The field of reproductive science is expanding at an astonishing rate. New techniques and sophisticated instruments are producing remarkable results — and, at the same time, remarkable moral dilemmas.
BOUNCY little Louise Brown — soon to be 2 years old — is an apparently normal and healthy child, though her life began in a 1-by-2-inch glass tube. For Mr. and Mrs. John Brown of Bristol, England, the birth of Louise was the realization of a dream. After all, three years previously they had been told by doctors that they could never have a child. Then they were referred to Doctors Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, who successfully brought about Louise's conception in a glass tube. The rest of the story was told and retold by the media. Actually, experiments with in vitro (test tube) fertilization began with animals in the 1930s. In 1961 an Italian doctor filmed some of his work with human eggs. But his efforts were not well received by either the religious or scientific communities. Other work has been done, but without a great deal of public awareness. Now, however, due largely to the success of Doctors Steptoe and Edwards, Pandora's box has been publicly opened, and there seems to be no way to close it. Dr. Steptoe plans soon to engineer the birth of a human child to a surrogate mother. In other words, a human embryo, which has been conceived in a laboratory; is to be put into the womb of a female "third person" — not the woman who supplied the egg. If the experiment is successful, the child will be born to a woman who is not its real mother!
Genetic Engineering and Cloning
In the field of genetic engineering there have been some stunning breakthroughs. Being able to single out an individual gene among the millions in a human cell suggests a time when it would be possible to select in advance the eye color, stature and IQ of a test-tube child. Manipulating the genes would produce custom-made results.
"It is hard to speak about restraint in a culture that seems to venerate very little above man's own attempt to master all" — Dr. Leon Kass
Just recently the General Electric Co. has been in the news for trying to patent a man-made bacteria. This microorganism is of value because it "eats" oil spills. Another area of biomedicine that has sparked a lot of interest is cloning. Cloning is an asexual (sexless) method of reproduction. A single cell is taken from somewhere on the body of a male or female. The nucleus is removed from the cell and put into an ovum, which is then allowed to grow much like a normal embryo. The result is supposed to be a carbon copy of whoever or whatever gave the cell. Dr. Christopher Pelge, a leading Cambridge scientist, has recently stated that experiments now under way on animals indicate that in a few years human cloning, and even reproduction after death, as long as cells are available, will be possible.
Volumes have been written debating the pros and cons of the rapidly expanding field of biomedicine. Some warn of a monstrous moral, ethical and legal genie that cannot be forced back into the test tube. They denounce the specter of technicians with culture dishes creating new life forms or making God-like decisions concerning the life, death and likeness of human beings. Concerning the work already being done with human cells, there are indeed profoundly disturbing questions. For example, what happens if a 7-day-old embryo in a glass tube is found to be defective? Does it still have a "right to life"? When is a human embryo human? What if defects don't show up until the baby is born? Vance Packard, in his book, The People Shapers, asks: "If we permit the implant of in vitro human embryos in women, are we prepared to kill monsters, imbeciles and hopelessly defective humans born from such research?" "I think the potential is there for serious anomalies should an unqualified scientist mishandle an embryo," Dr. John Marlow, an American gynecologist who observed the Step-toe-Edwards experiment first hand, remarked in U.S. News and World Report (Aug. 7, 1978). Many ask just who is going to police all the "unqualified" scientists in the world. The legal ramifications of manipulated human reproduction will be immense. How can a person conceived artificially ever find his true "roots"? Who is he really? Exactly who is a baby born from a surrogate mother? Who is legally responsible for the child? Many feel that mechanical tinkering with conception dehumanizes the moment of creation. Abortion and the pill have been decried by some because they allow sex without having children; the present interest in artificial conception and/or birth is viewed by others as a design for producing children without having sex! Both approaches are seen as posing problems for the beleaguered family unit. Again from Dr. Marlow: "I think what has been done in Britain [test-tube fertilization] poses many problems to society, and some of our traditional and very important concepts of mother, father, child will be challenged" (ibid.). "We're on a slippery slope," cautioned geneticist Robert J. Berry. "Western society is built around the family; once you divorce sex from procreation, what happens to the family?" (Time, July 31, 1978). Regarding the effect surrogate mothers would have on the family institution, U.S. News and World Report (Aug. 7, 1978) stated: "Beyond the legal entanglements are fundamental questions about how this will affect the mother-child relationship and the early bonding that social anthropologists have considered so important to child development. "At the same time, surrogate pregnancy is 'seen as a final step in the biological liberation of woman. This could have a widening impact on the role of women in terms of jobs and education as the sexual gap between men and women narrows. Like men, women could 'sire' children without the responsibility of pregnancy and child birth."
Is Restraint Possible?
Advocates of continued research and experimentation, however, are — quick to point out that they are interested only in bringing about progress for mankind. Discoveries have already been made that, it is hoped, will lead to the elimination of presently incurable genetic diseases, help to conquer cancer and even slow down the aging process. New, more productive strains of livestock and plant life could be created. And, of course, we must not forget the already achieved goal of providing a child to a childless couple. All of these aspirations seem so right. Admittedly, there — is a calculated risk. But can't science regulate itself? Won't it know when and where to stop? Dr. Leon Kass, biochemist and professor at the University of Chicago, has expressed misgivings that so many steps have already been taken — with the best of intentions. "At least one good humanitarian reason can be found to justify each step," he says. "The first step serves as a precedent for the second and the second for the third, not just technologically but also in moral arguments. Perhaps a' wise society would say to infertile couples: 'We understand your sorrow, but it might be better not to go ahead and do this'" (Newsweek, Aug. 7, 1978). But he has noted, "It is hard to speak about restraint in a culture that seems to venerate very little above man's attempt to master all." Man's attempt — to master all. That is what we are really dealing with. Notice this: "To restrict cloning-related research would mean closing the door on an important area of knowledge. To continue to probe the secrets of the cell, however, is perhaps to uncover the secret of human cloning. And, given the nature of man, if it can be' done, it will be done" ("Clones: Will There Be 'Carbon Copy' People?" The Reader's Digest, March, 1979). Compare that last sentence with Genesis 11:6: "Now nothing will be restrained from them [mankind]." "The issue is how far we play God," complained British MP Leo Abse at the time of Louise Brown's birth.
The World's First "Human Experimentation"
The Bible records the very first experimentation by humans. God had provided in the Garden of Eden for the first humans' every need — physical, material and spiritual. It was not necessary for them to experiment for themselves In order to find the best way to live. All they had to do was obey His laws and they could have lived abundant lives, free from want, unhappiness and suffering. The "tree of life" symbolized God's way — the way that leads to eternal life. Also growing in the garden was the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil." To eat of this tree symbolized rejecting God's revelation of the right and good way to live and choosing instead to come to "know" good and evil by personal experience and experimentation: It was the hard way — the "school of hard knocks" — the way of suffering, sin and death. God had warned Adam and Eve not to eat of that tree. Satan, however, came along and lied to Eve, telling her that if she and Adam chose the way of experimentation, they would be as' gods. They would be able, Satan said, to judge for themselves what is right and what is wrong. They would, using the expression of Mr. Abse, be able to "play God." So they experimented: they tasted the forbidden fruit to see what would really happen. The experiment brought forth immediate results — all negative! The disobedience of Adam and Eve cut them and all their descendants off from God. Ever since that time, blinded mankind has been trying to find the way to true happiness by experimenting — with very little success. Not only has mankind not found happiness after nearly 6,000 years of experimentation, but as a result of man's experiments, he is about to reap the whirlwind in the form of a cataclysmic time of tribulation that will come close to annihilating all life from planet Earth (Matthew 24:21-22). Out of control biological experiments may well play a part in the final cataclysm. The Bible does foretell a time when swiftly moving disease epidemics will wipe out millions of lives (Deuteronomy 28:21; Ezekiel 5:12; Matthew 24:7). It doesn't take too much imagination, in view of warnings from scientists themselves, to suspect that some of these diseases may be created in laboratories accidentally or on purpose for germ warfare.
Treat the Cause, not the Effect
The reason given for continued research in reproductive science, in spite of the risks, is to overcome infertility, genetic defects and diseases in humans, animals and plants. Worthy ideals. But we need to ask ourselves why these problems exist in the first place. If such problems did not exist then there would be no need to run the risks of experimentation with cloning, genetic manipulation and related fields. Back to the beginning. When God created Adam, Eve and all living things, they were all physically per-feet, though spiritually incomplete (Genesis 1:31). Disobedience to God's laws brought curses, degeneration and disease. God warned Adam and Eve that the day they rejected His way of life and began to experiment for themselves, they would begin to degenerate and die (Genesis 2:17). Later in history God repeated the principle to ancient Israel: "But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes... then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you... Cursed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock" (Deuteronomy 28:15, 18, Revised Standard Version). Broken laws have brought the penalties of infertility, birth defects, degeneration and disease. The solution is not to, try to get around the penalties with test tubes and genetic tampering. The solution is for mankind to repent of breaking God's laws — laws governing the physical as well as the spiritual — and ask for forgiveness and healing. Then the cause of the problem will be eliminated. "And if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments... all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you... Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock... And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground" (Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 4, 11, RSV). Now isn't that what we want? That's what we could have had all along had we obeyed God. In reproductive science, as in all other fields, catastrophe in human experimentation and research will ultimately lead to one colossal discovery: God's way is right after all!