Genetic Engineering: Playing God
One of the most controversial topics in our society today has to do with genetic engineering. The base science for this study is molecular biology of the gene. This science is involved in:
- The discovery of the method to recognize, describe, handle, and change the basic units of life.
- Every living thing is made up of genes and each living thing has its own genetic blueprint or "code" which dictates what it is.
- Scientists have found ways to not only describe these genes but to manipulate the codes and recently, to artificially reproduce the codes. This is called genetic engineering.
Many scientists agree that the last great scientific age was the nuclear age. The nuclear age was especially important because along with it mankind gained the greatest power for destruction or human benefit in history.
Scientists are now saying that the "genetic" age is now the greatest scientific breakthrough. Now the potential for danger and destruction is even greater because our power is no longer over inanimate objects (like the nuclear age) but over human life itself.
As Christians we need to understand not only the issues and problems inherent in the field of genetic engineering, but we must also be able to give an intelligent response explaining what the Bible may say about these things. The church has been given the responsibility to be the pillar and support the "truth" (I Timothy 3:15). This means that our job is to speak the truth (according to God's Word – "thy word is truth" – John 17:17) as it pertains various social issues. Whether people accept it or not, believe and follow the teaching or not, is not the point – we must proclaim the truth as the dividing line between truth and error and let the world choose where it will stand, on this and all issues, God will judge.
Genetic Engineering – Overview
Before we can give an opinion concerning a matter from a Biblical perspective, I think it is necessary for us to understand the issue itself. So, let us begin with a brief summary of the terms used in this field and some of the issues raised by the practice of genetics. There are two types of genetic research:
A. Genetic Modification
This involves minor modifications in existing structures by splicing new genes into the DNA or "code." For example:
- Improving a certain vegetable's resistance to insects by re-working its DNA or code, or adding a booster to the code.
- Providing a higher yield of rice or several crops of wheat by re-structuring its reproductive code. (Things grow according to their code, change the code and you change the way it grows).
- Using this technology to fight disease within the body of humans or animals.
All of these genetic modifications, if used within the proper guidelines, can benefit mankind in many ways, and for now, the danger of moral and ethical problems is still not great.
Another product of genetic engineering…
B. Creation of New Life Forms (Human Engineering)
This type of research and practice goes beyond minor changes to inanimate objects. The genetic engineering that searches to create new life forms or alter existing ones is filled with dangerous moral and ethical situations. It will be this type of "human" engineering that we will review more closely and try to provide Biblical guidelines for.
Human Engineering and the Bible
Human engineering can occur at any one of these points:
- Before conception
- At conception
The various forms and practices fall into these four categories.
1. Human Engineering Before Conception
Prior to conception there are three areas involved in human engineering:
- Contraception – the preventing of conception using a variety of methods, some acceptable (condemns, birth control pills, etc.) some not acceptable (abortion, morning after pill, etc.).
- Sterilization – tubal ligation, vasectomies.
- Genetic Screening – the ability of doctors to predict the probability of certain diseases in children born to certain sets of parents by studying the genetic make-up of the parents.
This is useful in various ways:
- Parents with a high probability of producing sick or handicapped children can either be treated or precautions can be taken with the pregnancy itself to avoid or treat the illness.
- If the illness or deformity is a high risk, parents may seek alternative ways to have a family (adoption) or wait for a solution medically.
- Screening during pregnancy also provides some opportunity for preventive care for sick or deformed babies.
The potential problem with genetic screening is that many times the doctors will recommend abortion as a solution. For example:
- If parents have a screening that has a risk, they are encouraged to go ahead and try anyway and if the child is ill or deformed it can always be aborted.
- If a mother is found to be carrying a deformed child, she has the opportunity of aborting earlier.
Genetic engineering can help parents avoid the burden of conceiving ill or deformed children; it can alert doctors to early treatment and prevention. It can prepare parents in the event that they are about to have a sick child, however, as Christians we cannot support the idea of abortion as a way of dealing with ill or handicapped children.
"Thou shall not commit murder."
- Exodus 20:13
2. Human Engineering at Conception
We've discussed human engineering before conception, now let us talk about human engineering at conception. Human engineering at conception takes four forms:
- Artificial insemination
- In-vitro fertilization
- Gene editing
We will discuss the first three in this section and save cloning for the next section.
A. Artificial Insemination
One of the most difficult problems a good marriage can face is the inability to have children. For example, Roger and Diane – married fifteen years, two attempts at adoption, many prayers and finally get pregnant naturally. Not all are blessed in this way. People become desperate and try many methods: fertility drugs, adoption or foster care.
Sometimes the drugs don't work and the struggles and expenses of adoption are overwhelming. For many people their last two options are to either remain childless or resort to artificial means. One of these artificial methods is called artificial insemination. Most couples who turn to this method, usually referred to as AI, because the husband is the one who is infertile.
Women tend to have more fertility problems than men but in 10-15% of cases, men are the ones who are infertile because of:
- Low sperm count
- Faulty sperm
- Poor ejaculation
When these problems are the cause of the infertility, doctors may recommend artificial insemination. There are a variety of ways to do this and not all are acceptable for Christians:
AIH – Where the husband's sperm is collected, treated and artificially paired to his wife's egg. This is acceptable because the same parents in the marriage are donating their own reproductive materials with some technological assistance, to produce their child. They continue to be one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
AID/AIDH – Here someone else's sperm (donor) or a mixture of the donor or husband's sperm are mixed and added to the woman's egg. This is unacceptable because the basic "one flesh" unity called upon by God is violated. This is not adultery because there is no lust, no lying, no breaking of the marriage vow. This way to produce a child violates a more primal law – the original law that existed before adultery was even possible – the law or principle of one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
When we introduce someone else's sperm or egg, other than our spouse's, we break that one flesh unity that was set as the basis for creating a family. It's not always an easy decision but it's not worth violating God's law to produce a child when there exists other ways of obtaining children in our society.
B. In Vitro Fertilization
Another form of human engineering at conception is called "in vitro" meaning (in glass) refers to the practice of combining a sperm and an egg outside of the woman's body and then when the egg is fertilized, placing it inside the woman to complete the pregnancy. This is a difficult procedure and theoretically would be acceptable from a Biblical context if the husband and wife's sperm and egg were used and placed in her thus preserving the one flesh principle.
The "in vitro" procedure does have some potential for good:
- Childless couples could have their own children.
- This technology could be used to breed better animals thus improving the quantity and quality of food available.
This procedure also has several troubling factors as well.
- The one flesh principle could be violated as any sperm and egg could be used to produce a child.
- Providing "random" children in this way goes against the Biblical principle of the family. Children are the product of love, commitment, spiritual blessing – not just some lab experiment.
Children are a gift from the Lord,
they are a reward from heaven.
- Psalm 127:3
Human beings could be produced simply to provide body parts for other human beings. Surrogate motherhood and fatherhood reduces a human being's essential nature to that of a machine. It violates the order of the family. Just because we can do something, doesn't mean we should. We have compelling reasons, we have the technology to do it, but we don't always have the right!
This "in vitro" production also destroys life because many of the embryos are destroyed during research, many are disposed of because they are deformed or not usable anymore. This has been the debate over stem-cell research done with embryos and not only violates Biblical laws against killing but also goes against basic principles of medical ethics as well. For example:
- Medical ethics states that a subject must be informed of a treatment or medication's risk to his health and give informed consent. These embryos, these humans are not consulted, they are conceived and killed in a dish, to provide experiments or body parts for someone else.
- Basic ethics requires that the testing should be to the subject's advantage. To create a life simply to destroy it or provide a body part for another is not to the subject's advantage or good.
The Bible promotes family, the having and raising of children – but not at the cost of destroying human life in the process, and not if it violates the "one flesh" principle in marriage. A human life, whether it is conceived naturally or produced with the assistance of genetic engineering, is still a life in the image of God and worthy of respect, care and the right to live!
The most recent human engineering process…
C. Gene Editing (W.S.J – February 20-21/21 – W. Isaacson)
The newest kind of genetic engineering is gene editing or what's called CRISPR. Developed by the Berkley biochemist, Jennifer Doudna, who won a Nobel prize in 2020 for her work. Dr. Doudna and her team adopted the system that created a genetic tool that can edit human DNA. DNA is the short form name for the module that contains the genetic code of organisms. DNA is in each cell of, for example a human being and tells cells what proteins to make. DNA is the blueprint that dictates who you are (male/female), tall, black, thin, brown eyes, etc. It also contains the information that dictates future blindness, handicaps, and certain genetic diseases. What Dr. Doudna developed was a way to edit out those destructive genes as well as edit favorable ones.
The net result of this technology is that:
- We can remove the potential for handicaps and diseases before birth.
- We can create "designer babies" selecting gender, eye and hair color, even levels of body strength and enhanced mental capabilities – the age of the "Superhuman" is here!
Of course, as much suffering as the technology can eliminate is matched, and I believe, surpassed by its potential for foolishness and evil (think designer babies or genetically programmed armies.).
The danger to the human race is brought on by tinkering with the actual building blocks designed by God for human life. Just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. This is quite a powerful tool to be used by weak, sinful and in many cases, unbelieving people.