Law is political. Law is usually made in a highly charged political environment. Anyone who has ever been involved in the legislative process knows that the merits of the matter are often irrelevant to the ultimate outcome of a proposed law. Money, special interests, partisan politics, procedural shenanigans, and political clout often drive the legislative process. Political expedience frequently prevails over principled decision making. Because of this, the law is seldom an adequate standard by which to gauge ethical decision making in the biomedical field.
Law does not rest on a transcendent standard. In the arena of ethics, right and wrong are judged by a transcendent standard. Something is viewed as morally right or wrong based on whether it comports with a "higher" law. That higher law may be deemed the Law of Nature or of Nature's God; but it is deemed to be, in all events, something that is true and binding on everyone. In the legal arena, however, transcendent standards are frequently jettisoned. Lawmakers and judges often view themselves as the highest authority, and their pronouncements are deemed final and binding. This view of the law is called "legal positivism" and is rooted in the notion that the "law" is what judges and lawmakers say it is! This view has not always prevailed. Martin Luther King, Jr., reasoned, "How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust?
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law...One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws." Dr. King's views mirror those of St. Augustine, who declared, "An unjust law is no law at all." Our laws should always be rooted in the higher law binding on all men, but, sadly, sometimes they are not. Therefore, the law is not always a reliable guide for our behavior.
Abraham Lincoln, arguing against the institution of slavery, maintained that "[no]body has a right to do wrong." His point very simply was that no one has the right to degrade or harm a person and call it their right. In many quarters, Lincoln's argument would carry little weight in America today. In our "enlightened" secularized society, the relationship between moral truth and the law has been broken. Morals and ultimate values may be deemed to have a place, but only outside the legal arena. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the area of abortion. The "right" to abort a child results from the Supreme Court's decision to give primacy to so-called "rights of privacy and personal autonomy." Because of the weight given by the Court to the interests an individual has in personal autonomy and privacy, a woman's right of privacy was deemed by the Court to outweigh any claim her unborn child had to a right to life. Nowhere in its decision did the Court address the morality of a mother killing her unborn child.
In contrast, the transcendent moral law, spelled out in the Scriptures, recognizes the worth, value and dignity of all individuals, including children. A careful examination of Scripture on subjects relating to the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family (all of which are implicated in many biomedical decisions) yields numerous conflicts with our current civil law. Because of recent changes in the foundations of American law, Christians will do well to look to the law of God, as well as to the law of the land, when seeking guidance in making sound biomedical decisions.
The Psalmist declared, "The law of the LORD [not the law of man] is sure, making wise the simple." Rarely are there decisions that call for greater wisdom than the life-and-death judgments that are involved in the biomedical field. May God grant us the wisdom to discern not only that which is legal, but also that which is right.