Medical ethics concerns many areas of ethical debate. Including such controversial
issues such as euthanasia, abortion and human cloning, medical ethics sparks lively debates.
The issue of abortion is a very relevant and controversial issue. There are opposition and supporters from both a religious ethical background and a non-religious ethical background.
Those who come from a Christian ethical background tend to have a similar argument, that of the sanctity of life.
Roman Catholics oppose abortion using the Christian ethical theory of Natural Law. Abortion would be going against natural law as it interferes with Gods will. Abortion is right in no circumstances, in other words it is intrinsically evil, as it involves the murder of an innocent life.
Protestants do, in principle, oppose abortion on the ground that murder is wrong, as stated in the bible;
Thou shalt not kill (Exodus) and as abortion is in effect murder, abortion must therefore also be wrong. However, some more liberal protestants allow abortion in certain circumstances, such as before the nervous system has developed (before the foetus can feel) if the mothers life or health is threatened or if the pregnancy is from an exceptional situation, such as the result of rape.
There seems to be no reason however, as to why these two standpoints could not be from a non-religious ethic. The appreciation of life is not something that is exclusive to religion, and therefore the view that abortion is murder could stand with anyone who believes that the foetus is a person, and this need not be a religious standpoint. Equally the Liberal protestant view could again apply to anyone who believes that murder is wrong, yet as circumstances differ, the things to be considered also differ. This is a relativist situationist standpoint but again does not have to be religious. In fact many non-religious people do tend to be situationists as they judge decisions on their consequences and not on the action itself, as no action is considered intrinsically wrong, as it is not deemed by any higher being or book, as it is in religion.
These arguments also apply in relation to euthanasia. Roman Catholics view murder as wrong and as euthanasia is essentially murder, it must also be wrong. It would also be considered as going against Natural Law as it interferes with Gods will, just as abortion does. Protestants would claim that the bible condemns euthanasia as it is murder, yet come more liberal Protestants again claim that all factors should be considered in order to make a decision relative to that persons individual situation.
Many people would argue however that without a religious ethic there are no clear rules and boundaries. Deontological ethical theories, that are absolutist theories that apply in all situations, provide these boundaries as the answer will always be the same. Yet not all religious ethical theories are deontological, such as Fletchers Situation ethics, which is teleological. This means that religious ethics do not always provide a clear cut answer, just as non-religious ethics may not.
Many religious fundamentalists would argue that atheists, for example, cannot have a similar appreciation of life as they do. Atheists do not believe in God, and some would argue that as they do not believe in anything, they cannot have the same appreciation of life. Yet it appears that without a belief in anything religious, life becomes even more precious. Without the promise of an afterlife, which is provided by Christianity, this current life becomes even more precious and amazing. As you only get one shot at life from an atheist perspective, the feeling to preserve it as much as possible, along with do the same for others would seem to be even stronger. Without the excuse that the person/foetus will go to Heaven, murder seems to be even more wrong, as it would take away the one life that that person has been offered.
In conclusion I think that a religious ethic is by no means the only acceptable basis for medical ethics. Although some Christian ethics will provide a stable answer for every situation, an answer that will never change and therefore will have clear-cut boundaries, not every person in the world will ever be of the same religion, and therefore it cannot be universal.
Therefore a non-religious ethic which everyone could agree on seems more acceptable, such as one that allows situations to be considered, because therefore a religious ethic could be used in certain circumstances if the people involved would like to do so, as that happens to be their own situation; similarly if someone does not want to apply a religious ethical theory then they are not obliged to do so, because again this option would apply to their situation. Therefore situationist ethics that are not based on religion can be made universal, allowing religious ethics to be applied or not according to the wishes of the people involved and this seems to me to be the only acceptable basis for medical ethics, an ethic that will allow for everyones personal beliefs.