Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Ethics of Birth

Technological advances are on the horizon which will allow for the selection of and even genetic manipulation of human embryos for a consumer niche. This situation brings up many moral considerations. We are speaking of exactly the sort of culture that the movie GATTACA displays. Dr. R. Albert Mohler recently wrote an article on that was so important, I will post it here in its entirety, before posting my own response.

The Age of the Designer Baby Arrives
Albert Mohler

The logic of the genetics revolution leads inevitably to the concept of the designer baby. New technologies bring new possibilities and hard choices, and the new genetic technologies bring genuinely frightening new possibilities. Now, even designer babies loom as a very real scenario. Until very recently, genetic technologies related to the screening of embryos were entirely negative. In other words, these tests screened for the genetic markers for certain diseases. Now, at least some fertility clinics promise to offer testing that will allow parents to choose positive, non-medical traits for their children. Science fiction is about to become fact, and the nightmare scenarios of writers such as Aldous Huxley may soon be realized.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on this issue, and the paper's report indicates just how close at hand this prospect now may be. The report directs attention to pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or PDG.

Now, as the paper reported, "the growth of PGD, unfettered by any state or federal regulations in the U.S., has accelerated genetic knowledge swiftly enough that pre-selecting cosmetic traits in a baby is no longer the stuff of science fiction."

The use of PGD is becoming more common in fertility clinics, and the technology is morally problematic, to say the very least. Used since the 1990s, the technology allows what amounts to a search and destroy mission directed at human embryos considered to be unworthy of life. The technology is now paired with a moral outlook that assumes that parents should have the choice, if not the duty, to avoid having a child with a propensity toward certain diseases. The extension of this logic to other traits is inevitable.

Americans are addicted to the culture of consumer choice. Advances in the PGD technology may soon allow parents to choose traits ranging from gender to eye color and beyond. Will clinics offer this service? Here representatives of the industry disagree.

As the paper reports:

"It's technically feasible and it can be done," says Mark Hughes, a pioneer of the PGD process and director of Genesis Genetics Institute, a large fertility laboratory in Detroit. However, he adds that "no legitimate lab would get into it and, if they did, they'd be ostracized."

But Fertility Institutes disagrees. "This is cosmetic medicine," says Jeff Steinberg, director of the clinic that is advertising gender and physical trait selection on its Web site. "Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it."

Sadly, some clinics are sure to offer what would-be parents are willing to fund. Morality gives way to the demands of the market.

What about public opinion? The paper explains:

In a recent U.S. survey of 999 people who sought genetic counseling, a majority said they supported prenatal genetic tests for the elimination of certain serious diseases. The survey found that 56% supported using them to counter blindness and 75% for mental retardation.

More provocatively, about 10% of respondents said they would want genetic testing for athletic ability, while another 10% voted for improved height. Nearly 13% backed the approach to select for superior intelligence, according to the survey conducted by researchers at the New York University School of Medicine.

These number[s] are sure to rise. Parents offered the opportunity to choose to have more intelligent, more athletic, more conventionally beautiful children are likely to want that choice -- even if they feel guilty about its implications. Before long, the factor of choice becomes a social mandate.

As reporter Gautam Naik of The Wall Street Journal explains, these technologies are still in development. No current technology allows parents to order a baby like customers order an automobile -- at least not yet. The shape of the future is fast coming into view, however.

Not all those cited in the article are thrilled with the prospect. Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, California commented, "If we're going to produce children who are claimed to be superior because of their particular genes, we risk introducing new sources of discrimination."

One of the figures leading the development of these technologies also voiced his concern. "I'm not going to do designer babies," says Dr. William Kearns of the Shady Grove Center for Preimplantation Genetics in Rockville, Maryland. "I won't sell my soul for a dollar."

Others are only too willing to offer these technologies as soon as they are available. As Dr. Steinberg of th Fertility Institutes said above, "Others are frightened by the criticism but we have no problems with it."

Those who honor the sanctity of life will have big problems with these technologies. Genetic screening brings the brave new world of designer babies, dividing embryonic humans into those considered fit for life, and those considered unfit. The "unfit" embryos are destined for destruction.

We have seen this logic before, but we appear to have missed the moral lesson. We can only imagine what the scientists of the Nazi regime would have done with this technology.

The brave new world of designer babies is about to be upon us. We will soon learn what, in moral terms, we really believe about human dignity and the value of human life.


Dr. Mohler ably outlined the situation and alluded to some of the problems that may arise. I think a further development of those problems is in order.

Marcy Darnovsky mentions that this may give rise to new sources of discrimination. If my readers have ever seen the movie GATTACA, which I recommend, they will see a similar notion. Those who were not genetically enhanced were considered "in-valids" These individuals were reduced to manual labor and janitorial jobs, guarded so that they would not escape and try to rise above their station. We chalk this up to fancy and imagination, but knowing the fallen state of man and the ever-falling nature of our culture, would this not be the case?

A genetically enhanced person (GEP) would be a member of an elite caste, because only the wealthy can afford to undertake the PGD and genetic manipulation process. There is already an ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots in this country. GEPs would only widen the gap further, essentially creating a new race of sorts. Eventually entire generations of venerated GEPs could be a separate group from ordinary people.

Dr. Mohler also mentioned the Nazis in his article. I think, however, he draws far too much of a distinction between Nazi Germany and the present USA. As I will outline further, both groups are based on similar underlying ideas. The Nazis showed their disregard for human life by experimenting on and destroying people they felt did not meet the Aryan qualifications. The Nazis merely took their philosophies to their logical conclusion. Our rejected embryos would not merely be destroyed (although that is horrifying enough), they would be ghoulishly ripped apart for use in utilitarian scientific and medical research and experimentation. We have already started this phase in our nation - taking embryonic stem-cells from aborted babies. We are the Nazis.

A second movie that I recommend is "Expelled," with Ben Stein. In this recent documentary, he examined the Darwinian thought process down its logical path to Social Darwinism (SD). SD is the application of Darwinian ideals to social life. SD has resulted in an almost complete secularization of every country it has come in contact with. Karl Marx was deeply influenced by Charles Darwin's theories. Fascism and Communism have both arisen from Darwinism. These two theories of social order have resulted in the literally countless murders of Jews and Christians.

Our own nation, since World War II, has been moving closer and closer to a secularist, Darwinian nation. France and Great Britain are even closer than we. By reducing humanity to dictums like "survival of the fittest," we lift up the individual as most important. While this, on the surface, seems to refute Communism, it actually fits. If the populace is only a mass that consumes, they are more likely to bestow the government with all ruling authority and decision-making. We are far more concerned with buying "stuff," than in the implications of our decisions. Because there is no longer a moral "ought," nothing holds us back from pursuing our whims en masse. This is a philosophy of utility.

Have no illusions, we are the Nazis. We are the Communists. When we are too wrapped up in our own problems and our own desire for wealth, allowing the government to think for us, there is danger ahead. Utilitarianism says that we should use the weak to feed the strong. We see this lived out daily in our nation as we neglect the weak and elderly, we use the poor, and we murder the innocent. Now we will begin taking from these "in-valids" to fuel our own desires.

One last thought. We have elected a president who has openly stated that he will not limit any form of abortion and he has said, in his inaugural speech, that he wants to return [Darwinian] science to its rightful place in the schools. He has made remarks in his stump speeches which scoff at Christians' faith. This is a man who upholds Social Darwinistic ideals. He may be an icon to many, but he also possesses the ideology to be a monster-in-the-making.


lawngospel said...


First of all, let me say that I agree with your conclusions and stance against this technology.

However, it should be noted that Dr. Mohler did not use one verse of Scripture to back up his claims (at least in this article -- I know he does elsewhere), and neither did you.

I don't bring this up to disagree with yall, because, like I said, I wholeheartedly agree with your conclusions. I merely want to show the double standard that we have set up in conservative evangelicalism when we discuss topics such as genetic engineering, as opposed to contraception. When we debate birth control, we hear piercing cries for "Christian liberty!", no matter the overarching paradigm that is readily apparent in the contraceptive mentality. In matters of GEP however, we are content to be convinced that our view of humanity is at stake, regardless of whether or not the Bible every says "Thou shall not genetically modify."

Oh, that we would find our theological consistency...

Your brother in Christ,

Steven Douglas said...

Hi Hank,

Thanks for stopping by. You are right. That is something I also noticed. I had planned to continue my monologue including the Scriptures that lead to the condemnation of these pracices, but decided it would be best saved for a follow-up blog article due to length. I also agree with your stance on consistency.

Another perspective, though. While I agree that Scripture must be that which our philosophies and ethics are based on, do we really need to bring up chapter or verse each time we talk about them, especially in a largely homogeneous setting? Maybe so. Most of us know, however, what Scripture says on these things and so don't bring up the verses (unless the audience requires it).

I think there is a lot to consider in these debates and we have to understand Scripture in its context well, before we are able to apply it to these topics.

As for contraception, I think there is a big difference between wearing a condom (or pulling-out, or the sponge) and using the pill or IUD. When it comes to condoms, what Scripture restricts it? We can say, in a general sense, that God's ideal is that "the two will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24-25), and "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). But we are assuming things when we say that these verses mean that people cannot use condoms.

One verse that is often used in regards to condoms or "pulling-out," is Gen. 38:9-10 (Onan). Yet what he did was wrong because it went against God's law of the Kinsman Redeemer, not a law against pulling-out.

Really, we are essentially talking about a philosophy here, we believe that God made all things "good," including reproduction. Therefore, a man's semen belongs in his wife and no where else. That is certainly an ideal, and is probably biblical, but unlike the laws of the kinsman redeemer, and against fornication/adultery/homosexuality/rape/divorce-remarriage, we have no mandate that says no use of these two contraceptive methods.

Other methods of birth-control like the pill, the day after pill, or the IUD, are all things that can damage a baby or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. This involves the death or possible death of a human being. There are many Scripture verses against the murder of people (esp. Ex. 20:13/Deut5:17), or the destruction of the innocents (all over the prophets and the gospels). These cross over the boundary into morally problematic because they can kill.

So, if we are to be consistent, some (but not all) have grounds for Christian freedom, even if you or I disagree with them. Others, however, are possibly complicit in murder and are thus are not taking God's laws seriously.