Human Dignity in the Biotech Century: A Christian Vision for Public Policy

This book deals with the second of the five great challenges facing the Christian community today, biotechnology. It proclaims hope for life today and tomorrow, and yet how it operates offers great threats and challenges to our very existence as human beings. Biotechnology is a diverse field, as in: stem cell research (either embryonic or adult stem cells), therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning, gene patenting, genetic discrimination, germ line intervention, nanotechnology, and cybernetics. Christians cannot afford to be ignorant of this field because it touches our lives, directly or indirectly.

The contributors to this book are people very much involved in the biotech field. They confront their topics in a manner that underscores the challenge sounded by Chuck Colson in the introduction, “Christians must bring that influence to bear in public policy in order to keep moral truth attached to scientific progress. The whole idea of producing humans for body parts or for stem cells may sound appealing to some, but it will lead inevitably to the abolition of humankind and the ultimate end of Western civilization as we know it” (page 18).

There are three things that come through clearly from each writer. First, we must not take the route of the naturalists and attempt to dichotomize bioethics from biotechnology. We also must encourage and do whatever is necessary to establish legislation that will create guidelines as we move forward with biotech. Finally, Christians must bring their focus into the public arena and to impact the culture with Christian thought. Biotechnology is the challenge to the question, “what is human life?” Cameron clearly states the progression of this kind of thinking-if we can make life, then we can take life, and if we can do that, then we can “fake” life.

Presently there are as many as one half million to one million frozen embryos. What is an embryo? What can we do with the surplus? Can and should they be used for things like stem-cell research? Do we just let them live out their shelf life then discard them? These are the kinds of questions we face when we fail to ask up front if we should even produce embryos, especially in excess.

Then there is germ line intervention, which sounds appealing at first glance because it is similar to the science of eugenics, of attempting to improve people. Germ line intervention seeks to alter certain inherited disease-causing genes. However, is it moral and ethical to do something to a person’s germ line that not only touches that person’s life now, but also impacts children and grandchildren for generations to come?

Christians are required to believe in the sanctity of life, which must not be sacrificed in biotech. Cameron says in this book, “The human race faces a challenge of a new kind, for which our churches are ill-prepared and which poses enormous problems to governments.” Basically he was referring to problems such as cloning and stem cell research.

There is also a uniform caution throughout the book that challenges this idea, ‘if you can do it, it is right to do it.” We can clone, but is it right? We can create embryos in vitro or the petri dish, but is it right to do so?

There is another warning sounded clearly about the lure of biotechnology as a solution for such diseases as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. We often hear the positive side of biotechnology in this respect. However, in the reporting on the cloning of Dolly, the sheep in England, we did not often hear about the down side of such endeavors-tumor formations, failed attempts, transplant rejection, etc. A Christian cannot allow the idea that the human embryo is a commodity, a piece of property, or “raw materials” for experimentation to discard.

Is it ethical and morally right to attempt to eliminate those humans who have genetic defects? Should employers use genetic discrimination based on genetic defects? Is the philosophy, “the ends justify the means” a valid approach for Christians? It is no longer science fiction to think about a child who, because of genetic engineering, may have as many as five parents. This not only raises ethical and moral questions, but legal ones as well. Leon Kass, now chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, called it right when he said, “We …would be taking a major step into making man himself simply another one of the man-made things.” There must be strong laws in place, legislating and creating ethical boundaries. The risk is so enormous that without them, we could destroy ourselves, create monsters, and change the course of history.

It is so frustrating to try to write enough about this book to encourage you to read it, study it, and teach it to the covenant community. It will challenge, frighten, and yet lay out a course that will help you think and pray from an intelligent base of knowledge and truth. It must be integrated into the church’s curriculum of equipping kingdom disciples, if we are indeed committed to training and discipling God’s people to live in this world.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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