed masterpieces’. This unique analogy is developed through the book. Here is a taster:

‘The original masterpiece, created with such love and embodying such artistry, has become flawed, defaced, contaminated and is decaying from age. The reflection of God’s character is distorted and partially obscured. But through the imperfections, we can still see the outlines of the original masterpiece. It still inspires a sense of wonder at the underlying design... Our duties (as healthcare professionals ) are to protect masterpieces from further harm, and attempt to restore them in line with original artist’s intentions.’

I would recommend this volume as essential reading and an excellent resource for all Christian medics. Based on the 1997 London Lectures in Contemporary Christianity of the same title, it also contains a large amount of new material. It is not a short read, but your time will be well spent. I was brought back to my motivation for training to be a doctor by this final extract:

‘At the heart of Christian caring is Christ. We are called to see Christ in those for whom we care. We are called to be Christ to those for whom we care.’

Reviewed by
Caroline Ashby

More from nucleus: spring 1999

  • Editorial
  • News Review
  • Wide Open
  • Post-Coital Contraception
  • Abortion and Conscientious Objection
  • Second Opinion
  • Bringing Faith and Medicine Together
  • Faith in Practice: Obstetrics and Gynaecology
  • Contraceptives' Mode of Action
  • Short-Term Medical Missions
  • Fishing the Net
  • Differential Diagnosis 27
  • Letters
  • Matters of Life and Death (Book Review)
  • Practising Faith In A Pagan World (Book Review)
  • Know Your Bible 29
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