Over four hundred years
ago, Rabelais prophetically stated, "Science without conscience is
but death of the soul."
The recent successful cloning
of a sheep and successful stem-cell transplantations have heightened ethical
concerns. Cloning and stem-cell harvesting challenge our understanding
of the very nature of humanness. The DNA code has been cracked, and Christians
must understand the implications.
served as Director of the National Disaster Medical System prior
to his appointment as Vice President of RTS, Washington/Baltimore.
On August 10, the day after President Bush announced his decision
regarding stem cell research, Young was interviewed on CNN "Burden
of Proof" concerning the future implications of embryonic
stem cell research. On October 5, Young appeared on a CNN Special
Report discussing the war against terrorism. On October 10,
he testified before Congress regarding "Federal Bioterrorism
Preparedness Programs from a Public Health Perspective."
With Christmas upon us, consider
this horrid sci-fi specter: What if this technology had been available
to King Herod? What if he could have eliminated the Christ child
by genetic manipulation?
Celebrating the birth of our Savior
this Christmas ought to renew our commitment to protect the lives
of those who are unborn. Like the first wise men, we must protect
endangered children from those who seek their destruction.
As of late, the most prominent ethical
and practical debates among scientists, theologians, and concerned, informed
Christians regard recombinant DNA (rDNA), which is DNA that can be reproduced
countless times for use in researching cures for serious diseases. It
is this same DNA that can be used for cloning.
It is not so much rDNA that is in question,
but rather how it is to be handled. Most recently, this has been highlighted
in the debate over stem-cell research. Stem cells, or undifferentiated
human cells, have amazing abilities to adapt and change into other forms
of issue. These cells are plentiful in embryos and fetuses; consequently,
some scientists hope to harvest stem cells from the unborn.
The great debate is this: Should scientists
be allowed to (1) harvest these stem cells from naturally deceased embryos
for use in research, and/or (2) create embryos by artificial insemination
and then kill these man-made babies to harvest their stem cells to extract
DNA? While the answer might seem easily an emphatic no, this becomes less
clear among some ethicists, both Christian and non-Christian, when they
consider the tremendous potential for healing that these stem cells could
provide for those suffering from terminal illnesses. It is very likely
that, with time, such stem-cell research could provide a cure for horrible
HOW, THEN, SHOULD THE CHRISTIAN THINK AND RESPOND?
The Christian believes that God created
the universe, the earth and all that is therein. Man and woman are created
in God's image. Genesis 1:28 teaches us that, following God's blessing,
he said, "Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it;
have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air and
over every living thing." God is Creator and Redeemer and our Savior.
Salvation is not through science. Rather as redeemed image bearers we
are to have dominion over science.
The Christian worldview contends that the
Bible holds the truths necessary for life even many centuries after the
close of the canon of Scripture. Molecular genetics, cloning, and embryo
manipulation were not taught in Scripture, but there are abundant principles
that enable us to address these issues.
- God is Creator and sustainer of the universe. While there may be
different opinions about the mechanism, the role of Creator is a fundamental
- Human beings are creatures created in God's image and function as
stewards of God's creation, not as co-creators.
- Because humans are created in God's image, human life is sacred.
- Sin abounds, and human beings are conflicted, often doing what they
know they should not, and do not wish to, do.
- Our devotion should be first and foremost to God, but we have responsibilities
as well to governments - and God ordains government as a form of social
- We Christians recognize that our views will be a minority view in
society, yet one that must be enunciated clearly and through the channels
that are available to us.
- Life on earth is finite. It is appointed for man once to die. Therefore,
an important part of our temporal life involves preparing for eternity.
- Part of dominion is the ministry of healing and the relief of suffering.
Yet it must be remembered that the great Physician, Jesus, did not heal
all people, but divine healing was a manifestation of his powers as
the Son of God.
Recognizing our primary allegiance to God,
we therefore should engage in the struggle to bring biblical truths to
bear on contemporary decisions.
Theological and ethical guidance.
The use of stem cells harvested from embryos raises great ethical and
theological concerns. There are a number of biblical principles that can
be used to address this decision from a Christian perspective.
First, because the embryo is alive at the
time the stem cells are harvested, the harvesting results in death and
violates the sixth commandment (Exod. 20:13). Second, the embryo as a
living entity bears
the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Third, the violation of image bearer is
an act of violence against the Creator (Gen. 9:6). Fourth, human beings
are given unique responsibilities (Psalm 8). Finally, Jeremiah clearly
states that God knew the prophet before he was formed (Jer. 1:5).
Reformed theologian A.A. Hoekema noted
that Genesis 1 :26-28 describes a threefold relationship between God and
man. First, humans are directed toward God and are completely dependent
on him. Second, human beings are to be directed toward their fellow man
as exemplified by God creating a "suitable helper" as described
in Genesis 2:18. Third, humans are stewards over nature; that is, to subdue
and to have dominion over God's creation.
Thus, human beings have a special relationship
to God and to creation. While the Fall distorted this relationship, it
did not destroy the love of God for his creation. Therefore, the respect
for the sanctity of human life is an overarching principle. However, the
gift of eternal life with God looms much larger, as it is the grace of
God. The brevity of temporal life, which certainly will end in death,
is overshadowed by this glorious thought.
The treatment of living human embryos as
mere objects of experimentation to extend another's life raises the specter
of birthing human embryos for spare parts.
Medical guidance: A guiding
principal here is "Do no harm." In medicine and in Scripture,
the concept of doing no harm is clearly enunciated. In fact, the Christian
worldview has encouraged medical research throughout the centuries. Since
adult stem cells can be used to meet most of the objectives of basic and
clinical research, why should embryos unnecessarily be sacrificed for
experimentation? To counter this argument, some have suggested that these
are spare embryos that would otherwise be destroyed; therefore, the research
is merely salvaging something from an otherwise destroyed life. Perhaps
regulation of the number of embryos produced and guidelines for adoption
of frozen embryos could resolve this apparent excess.
Legal protection: Murder of
a pregnant woman with an embryo less than one month old is considered
by law in some jurisdictions to be a double homicide. Some states have
laws that specifically protect the embryo. Additionally, since the embryo
is outside the uterus, Roe v. Wade should not apply. Finally, since 1993
the Congress has prohibited embryo research.
CAN YOU DO?
What are the levers and knobs of government
that can be utilized to influence the formation of policy?
First, and most important, be sure that
you understand the scientific, ethical, and theological issues. Pray and
study Scripture before embarking on a course of action. There are a number
of ways to be informed. In addition to Christian books and journals, visit
the website of the National Library of Medicine (rq.nlm.nih.gov).
Under the section on Health Information, it is possible to access abstracts
from 4,300 biomedical journals. The National Institutes of Health houses
the Human Genome Project. This website (rq.nih.gov)
includes information on ethical, legal, and social issues as well as scientific
information. Information about bills in Congress can be obtained through
the website thomas.loc.gov.
Second, correspond with lawmakers at the
local, state, and federal levels on particular bills and subjects. At
the federal level, these opinions are usually shared with the Administration.
If your congressman or senator is a sponsor of a bill that affects one
of your concerns, correspond with that person; if possible, visit the
local office of your representative. Phone calls and telegrams are also
effective. Individual, thoughtful letters are much more influential than
a name on a petition or a postcard response that is part of an organized
Third, become familiar with the way the
presidential administration's decision-making processes work. For example,
the Food and Drug Administration makes rules through a process of steps.
First, there is usually a Notice of Proposed Rule Making. After comments
are received and incorporated, the second step is the Proposed Rule, and
after comments are considered, a Final Rule is promulgated.
Because each of these steps permits public
comment there is ample opportunity for input, and, by regulation, each
comment must be considered. Surprisingly, the publics in general, and
the Christian community in particular, make few comments. Perhaps this
relates to ignorance about the decision-making procedures. One of the
best sites from which to get information is the Website of the Government
Printing Office (rq.gpo.gov);
it lists various document resources, such as the Federal Register, the
publication that records all federal regulations and guidelines.
Finally, qualified Christians should engage
fully in research in genetics, embryology, molecular biology, and immunology,
where many of these controversial discoveries will be made. It is imperative
to develop a generation of Christians in science who can address with
expertise both the scientific issues and a Christian worldview. To do
less will leave us out of the most central discussions.
The Lord has given us minds that respond
to his call. We must be armed intellectually to engage in the ethical
and theological battles of the day. Christian scientific apologetics are
needed in the twenty-first century. The battle is nigh.
We fight for those unborn to whom, like
the Christ child, the heavenly Father gave life, The fight is for those
who, though in lesser ways than our Savior, have or will be conceived
with God's great plan innate in them-both genetically and spiritually.
Scientific and technological advances are
occurring at an unanticipated rate. Fewer than fifty years ago the structure
of DNA was unknown. We are on the threshold of manipulating human life.
The actions taken in the next few years on research with human embryos
will, in large measure, define our view of human nature. Religion in general,
and Christianity in particular, has much to offer. It provides a framework
of truth that is not present in the empiricism of science.
Like the wise men of old, who protected
the Christ child from harm at Herod's hand, we can ill afford to be silent.
We must act, and act wisely.
Reformed Quarterly, Volume 20, Number 4
© 2001 Reformed Theological Seminary
Articles may not be reprinted without permission.
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Last updated 1-10-02.