DOING THE DOZENS
In Human Dignity in the Biotech Century (2004), twelve Christian writers discuss the impact of biotechnologies on human life and the human spirit. They point out that our society must address an array of scientific developments various topics, which can be roughly broken into three categories: taking life through abortion (including eugenic abortion after genetic screening), infanticide, DNR orders, assisted suicide and euthanasia (the latter three topics are not written about), making life through IVF, gamete sales, posthumous reproduction, surrogate motherhood, cloning, embryonic stem cell research (“ESCR”) and genetic engineering, and faking life with nanotechnology, cybernetics (mind control), neurological manipulation, transgenics and transhumanism.
Most of the authors present overtly Christian perspectives on these topics. Several point out that efforts to change the nature of the human body separate humans from the imago Dei, i.e., God’s image, and Christ, who took human form. Nigel Cameron notes that few Christians have been involved in public discussion or activism regarding these issues because, for a long time, many affirmatively disengaged from the secular world, and many others are, by bearing, pietistic and passive. He also states that ethical analyses are difficult because goods and evils are often incommensurable.
Unsurprisingly, C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man is cited by several authors. Lewis observed that once we abandon the Tao, i.e., the universal truth about right and wrong, the relativistic Conditioners, with their focus on individuals, will shape existence. Biotechnologies are important tools for relativism and the turning of man into a project and a product. Charles Colson observes that the utilitarian (“the greatest good for the greatest number”) approach to human life advanced by, inter alia, John Stuart Mill and Christopher Reeve, does not hold up empirically. If it did, Mr. Reeve would not have been kept alive, at great expense and effort, for many years after he was injured. Instead, Colson argues, government’s purpose is to protect the weak from the strong.
The subject matters of the chapters overlap to some degree. Perhaps because of its timeliness, several authors discuss ESCR. As with many other issues, terminology is important. ESCR is said by advocates to use “pre-embryos,” even though that term is not recognized in the most authoritative embryology texts. ESCR is also contrasted to the other “stem cell research,” namely adult stem cell research. Moreover, even cloning is dressed up as somatic cell nuclear transfer (“SCNT”) and cloning can be either “reproductive” or “therapeutic.”
Dr. David Prentice observes several practical impediments to the efficacy of ESCR, from the low (less than one in ten) yield of cell lines from embryos, to uncontrolled growth of embryonic cells into different types of tissue or tumors, to rejection because of its genetic dissimilarity to that of the recipient. To address the latter problem, some advocate for “therapeutic” cloning (some opponents call this the “clone and kill” approach), so that an individual can create embryonic cells that match their own genes. However, even if this were possible, as Wesley Smith notes, the numbers just don’t add up: 800 million human eggs would be needed as growth media for the therapeutic clones needed to treat the 16 million American diabetics alone.
Paige Cunningham, the author of a chapter on anti-abortion activism, notes that the sovereignty of adults over the birth of children has become so deeply internalized that strategies to defeat abortion must be based not on the status of the unborn but, instead, on arguments that show it’s bad for women. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992), the Supreme Court justified abortion on the basis that our society has grown used to it. It wrote: “For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” Is there a more disturbing, less compelling justification in American jurisprudence?
Christopher Hook’s chapter on nanotechnology (molecular level methods of controlling or harnessing biological and chemical processes) and cybernetics (behavioral and cognitive control or enhancement through, e.g., computer chip implants) and transhumanism (transitional beings, part human, part machine) presents a primer on these much research-subsidized, seldom-discussed topics. To the extent these devices work, they will enable some to outsee, outrun, outthink, out-remember, generally outperform and/or outlive others. Moreover, these unnatural technologies could run amok. For example, if technologies can be derived to destroy cancer cells, it would seem that they could also be designed, as weapons, to destroy normal cells. Or the “gray goo” scenario could develop: experimentation could create organisms that would destroy natural organisms in an uncontrollable series of reactions.
Dr. David Stevens instructs that 95% of DNA is not genes, but, rather, material with no obvious function. Moreover, comparing DNA to a music CD, he says that although all cells have a full complement of each person’s DNA, the cells of each of the 210 kinds of tissue use only the DNA “track” that applies that cell’s function.
Several authors discuss the Nazis’ Operation T4, a 1940-41 program in which over 70,000 disabled persons were exterminated. They also discuss the numerous cruel experiments that the Nazis performed on human subjects and note that many of these were ostensibly undertaken to save lives, though, obviously, not those of the subjects.
The authors call for people to learn about these topics and to avoid Luddism, though they don’t provide a clear sense of where Luddism ends and technomania begins. In urging the acceptance of some biotech because of its potential to extend earthly life, Christian transcendence seems muted. In any event, the authors urge the building of coalitions with other groups (including some traditional adversaries) and activism but are not specific about what forms of activism would be most suitable.