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“Ethics in the Areopagus”

We could just as easily say, “there are no morals,” as “today’s youth is not interested in living with values.”

Still, sharing the reflection with young people in the university classroom, Christians, Catholics, Jews or non-religious, it seems that the outlook on ethics is rather optimistic, particularly so in the area of bioethics, where scientific disciplines intersect with vital problematic issues, while official voices are heard, both political and ecclesiastical, intolerant or deceptively pluralist.

These young people who have the financial resources to study at a private university show a sensitivity to social problems, which constitutes the framework within which we must place the issue on the ethics of human life. This contextual framework is a peculiar feature of ethics that takes place in Latin America. On a continent where for most people the quality of life is minimal or at best is fragile, it is convenient to speak of bioethics without placing it within a context of social class.  Still, we must take into account the vulnerability within which life unfolds, mainly due to economic conditions that do not allow access of the majority of the population to health services, much less the use of scientific advances. Therefore, in this context it seems more appropriate to speak of ethics of human life.

This social awareness and this critical perspective help young people to see that not all current scientific techniques are the ultimate solution to problems in the ethics of human life. This can be seen with three bioethical issues that have been present in the media in the last semester.  First, in heterologous assisted human reproduction, the uncontrolled number of children conceived with sperm from a single donor has warned us about the risks of biological consanguinity that this “relationship” can mean for groups of children conceived in these circumstances.  A second case concerns a 65 year old Mexican woman in whose uterus has grown her grandson, the product of the union of the sperm of her gay son and the egg of his friend.  She is now grandmother and “mother.”  The third example is the alarming increase in the number of young women who have abortions at public clinics in Mexico City as a regular means of birth control rather than seeing it as an extreme alternative.

Of course young people say that civil legislation is needed to avoid the trivialization of serious problems like those mentioned above.  But they also assert the need for a more holistic understanding of these issues.  Finally, they insist upon the need to form the framework of a civilian ethics, in which all people are considered valid interlocutors, with a priority for those who have been excluded from society, and one that is also respectful of the convictions of everyone, where Christian inspiration could promote an ethics that maximizes the universalizable, preferably through the witness of life.

It is also interesting and encouraging to see that there are quite a few students who show interest and surprise at the critical positions of open and progressive Catholic ethicists seeking links between the Christian tradition and the ethical concerns of young people today. Synergy in a healthy pluralism can benefit us all.

Despite the uncertainties, Christian ethics has hope. The square of the Areopagus is available and most partners are attentive and willing to dialogue.

Miguel Ángel Sánchez Carlos ( is a Doctor in Theology from the Theological Faculty of Granada, Spain. Master of Theology from the Catholic University of Lyon, France. He teaches moral theology at the Department of Religious Studies at the Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico City. He is a member of the Espacio de Pastoral Urbana de México, where he works on a variety of publications and editor of the Revista Iberoamericana de Teología.