A Theology of Human Limitation and Medicine

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Christians view sickness as a part of life. Yet, modern medicine finds little purpose in the embodied human who is also a spiritual being. While Christians live with the two-fold reality that sickness and death will occur, they do not need to languish without medical treatment. Yet, the goods of health and life need to be sought within ethical limits and always with a Trinitarian focus. This article will offer a theological perspective on human limitation and medicine. I will first present a brief theology of sin and death. Many Protestants in the Augustinian tradition trace the origin of both spiritual and physical death to original sin. Second, I will offer a theology of illness. Christians have recognized that, postlapsarian, illness may have spiritual or physical causes. After the theology of illness, I will, third, describe a theology of medicine. Medicine is evidence of God-given human ingenuity, but, in the end, no amount of medical treatments can prevent death—only forestall the inevitable—and must be used within limits. My fourth section outlines a theology of human limitation. While Christians understand the Christ-centered boundaries of medical use, transhumanism vociferously rejects human limitation by encouraging unmitigated use of the medical industry to postpone—or even defy—death. As a theological corrective to transhumanism, I offer a Christian critique of transhumanism, with emphasis on limitation in community. I conclude with a biblically based approach to medicine that acknowledges the intertwined body and soul, individual and community.

Keywords: limitation; medical ethics; theology of illness; transhumanism

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Cite as: Cristina Richie, “A Theology of Human Limitation and Medicine,” Ethics & Medicine 37, no. 1 (2021): 45–59.

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About the Author

Cristina Richie, PhD
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Cristina Richie, PhD, is a Lecturer in the Philosophy and Ethics of Technology department at the Delft University of Technology. Richie was previously an Assistant Professor in the Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies Department at the Brody School of Medicine, East Carolina University (Greenville, NC). Richie is the joint-Editor of the journal Global Bioethics, the Chair of the Environmental Bioethics Affinity Group of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, and an Associate Fellow at The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity.

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