The practical problem of how to conduct oneself as a Christian and a Philosopher or Bioethicist in public debate an when asked to be engaged in government committees is difficult. One solution that has had some support has been to approach the issues on the grounds of our natural law tradition but understood anthropocentrically – the ultimate end is not communion with God by integral human development. This is often called New Natural Law (NNL)

This separation of Philosophy and Theology has had its critics and most notably the current Poe and his immediate predecessor. In their own writing addressed to people of goodwill, they took a different approach that was essentially Christocentric and involving s close partnership between Philosohy and Theology.

In my own experience over thirty years of public involvement in Bioethics, I have discovered that the NNL approach has two overwhelming problems. What is offered to the secular dialogue, as an anthropocentric natural law, often sounds false to secular others because we propose something guided by our beliefs, but failing to acknowledge that contribution. However something that I have discovered latterly in that approach is in fact false by our own standards. By the strictures we impose on our contribution we in fact ignore the New Law instituted by Christ, the law of love. The New Natural Law (NNL) Project has proved to be a failure where it has been tried, and, I know realize, was doomed from the outset, because in being anthropocentric it was essentially lacking and the answers that it gave to problems were often unsatisfactory because lacking love and the particular demand of needing to be capable of being oriented towards God, the God of love. The NNL approach tended to produce a casuistry that was too liberal and too lacking in understanding of the essential role that affectivity plays in our lives, created as we are in the imago dei, in the image and likeness of the God of love. Such a morality demands much more than anthropocentricism can demand.

In recognizing these difficulties I propose instead a more pragmatic approach that reflects a partnership between Philosophy and Theology as espoused by the Second Vatican Council, and by Pope’s Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, and which engages the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Servais Pinckaers. An approach that I have tried with some success in chairing government committees.

About the Author

Professor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini BA (Hons), MA (Monash), PhD (Melb) is the Institute Associate Dean (Teaching, Learning and Research) and Head of Bioethics and also a consultant in bioethics. He is a member of the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council and chair of the sub-committees on the Unresponsive State and Comercialization of Human Tissue.