Genetic Engineering: Playing God
In the last chapter we briefly looked at the science of genetic engineering. I said that this was a method of describing and manipulating the genetic codes (or blueprints) for inanimate as well as living things. For example:
Genetic modification is a procedure where vegetables are modified to produce more resistant or higher yield types. Creation of new life forms, however, isn't beyond this type of research and includes the manipulation of the codes for animals and humans in order to alter life or produce it. This causes ethical and moral problems.
Previously, we discussed human engineering and how it was practiced at four points in the life cycle:
1. Before Conception
- Genetic screening
These are acceptable, as long as they do not include abortion as an option.
2. At Conception
- Artificial insemination
- "In vitro" fertilization
These are also acceptable as long as the "one flesh" principle is respected, and no embryos are intentionally killed.
- Gene editing – production of designer babies
- Cloning – we will discuss in this section
The point made about all of these issues was that as Christians, we need to understand what was being done and have intelligent arguments in defense of these things so we can render an answer which demonstrates that we understand the issue and can respond from a Biblical perspective (knowing what's right from wrong according to scripture).
Human Engineering – Cloning
The English word "clone" comes from the Greek word Klon which means a sprout or a twig. Basically, it refers to the asexual process of reproduction. For many of earth's life forms cloning, the asexual reproduction that results in the exact genetic duplicate of the original, is both natural and harmless.
An example of this is the blob–like amoeba which reproduces itself by splitting into two parts, it is essentially cloning itself. Cloning, then, is a way of growing many identical cells or organisms from a single ancestor, and is part of the creation.
For a time, the only artificial cloning possible was with plants. Then in 1952 Dr. Briggs and King of the Cancer Research Institute in Philadelphia cloned a leopard frog. As late as 1979 researchers were being quoted in journals that it was not possible to clone mammals. However, almost twenty years later Dr. Ian Wilmut and other scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland succeeded in cloning a female sheep, an ewe. The first mammal ever successfully cloned.
1. The Procedure
In the simplest of terms this is what he did:
- Step 1 – He took a cell from the udder of one ewe and placed it in a solution which deactivated its growth mechanism. This means he kept the cell alive but made it dormant so it wouldn't reproduce.
- Step 2 – He took an egg cell from another ewe and removed its nucleus (including its DNA)
- Step 3 – He fused these together. He did this by placing these two cells next to each other and passing a current of electricity through them in order to get them to merge – and they did. What was so new was not so much the fusing of nuclei. What was discovered was that an adult cell could revert to its embryonic stage and fire up all of its original "codes" in order to reproduce itself.
- Step 4-5 – The last two stages were to implant the fused cell (code cell and receiver cell) into a third animal for a gestation period. When the animal was born (called Dolly) it was the exact duplicate of its mother only.
Only the female had provided its code, fired up in a receiver cell, carried by a third animal, producing one animal from another. In normal reproduction the fusing of the male with female codes produces offspring which shares traits of both. In cloning, an artificial method of firing up a code is done and what is produced is the exact duplicate of the cloner of the code. One of the parents is reproduced, not a combination of both.
2. Good and Bad Cloning
Like any scientific discovery, this process can be used in a variety of ways either for good or evil. Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher with cloning because what we are experimenting with here are the basic building blocks of life itself not just the ability to go fast or produce some kind of better plastic.
When it comes to cloning animals there is the argument that a method that can produce a better type of animal – more resistant to disease, yielding a higher rate of food or milk and other products is a benefit to mankind and not a violation of Scripture.
As a matter of fact, Genesis 1:28 says that man was to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it." With the ever-increasing population of the world, these breakthroughs in producing better and more profitable plants and animals are in line with God's commands to subdue the creation and be wise stewards of our resources. The problem occurs when we enter the area of Eugenics (the power of developing a better race of humans through selection and genetic engineering).
The possibility of doing with humans what we have done with animals (cloning a genetic double of only one person without the normal sexual act to produce conception) is incredible and frightening. For example:
- Cloning to provide children to infertile couples or unmarried people. Homosexuals are especially eager for this.
- Cloning to provide body parts for future use – i.e. a body farm.
- Cloning to produce a "super" race where only the brightest and the best are reproduced and those who don't make the grade are not allowed to live.
- The evolutionary nightmare where the false theory of evolution becomes social policy driven by human engineering.
- Cloning to produce a private work force (slaves) or private army (military slaves).
What does the Bible say about these things? When viewed in light of these new scientific possibilities we learn that the Scriptures do not have a specific command or prohibition but rather provides guidelines which teach and help us decide where the lines should be drawn. When it comes to eugenics the issue is not if it can be done but rather should it be done. Scientists are moving rapidly towards the time when they will succeed in cloning a human being and move on to experiment with other factors in the eugenics process – but should they? The simple answer is no! For example, they had the ability to build the great tower of Babel, but they shouldn't have and were punished for it (Genesis 11:1-9).
Reasons why we should not pursue human cloning.
1. Act of Idolatry
"You shall have no other gods before Me."
- Exodus 20:3
Human cloning assumes that man is in charge of himself and of his own destiny. It is the belief that we can improve on the human condition and the "humanness" or humanity as it has been given by God. Man is trying to take God's position in manipulating and ordering "human" existence.
2. Act of Disobedience
God blessed them; and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth."
- Genesis 1:28
Man has no authority to cross over the line from manipulation of created things and animals to the level of human life. God permits man to subdue and manipulate the creation, but He has not permitted the same with life created in His image. We are to love each other, care for each other and so medical procedures or transplants are beneficial as well as acceptable because they serve this end. However, cloning for whatever purpose is not supported by any Biblical teaching directly or indirectly.
3. Violates the One Flesh Principle
For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.
- Genesis 2:24
Reproduction is the result of something specific – the love and commitment of two individuals. Children are not lab experiments or produced for a scientific or social "reason" – they are the byproduct of the love between a man and a woman (not just by one of them). The one flesh principle exists, not only to guard the essential nature of Godly human relations (sex), but also family, social structure, as well as the spiritual, emotional, and sexual health of human beings. Whenever we violate it in any way, the consequences are negative (spiritually it's sin, physically it can lead to all kinds of human problems).
4. Leads to Abortion
When humans are mass produced, produced as animals, the value of life decreases and it becomes easier to dispose of faulty ones. The command not to kill includes violating one's right to freedom and life. When one is produced exclusively to profit another, or for one's body parts – we are guilty of destroying that person's life. The total opposite of this command is to love others as we love self (Matthew 22:39). Producing lab babies is not motivated by love in any way.
As I said, just because we shouldn't doesn't mean we won't. If it does happen, the question is, "Will it have a soul?" "Will it be human?" The answer is, yes. What doctors are doing is not creating life, they are altering the way life is produced. God has imbedded life with His image, and a human soul. All human lives, therefore, have these qualities whether produced by fusing a sperm and the egg or tricking the human cell into reproduce itself.
Scientists say that human clones will be genetically identical to their donors, but as fully adult, they will be different, just like identical twins are different. One thing is certain, human clones will be fully human and as such will require love as well as the gospel of salvation for their sins. However, human cloning is still prohibited by law in the United States.
Prenatal / Postnatal Manipulation
The final two forms of human engineering are not as scientifically spectacular as cloning but represent man's attempt, once again, at controlling or manipulating human life.
1. Prenatal Manipulation
This is a form of screening but done when the woman is pregnant. The most common form of screening is done through a process known as amniocentesis. A needle is inserted through the abdominal wall and some amniotic fluid is removed for testing and screening. This is fluid is treated and studied, and from it doctors can determine if the baby will suffer from any number of diseases.
Once the diagnosis is complete and a disease or malformation is detected doctors may offer one of four options:
- Allow the child to be born as is
- Attempt genetic surgery or treatment
- Use a fetal blood transfusion
This new technology enables parents to either treat unborn children who may suffer from disease or malformations or prepare for children born handicapped in some way. Unfortunately, a large number of people choose the seemingly easier route of abortion to relieve them of this problem. This is not the fault of this particular science, but this procedure has led to more abortions because of the moral weakness of our society.
2. Postnatal Manipulation
Many times, the genetic screening is incorrect or parents without this information give birth to babies with various health or mental defects. In cases like these there have been situations where doctors have simply allowed the babies to die by withholding food or treatment.
Defenders of this practice say that if an infant does not possess potential for human relationships, its life has no value. (Richard McCormick, Kennedy Center for bioethics research). Sir Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner said, "no newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endorsement and if it fails these tests it forfeits the right to live." The idea is that if a baby is retarded or too mangled it does not deserve to live and the best thing for all concerned is to allow it to die or kill it.
Of course, this thinking may please those who have to pay for care and relieve the family and society of a great burden. Once again, many compelling reasons , but not the "right" to do these things. Human beings do not have the right to knowingly and purposefully end the life of an innocent person. Many times, these decisions are motivated not by what is right, but by what is less expensive, easier or convenient because we are selfish.