One of the things that has disturbed me as a Christian in the recent pandemic has been the number of Christians, and some pastors of congregations, who have questioned or sown doubts in the value and safety of the recent government national vaccination program. Sadly, this reveals a very shallow or faulty theology, and inadequate understanding of the Bible and our responsibility as stewards of the God given creation.
In our foundation story in Genesis 1:26-27 Christians learn that we are created in “the image and likeness of God”. We also learn that we are given by God the authority over creation and entrusted with the stewardship and care of it and the discovery and unfolding of its wonders.
One of the roles of scientists, and particularly bio-medical researchers is to fulfil that mandate, particularly in their work of preserving life, and in aiding the healing of the sick, and in preventing disease.
For many Christian scientists it is seen as a sacred privilege, duty, and vocation in which they engage with great dedication and care. They are also aware of the great tradition in which they stand of the Churches long commitment to compassion for, caring for, and the healing of the sick. In this they follow the example of Jesus in the Gospels. (Mark 1:29-42) This tradition has greatly influenced the medical community in general. For example, many of our public hospitals have their origins in Christian foundations. I had the privilege of serving a congregation for many years whose members included many in senior roles in the medical and scientific community, who all saw their work in this light.
Of the many medical research bodies doing exceptional work in Australia, an excellent example is Melbourne’s “Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical research”. Among their many projects they are presently doing extraordinarily creative research in a variety of cutting-edge areas, such as strokes in babies, immunology, brain cancer, inflammatory disorders, infectious diseases, and Biologic Therapies. Such research bodies also now have at their disposal amazing technological tools created by other researchers in other fields such as microscopy techniques. The combination of these areas of creative research will lead to the extension of preventative and interventionist healing for thousands of people.
Today all medical research is subject to strict controls and supervision in the following ways:
- Medical research is subject to wide peer review by the scientific and research community.
- New drugs and therapies are subject to rigorous testing in trials before approval is granted for public release.
- Modern democratic governments have appointed strict boards of review that vet and have power to approve or refuse approval of any new therapy, such as a specific vaccination. The findings of separate national boards of review are available and shared with other national boards of review. This also includes the UN’s international body, WHO.
- The international medical community and research bodies also carry out long term reviews on widely used therapies to assess their long-term effects and monitor the need for revising advice if necessary.
- In the present case of an international pandemic the information from these multiple layers of testing and control are widely shared and so greatly enhance the levels of safety.
Genesis also teaches us that we are now flawed and ‘fallen’ images of, and creators after God (Gen.3) and so our creativity can be used for good or ill. That is why we have created the controls and supervision mentioned above and why we should support and affirm them, and in our democratic tradition keep watch over them in our elected parliamentary governance.
Peter Corney is the Vicar Emeritus of St Hilary’s Kew.