Defending Life: Not What It Used To Be
(Editor’s note: This is the second of several articles on biotechnology. Future articles will deal with specific issues in more detail. Readers are encouraged to use the glossary of biotechnology words published in the September newsletter for a more complete definition of terms).
Initially the pro-life movement focused on abortion. The central issue was when life begins.
While that remains a hotly debated topic, the movement has grown to embrace the protection of all innocent life. As a result, opposition to euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the willful neglect of the aged have taken on equal importance.
Now we find that those who honor the sanctity of life must expand their vision, once again, to address an even greater question: what does it mean to be human?
The driving force behind this need is the rapidly-emerging biotechnology industry which offers as much potential for evil as it does for healing cures.
Such issues as embryonic stem cell and fetal tissue research, cloning, genetic engineering/screening, gene patenting, eugenics, and transhumanism pose a bewildering list of challenges for lawmakers to resolve.
“If not guided by a moral compass, we will unleash profit-driven ghoulish forces that threaten to permanently alter human nature,” said Georgia Right to Life (GRTL) President Dan Becker. “We need to step up to the plate and get involved before the debate is lost.”
Taking on this challenge does not automatically make GRTL anti-science. “This is not an all or nothing situation. The pro-life movement can work with the scientific and medical communities to develop policies that address these challenges," he added.
Those challenges are profound. The following are examples of the most controversial issues:
· Embryonic stem cell and fetal tissue research require that embryos (children) be created so they can be destroyed. In addition, while embryonic stem cell research has produced no cures, adult stem cells have already proven useful in the treatment of more than 70 diseases.
· Cloning, either “therapeutic” or “reproductive,” makes the creation of life an assembly line process conducted in the laboratory. It also crosses the dividing line between who we are and what we can make. Further, in all therapeutic and in some reproductive uses, it results in the destruction of life (abortion).
· Genetic engineering/screening can be used to either prevent inheritable diseases, or create “designer babies” with the desired sex, intelligence, height, and hair color. Also, such knowledge could be used to discriminate (in employment) against people who have known genetic weaknesses or who may be prone to certain diseases.
· Gene Patenting raises the issue of who is the author of human life; God or man? Biotechnology companies have already attempted to claim ownership of certain body parts through patents on genes, cells and other tissues for commercial purposes.
· Transhuman, short for “transitional human,” represents the ability to combine humans with machines to enhance either our mental or physical condition. It would create what many have called “post humans,” or “techno humans.” Extreme proponents seek “singularity,” a hoped - for reality in which there is no distinction between human beings and manufactured beings.
The potential for evil in these and related issues demands creating a clear bright line between what we are capable of doing and what we should do.
“That’s why it’s critical to develop a model of bioethics that spells out in no uncertain terms what’s permissible and what’s not,” Becker said.
Such a model must be based on the meaning, dignity and value of all innocent human life regardless of age or physical and mental condition.
Worldwide, pro-life advocates have made some progress. For example, Germany, sensitive to its Nazi past, prohibits all cloning. Also, the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine bans cloning and prohibits genetic engineering that seeks to make inheritable genetic changes.
“Eventually, Georgia will have to face these issues and develop its own bioethics legislation,” Becker said.
Among other things, such a measure would:
· Ban all destructive stem cell research. It would thus prohibit creating human embryos with the intention of destroying them to harvest stem cells or other tissues.
· Ban both “reproductive” and “therapeutic” cloning. Reproductive cloning takes the creation of life away from God and places it in the laboratory. Therapeutic cloning creates embryos for the sole purpose of destroying them for use in research.
· Regulate in vitro fertilization practices to prevent the creation of excess embryos, many of which are destroyed or frozen. There are currently 40,000 frozen embryos in Georgia (more than 600,000 nationally). In many cases they can’t be linked to the donor.
· Regulate human/animal cloning. Any such cloning that results in the death of human life would be banned. Other types—such as creating pigs with human blood—could continue. Also, placing animal organs in humans would still be permitted.
“These topics are flashpoints for those who don’t respect the sanctity of life and will produce considerable opposition. For us to be successful, we’ll need to be in prayer, well informed and at the top of our game,” Becker said.
Source: “Human Dignity in the Biotech Century,” Charles W. Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, editors.