A Christian Worldview: Technology & Medicine (2)

Now that such impressive scientific achievements are commonplace, people are growing restless for new categories of medical treatment. No longer content with merely being well, the selfie culture wants to be better than well. In humbler times, providing patients compassionate care was enough. But public expectation is shifting away from therapy toward enhancement, from restoring health to pursuing perfection. New medical consumers, already sold on cosmetic surgery and at ease with performance-enhancing drugs, are counting on a larger mall of products and services from which to choose. Genetic engineering promises to take their personal enhancement to a whole new level. Some scientists are channeling resources away from the pursuit of legitimate gene therapy to the search for genetic upgrades to sell to healthy people. They paint the picture of a biologically-augmented superhuman—a healthy, pretty, and witty demigod engineered to live for centuries.

This fascination with human enhancements panders to pride. Behind the narcissism lurks the materialistic delusion that human life is a merry-go-round that rotates once and then vanishes. Since a person goes around just once, he must quickly push and wheedle and sue to acquire the things that make for a happy ride. If he could obtain a premium mind and a perfect body, his ride would be all the merrier. What fun to be superior to the little people who can’t afford the technology! Amos rebuked the wealthy, self-indulgent people of Samaria, calling the leisure-class women “cows of Bashan” who graze in luxury, demand that their husbands satisfy their cravings, and despise the needy around them (Amos 4:1). Similarly, modern first-world egoists will consume more and more medical resources for personal enhancements not central to medicine, while millions will go without even basic care.

Point-and-Click Babies

If a designer body is appealing, many future parents are even more excited about the prospect of designer babies. Gender selection is already straightforward with current artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization techniques. We might justify choosing the sex of a child if parents want to avoid passing a sex-linked genetic disorder to their children, such as the hemophilia B that Queen Victoria spread through her offspring to many royal houses in Europe. Such illnesses are unusual; most parents have no medical justification for choosing their baby’s gender. Some want a boy or a girl to “balance” their families, while others want to choose the gender favored in their culture—usually male. China’s one-child policy shows where sex selection leads: because of their preference for male children, Chinese couples created a gender imbalance by selectively aborting girls. By 2008, China had 22% more boys than girls, and this surplus of young men is now fomenting social unrest.

Genetic engineering promises choices far beyond a child’s gender. Technicians can now use CRISPR-Cas9 molecular scissors to edit the DNA of egg and sperm cells. If we use this powerful technology to cut out and replace faulty genes, we will promote wellness. However, as genomic research identifies gene clusters associated with desirable traits such as increased intelligence, athleticism, and musicality, engineers will start to edit genes for non-medical purposes. Parents will soon be able to point and click their way down a menu of options to upgrade their baby’s personality, abilities, and appearance.

The designer-baby movement affronts God’s sovereign will. God makes each child male or female and chooses his or her characteristics in the womb as He pleases (Gen 1:27; Psa 139:13-17). Children are His gifts, and parents are to accept and love them unconditionally as whole persons, and not merely as commodities with pre-selected traits (Psa 127:3-5). Further, if parents control their child’s genetic endowments, they will corrupt normal bonding. Genetically engineered children will quickly realize that their parents, looking for a return on investment, love them not for who they are, but for how they perform. Children with genetic upgrades will bear the burden of living up to the standards their parents designed them to meet: they must excel. The oppressive weight of these expectations will smother their freedom to make their own way in the world.

Fetal Harvesting

Like current in vitro fertility techniques, the process of gene editing requires technicians to generate many embryos. From these, they will select one or two expressing the desired traits and destroy the rest—or sell them. They will implant the chosen one or two in a mother’s womb either to go to term as designer babies, or to die by abortion to harvest their designer tissue. As recent exposés have shown, the current abortion industry has grown rich from the sale of fetal organs; the designer-baby and designer-abortion industries will greatly expand this trafficking in baby parts. We would rightly denounce surgeons and scientists who took advantage of an organized homicidal machine that provided them with a limitless supply of cadavers for transplantation and research. The horrified world condemned the Nazi death system for doing just that. Two generations later, it is happening again. The only difference? We have substituted human embryos as the group of violated, commodified human beings priced at market value (Rev 18:13).

At Nuremberg, the world rightly rejected the Nazi doctors’ argument that since these inmates were going to be killed anyway, they should be put to good use. Yet proponents of gene editing have joined with abortion propagandists to advance the same rationale. They assuage the guilt of parents who are choosing death for their unborn children, arguing that the mother can redeem her abortion by donating the baby parts to provide tissue for research and therapy. Further, when patients need fetal tissue with precise genetic profiles to correct their medical problems, the system will recruit women to conceive life solely to terminate it. Who can possibly give consent for this? The mother who has chosen to have her unborn child killed, and who profits from the death, plainly has no moral status to speak on her baby’s behalf.

The Bible teaches that the “let us do evil that good may come” argument is wicked, and that utilitarian end-justifies-the-means reasoning is unconscionable for believers (Rom 3:8). Killing an innocent human being to alleviate the suffering of another is an immoral way of achieving that end. God never justifies evil means to produce good ends, even when those ends are highly desired. Since all human beings bear God’s image, we must honor each person as a noble end, and never demean him or her as a mere means for another’s gain. Adding a wrong to a wrong does not subtract the first wrong; it simply adds another wrong, compounding evil.

– To be continued