On being human...Issues of life & death

Professor John Wyatt

27.9.2016 | Church in the Public Square, Union Theological College

John Wyatt, Emeritus Professor of Ethics and Perinatology at University College, London worked as a specialist in the medical care of new born infants for more than 20 years. He has also lectured widely on issues in ethics from a Christian perspective. In the second of our On being human series of seminars, Professor Wyatt asks whether orthodox Christian understandings of humanity provide insights for the rapidly changing world of medical ethics.

Advances in medical technology have led to dramatic improvements in the prospects of survival at both ends of life.  Extremely premature babies are now capable of surviving after less than six months in the womb.  An increasing number of children in our society are now being conceived as a result of advanced and invasive reproductive technology.

At the same time, detailed genetic screening of embryo and developing foetus is now possible, leading to new and complex ethical dilemmas.  Genetic ‘editing’ of the developing human is becoming a realistic possibility, although ethical concerns currently restrict its use.

At the other end of life, technology has enabled previously fatal diseases to be overcome, leading to a progressive increase in life expectancy.  Tragically this has been accompanied by a rising incidence of dementia and other degenerative conditions.

The very success of medical technology raises troubling questions.  How can we know when ‘enough is enough?’ What does it mean to ‘die well’ and is it possible that some form of medically assisted suicide, or euthanasia, should be considered in extreme cases?

At the root of these complex issues is the question of what it means to be human. My seminar will ask whether orthodox Christian understandings of humanity - embodied, fragile, flawed and yet uniquely wonderful – provide insights for the rapidly changing world of medical ethics.

Professor Wyatt’s seminar ‘The Beginning and the End: Issues of Life and Death’ took place on Monday, 3rd October 2016 at Union Theological College, Belfast.

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