I have received and started reading both of the books I mentioned in an earlier post and so far, both have exceeded my expectations, especially Fr. Breck's The Sacred Gift of Life. I haven't gotten more than 50 pages into it and I'm already challenged and enlightened. Take this passage in the introduction:
To speak of the sanctity or sacredness of human life is also to speak of "personhood." One is truly a person only insofar as one reflects the "being-in-communion" of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. This is a much misunderstood concept in present-day America, where the "person" has been thoroughly confused with the "individual." Individual characteristics distinguish us from one another, whereas authentic personhood unites us in a bond of communion with each other and with God.
This relational understanding of personhood is obviously different than the common conception, and is radically opposed to those who claim personhood is dependent on the capacity for rational thought. I have in mind Peter Singer (and those who agree with him) who argues that it is fine to kill an infant and the severely mentally disabled or injured because they are nonpersons due to their inability to "think." But if personhood is intrinsically linked to relationship, than no one can ever be a nonperson - we all exist in a web of relationships, be they familial or other. And once ensnared in that web, which cannot happen but at the moment of conception, all human life is instantly personal. This also has obvious bearing on end-of-life issues for those with a severe brain injury that has left them in persistent vegetative state. I'm anxious to see how Fr Breck develops this concept in later chapters.
In the Introduction, Fr Breck also offers a frank discussion on the difficulty of moral & ethical consideration in a modern context. This is due both to the developments in technology and medical science that the biblical and patristic authors did not and could not envision, and to the Orthodox focus on "moral theology" instead of "Christian ethics." This focus on ethics as a theological discipline requires a sea-change in current medical thinking on the purpose of medical care. According to Breck, "[h]ealth and wholeness have ultimate meaning only within the perspective of God's eternal purpose, the divine economy to be fulfilled at the 'second and glorious coming' of Jesus Christ. Medical care, therefore, should serve not only the proximate goal of restoring or improving bodily health; it should strive to provide optimal conditions for the patient's spiritual growth at every stage of the life cycle." Needless to say, I have seen little concern for the patient's spiritual, or even personal, growth in my facility. It would require a complete sea-change in modern medical thinking to move beyond the mere mechanics of health and the fear of death that seems to drive so many doctors and patients. And medical ethics is not something that can be left to the so-called experts, "[a]t its core, Christian ethics is a function of the worshipping, serving Church. This means that the work of doing ethics is a communal, ecclesial work for which each of us is responsible."
Chapter 1, which I have yet to complete, is focused on explaining the theological underpinnings upon which Fr Breck will later develop his arguments. And I have to say that it is one of the best summaries of Orthodox theology that I have yet encountered in any of my readings. He covers a range of topics, providing a wealth of information in a concise and easily read format. I will pull out some key points once I have finished the chapter, which is necessarily a bit long. I'm looking forward to working through this book slowly over the next couple of months.