In the Nov/Dec 2004 Equip for Ministry, we reviewed a strategic book on biotechnology, Human Dignity in the BioTech Century, edited by Charles W. Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron. We believe biotechnology is one of the most crucial, exciting, challenging, yet dangerous areas for us to consider. Without a doubt it is true that the 21st century will prove to be the biotech century. Therefore, Christians need to be prepared to think clearly from a biblical reformed worldview and know how to teach their children to do the same. We are responsible to serve God in all of life, including biotechnology, but with our sinful nature we cannot always be trusted to do so because of our tendency to play God.
When it comes to biotechnology, we must not fall into the trap of dualism. Dualism is one of the most dangerously deceptive ideas today for Christians and non-Christians as well. So much of our Western thinking is based on it. Dualism has even taken deep roots within the evangelical community. Dualism seeks to divide life in to separate units or areas that do not need to connect. The result, as far as biotechnology is concerned, is the conscious effort to separate technology from ethics. This is dangerous because of its implications on the Lordship of Christ.
In reality you cannot separate ethics and technology. There are no dualistic sacred and secular realms in life. All of life is one. God has structured his reality to underscore the “unity of reality.” The danger of dualism is the temptation to believe that it is permissible for man to do whatever he is capable of doing. In other words, the ability to do something means that it is allowable to do. But, is that a proper line of reasoning, especially with the fine line between serving God and playing God?
In the case of artificial or alternative reproduction, scientists have been able to manipulate and control the birth process. Creating embryos in vitro (in the petri dish) is being done over and over. It is now a technological reality that life can be created artificially. Man can do that with a fairly good track record. But, should it be done? After all many childless couples now have children by the in vitro fertilization process. That process, however, raises ethical dilemmas. Scientists and medical personnel may need to create from three to five embryos for one to work, but what happens with the leftovers? What are we now to do with the between 300,000 to one million frozen embryos in storage? The shelf lives of many of those embryos are reaching their expiration dates.
I participated in a think tank a few years ago with a group made up of ethicists, lawyers, psychologists, and doctors dealing with this very dilemma. That was a challenging, as well as enlightening, experience. I will use the term artificial or alternative reproduction as an example to respond to several questions recently asked us, regarding the PCA’s position on stem cell research.
In case you’re asked, I respond in a twofold manner. First, the PCA has not, as of yet, adopted a position on stem cell research. However, the PCA has adopted positions on the sanctity of human life, which become a guide for us in this area. For example: In its position statement on abortion, the PCA has said clearly that human life begins at conception and as such, “is under the protection of the Sixth Commandment… and that because Scripture clearly affirms the sanctity of life and condemns its arbitrary destruction, we affirm that the intentional killing of an unborn child between concept and birth, for any reason, is clearly a violation of the Sixth Commandment, (1980 General Assembly Minutes, Overture 12).
When it comes to stem cell research, we have to operate ethically and morally. Therefore we ask if stem cell research is ethically and morally permissible. Our immediate response is that as long as it does not violate the Sixth Commandment, maybe so. However, we are told that the easiest way “to produce stem cells is to divide an early stage embryo into its component cells, thereby destroyed the embryonic human being.” (The Reproductive Revolution, John F. Kilner, Paige C. Cunningham, and W. David Hagar). While it may or may not be true that stem cells have the capacity to develop body parts, tissues, and organs, this does not justify the violation of the Sixth Commandment regarding “embryonic humans” in order to get those things. We believe that such stem cell research with human embryos crosses the line ethically and biblically, and Christians must know how to speak out in this area. We cannot fall into the dualistic trap at this critical point.
Stem cell research with adults, on the other hand, is not a life-threatening proposition and can possibly do much good in things like “genetic repair.” So it may be permissible in some cases. Where there is no violation of the Sixth Commandment, such research is permissible, as long as scientist realizes that life is sacred and they are self-consciously operating on that biblical commandment.
In conclusion to the question, “what is the PCA’s position on stem cell research?” we will simply say, as long as we adhere to the sanctity of life and do not transgress the Sixth Commandment, and as long as we do not attempt to separate bioethics from biotechnology, we believe man has and can continue to serve God’s purpose in a positive and life honoring way. However, we must start from a solidly biblical and ethical foundation as the research continues. As long we are engaged in making kingdom disciples, we will do what we can to encourage parents, adults, and churches in their discipleship and education training to teach God’s covenant people how to deal with these extremely important issues.