ETHICS AT THE EDGES OF LIFE: Medical and Legal Intersections by Paul Ramsey

ETHICS AT THE EDGES OF LIFE: Medical and Legal Intersections

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As a debater, theologian Paul Ramsey would be a formidable opponent. He speaks for a position (essentially anti-abortion but pro-birth control) eloquently--but almost ex cathedra. The assurance of the dedicated ""Christian ethicist"" who values all human life as sacred is emphatic, at times disquieting, at times irritating. What he writes about is of major importance: do women have a ""right"" to abortion, even late in pregnancy? Are the ""rights"" of the individual and assurances of ""privacy"" always to take precedence over the rights of a spouse, of the fetus? Is there ever any justification for ""benign neglect"" of infants born with severe defects? Are ""living wills"" acceptable? For the most part Ramsey finds present laws and trends deplorable. We have, he says, foundered on concepts of ""ordinary/extraordinary""; we have adopted a stance of radical individualism ignoring the covenants of marriage and family. We hamper doctors by dictating what should be standard medical practice: never to prolong dying needlessly; always to intervene if medical indications are that the patient will benefit. We are willynilly headed toward voluntary or even involuntary euthanasia. These ideas provide some notion of the book's compass. Each chapter turns on specific issues, legislation, or trials: the Supreme Court's Bicentennial abortion decision, the Edelin case (the Massachusetts doctor accused of reckless manslaughter of a fetus), the Quinlan case, and so on. Ramsey examines the reasoning embodied in the decisions with a ruthlessness often verging on contempt for the lawyers judges, or fellow ""ethicists"" (execrable word) involved. What one misses in this dour indictment of Western mores and morals is a sense of humility and compassion. Nowhere does Ramsey indicate that parents of a defective child, for example, are scathingly treated by the professional community and public alike; that it is essential that people be educated in birth control, in caring rather than hoping for cures, in understanding death and mourning. One would have liked to have Ramsey point the way toward better actions rather than pronounce only fearful jeremiads.

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1978
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press