Tag Archives: Gilbert Meilaender

Meilaender on Marriage & Children

In his primer to bioethics (Bioethics: A Primer for Christians), Gilbert Meilaender argues that children are a gift from God, the fruit of a loving union, and so their existence is a result of procreation – of the love that precedes their begetting. He is wary of technologies that facilitate reproduction not least because practitioners may tend to think of children in terms of a product or a commodity, something to be produced like an item in a factory. Dangers here abound. Parents can tend to think of their children in terms of ownership (our child) rather than in terms of a task and a responsibility that has been given. Increasingly, technology can offer the possibility of designer babies, screening for defects, gender selection, and other options. As such, a child is produced, and the child’s worth may be considered as something achieved rather than in terms of inherent and inalienable right.

Meilaender is clearly very ambivalent about Christian use of assisted reproductive technologies, and comes close to saying that Christians should not utilise these means. He draws a firm boundary against the use of third parties in reproduction. Pastorally, he calls the couple experiencing difficulty in bearing children to walk a tough path; it presupposes they have a very strong commitment to trust in God and walk out God’s purpose for their lives possibly without children, to suffer this sadness, and perhaps, to do so in the midst of a supportive community of fellow-travellers.

Meilaender’s discussion of the natural biological bond between parents and children portrays an ideal, but is nonetheless a beautiful picture. He suggests the moral significance of the biological bond can be understood in three ways:

  1. As embodied creatures we need to know ourselves as those who occupy a fixed place in the generations. “Lines of kinship and descent locate and identify us, and, unless we learn to accept such a limit on our freedom, we remain alienated from our shared human nature” (13).

To learn to affirm and give thanks for our place in lines of kinship and descent is to begin to learn how to give thanks for the mysterious gift of life. We learn to accept and rejoice in our limits, our creatureliness, and we learn gradually to relinquish the secret longing to be more than that.

  1. Meilaender describes the act of human love in terms of passion and ecstasy, a “going out” from oneself, an act of mutual self-giving and self-spending that issues in the creation of another like us and of us, equal to us in dignity.
  2. Thus the couple’s love-making has become life-giving. “The act of love that overcame their separation and united them in “one flesh,” that directed them out of themselves and toward each other, creates in the child a still larger community—a sign once again that such self-giving love is by God’s blessing creative and fruitful.

That Meilaender argues along these lines suggests that he takes a teleological approach to marriage in which marriage includes procreation as one of its fundamental goods.