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Orthodox Christian Bioethics: Medical Morality in the Mind of the Fathers

There is a continuity between the discursive, rational commitments of the Scholasticism that emerged in the 13th century and the Enlightenment project of providing a rational account of proper moral probity. Although the Enlightenment attempted to give an account of morality undirected by revelation and ecclesiastical authority, thus involving a substantive break with previous moral assumptions, the Enlightenment as well as Scholasticism share a substantive commitment to reason’s abilities to provide outside of right worship and right belief a universal account of morality. Bioethics as it took shape in the 1970s reflected a late-Enlightenment attempt to provide a secular surrogate for the religious moral authorities that had once guided the West (Engelhardt, 2002). Secular and Western Christian bioethics have drawn on philosophical assumptions regarding the capacities of discursive reflection. They both have a penchant for attempting to identify moral truths with the deliverances of systematic moral reflections. In contrast, Orthodox Christianity lives in an understanding of morality uncompromised by Scholasticism, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, and the Enlightenment.