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I’m a Christian & I Live in the Real World, Thinking Through Ethics – Reproductive Technologies & Genetics

04 Jul

This was part #5 to a series on ethics given during the Sunday PM services at Howick Baptist Church. A full PDF along with related links and an MP3 download of the talk can be found here.

Reproductive Technologies & Genetics

Defining Terms:

Contraception

Forms designed to prevent insemination:

Natural:

Continence – Continuous Abstinence

Coitus interruptus

The Calendar Method (rhythm method)

Temperature Method

Ovulation Method

Natural Family Planning (NFP)

Artificial:

Condom

Oral Contraceptive (Pill) – Forms that simply control ovulation.

Long-lasting injections

Long-term implants

Forms that are abortifacient:

Oral Contraceptive (Pill) – Forms that “flush” out a fertilised egg.

IUD – Intrauterine Device

RU486/Plan B/Morning After Pill

Artificial Insemination: A method used to combat male infertility. Sperm is collected then deposited through a syringe in or near the cervix of the woman’s uterous.

AIH: The sperm used is that of the husband.

AID: The sperm used is that of a donor (usually anonymous and generally paid).

IVF/IVM (or Test Tube Babies):

IVF: In Vitro Fertilization

IVM: In Vitro Maturation – the same as IVF but there is a longer period of time between fertilisation and implantation allowing the embryo to “mature”.

A method where (generally) multiple eggs are fertilised outside of the woman’s body (in a petri dish) with those that seem the most viable after insemination being implanted into her womb while the remaining embryos are either frozen or discarded.

The egg can be that of the mother or a donor. The sperm can be that of the husband or a donor. If donors are used they are generally anonymous and paid.

Surrogacy: The gestation of a baby by a woman who is not the mother.

Father’s sperm with surrogate’s egg, where the resulting baby biologically is the combination of a man’s sperm with a woman’s egg who is not his wife, though legally the child belongs to the father and his wife. (A combination of Artificial Insemination & Surrogacy)

IVF & Surrogacy:

Husband & wife’s sperm & egg are combined and implanted into the surrogate.

A donated egg & sperm are purchased, combined and implanted into a surrogate.

A surrogate carries to gestation an embryo made by cloning.

(Like IVF above, generally multiple eggs are fertilised outside of the woman’s body (in a petri dish) with those that seem the most viable after insemination being implanted into her womb while the remaining embryos are either frozen or discarded.)

An infertile couple hire a fertile couple to conceive naturally for them with the contractual arrangement that the baby born will belong to the infertile couple.

A couple could conceive naturally, then have the embryo removed from the mother and implanted in a surrogate for full gestation.

Embryonic Stem Cells:[1]

Stem-Cells:

The term stem cells refers to a diverse group of primitive cells that are themselves relatively undifferentiated and unspecialized. These cells are multipotent, meaning they can give rise to several other differentiated and specialized cells of the body (for example, liver cells, kidney cells, brain cells). All specialized cells arise originally from stem cells, and ultimately from a small number of embryonic cells that appear during the first few days of human development.

Stem cells have two unique characteristics: (1) an almost unlimited capacity for self-renewal (they can theoretically divide without limit to replenish other cells for as long as the person is alive) and (2) they retain the potential to produce differentiated and specialized cell types. As stem cells within a developing human embryo differentiate within the cell, their capacity to diversify generally becomes more limited and their ability to generate many differentiated cell types also becomes more restricted.

Embryonic Stem Cells:

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells taken from from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a preimplantation embryo of about 150 cells. (Embryos are humans in the stage of development between fertilization and the end of the eighth week of gestation whereupon it it referred to as a fetus until the time of birth.)

Currently, all embryonic stem cell lines have been derived from “spare” embryos created from in vitro fertilization (IVF) (i.e., embryos that have been conceived by a combination of egg and sperm occurring outside the body). However, because there are not enough embryos in existence to carry out the research, some scientists have been pushing for the use of human cloning (somatic cell nuclear transfer) to create the embryos that will then be killed and harvested for their cells.

“There is one bright spot. Japanese researcher, Shinya Yamanaka, who had rejected embryonic stem cell research as unethical, and who won last year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine, has pioneered the creation of stem cell lines from skin cells without destroying embryos. Consequently, with hardly a whisper and certainly no apologies, most stem cell scientists have now turned their backs on embryonic stem cell research to follow Shinya’s lead.”[2]

Genetic Engineering:

Genetic Counselling:

Pre-conception – helpful to identify genetic conflicts between the father and mother.

In Utero – generally used to determine if there is a birth defect and to recommend an abortion.

Genetic Diseases/Gene Therapy – This is a growing field where some life threatening or serious diseases can be treated and even cured from genetic treatments. (Recombinant DNA or Gene-splicing)

Genetic Enhancement – the modification/manipulation of genetic material/data for the purpose of personal “enhancement.” (i.e. permanent change in eye colour, muscle tone, size of breasts, mental intelligence, etc.)

Sex Selection: The use of a pre-conception (Flow Cytometry) or in utero method to determine the gender of a child thereby enabling a couple to have a baby in the gender of their choice.

Cloning: [3]

“Cloning is a form of reproduction in which offspring result not from the chance union of egg and sperm (sexual reproduction) but from the deliberate replication of the genetic makeup of another single individual (asexual reproduction). Human cloning, therefore, is the asexual production of a new human organism that is, at all stages of human development, genetically virtually identical to a currently existing or previously existing human being.

The use of the terms therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning are misleading. All cloning produces a human embryo and is therefore reproductive in nature. The more accurate, neutral phrasing is cloning-to-produce-children and cloning-for-biomedical-research. These terms make a distinction between cloning that results in the creation of an embryo for subsequent destruction and one that is created in order to continue the normal process of human development.

Currently, the primary justification for therapeutic cloning is as a means of harvesting embryonic stem cells—a process that ends a human life—for research purposes. Despite years of media hype and billions of dollars dedicated to the venture, embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) has never produced any clinically proven therapies—and likely never will. As the Washington Post wrote earlier this week, “few experts think that production of stem cells through cloning is likely to be medically useful soon, or possibly ever.” ESCR has been one of the most expensive boondoggles in biomedical history.

The prospect of cloning-to-produce-children, which would be a radically new form of procreation, raises deep concerns about identity and individuality, the meaning of having children, the difference between procreation and manufacture, and the relationship between the generations. Cloning-for-biomedical-research also raises new questions about the manipulation of some human beings for the benefit of others, the freedom and value of biomedical inquiry, our obligation to heal the sick (and its limits), and the respect and protection owed to nascent human life. Moreover, the legislative debates over human cloning raise questions about the relationship between science and society, especially about whether society can or should exercise ethical and prudential control over biomedical technology and the conduct of biomedical research. Rarely has such a seemingly small innovation raised such large questions.”

Cultural/Historical Trends:

Since the 1960’s the dominant cultural, sociological, political, & economic philosophy has been “personal autonomy & freedom of choice.” People ought to be freed and empowered to exercise their autonomy.

This combined with a complete loss of foundational moral norms has resulted in people’s sole concern being “can we do X?” not “should we do X?”

Just because we can do something and technology has advanced does not mean we shoud.

What Does the Bible Say?:

Must married couples have children?

Due to the command given by God in Genesis 1:28 & 9:7 to be fruitful and multiply, the instructions in Scripture for a husband & wife to engage in sexual relations regularly (1 Corinthians 7:3-5), and the high value God places on the role of father/mother & family, it would seem that if a married couple are fertile, to deliberating chose to remain childless would be a questionable position for a Christian couple of maintain.

Must married couple have as many children as biologically possible?

Genesis 1:28 & 9:7 – The command or blessing to be fruitful and multiply

Psalm 127 – God declares a fruitful womb and a full quiver to be a blessing.

Neither of these passages (or any other) can be taken as a command or instruction for married couples to have as many children as biologically possible.

The Scripture’s primary concern seems to be that children are viewed as a gift/blessing and that parents fulfil their calling to rear them to know God and love Christ.

Therefore, using ethically permissibly contraception would be allowed.

The Scriptures prohibit our participation in any use of technology that will terminate the life of a person without just cause. (See previous studies on Abortion & Euthanasia) This eliminates:

  • Abortifacient contraceptives of any kind
  • Any use of IVF which results in “excess” embryos which are frozen or discarded.
  • Embryonic Stem-Cell Research
  • Cloning
  • Genetic Engineering for in utero sex selection

It seems unwise, at best, to involve another individual in the process of procreation.

  • Artificial Insemination with donor sperm
  • IVF with donor eggs or sperm
  • Surrogacy
  • Procreation becomes partly a commercial enterprise.
  • Parts of the human body (egg, sperm, and/or womb) become commodities to be bought and sold.
  • Introduces a host of confusing items related to the definition and makeup of a family:
    • What is “mum?”
    • What role/responsibility does Father have in the life of a child?
    • There are significant legal and social consequences which have not been addressed within the legal systems.
      • Inheritance rights
      • Palliative care responsibilities for offspring.
      • Generational consequences are unclear (i.e. who are my grandparents? what ethic group do I associate with? What genetic or biological medical issues should be concerned with?)

It seems unwise, at best, to use genetic technology solely for “enhancement” purposes.

  • Genetic enhancements
  • What do our actions communicate with regards to “physical perfection?” Are there certain physical features which are “better” than others?
  • What do our actions communicate about our trust in God’s creative plan for our lives?
  • Seeing most of these technologies are very expensive, is this the wisest stewardship of the resources God has given me?

Evangelistic/Pastoral Thoughts

  1. These issues (and many more like them) are very complex. Not everyone needs to read all the literature and interact with the details. But we need those within the church who do to serve the rest of the body.
  2. We must not approach our lives as Christians as anything less than faith than engages our minds. We must think carefully and prayerfully about how to live our lives to the glory of God.
  3. When discussing these issues with another Christian we must do so with humility, acknowledging our limited knowledge and our desire to honour Christ.
  4. For those of us (or those we know) who have utilised a reproductive technology which we now know was an abortifacient, we need to trust in God’s goodness & sovereignty for these past details of our lives. Yet, now that we understand these details more, we may need to change our practices.
  5. When discussing these issues with a non-Christian, the Gospel is what is essential.
    1. Each of these items gets to the crux of creation.
    2. Don’t get caught up I the details of genetics, or reproduction.
    3. Point them to consider God as the Creator. With all of the advancement in technology man cannot create life. Only God can.
    4. If God is the Creator, then all of His creation is accountable to Him.
    5. If we will have to answer to God, the Creator for how we have lived our lives, we are all in big trouble. For we have all sinned.
    6. But, if we come to see Jesus as the Son of God, Who died for my sins rising again to life, then I can trust Him, confessing my sins, to make me right before the Creator.
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