At a worldview seminar I led years ago, a man approached me and said, “I’m pretty interested in the biotechnology issues you mentioned in your talks, but they don’t have a lot to do with my line of work.”
“Well, what do you do?” I asked.
“I’m an economist,” he said. “I lead a non-profit group out of our university that advises third world governments about viable economic structures and issues. So we don’t deal with biotechnology.”
I was tempted to scream out loud, but instead I offered a few scenarios. “Well, what about the black market for organs?” I asked. “An estimated 20,000 kidneys are illegally marketed each year by folks in poverty who receive thousands of dollars to meet the demand of the over 100,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list. Does that impact your work?”
I then brought up the issue of medical tourism, where certain medical procedures that are much cheaper outside of the West create a new industry in countries that lack any framework for patients’ rights, regulations, or resolving malpractice disputes.
For example, in 2008 an older Indian couple with British citizenship decided to use a sex-selection process to have a son. But because they were deemed too old by British law for the procedure, they went to India for the procedure and then returned to the UK for the birth. Well, when the 59-year-old mom gave birth to twin girls instead of the boys they expected, reports say they abandoned the twins at the hospital.
New technologies provide the potential for made-to-order babies, diagnosing diseases in utero, living longer and more expensive lives, deeper integration with machines and computers, and replacing face-to-face friendships with virtual ones. And these technologies are not only far outpacing our ethics; they are even outpacing our awareness. This is bad news to those of us who are committed to defending the sacred dignity of all human life.
The speed, the depth and the breadth of biotechnology means the stakes are higher than ever before. Bioethicist John Kilner, who is editor of the book Why the Church Needs Bioethics, says, “Abortion and euthanasia are taking life; cloning and IVF are making life; and nanotechnology and cybernetics are faking life.”
Dr. Kilner is one of my guests this weekend on BreakPoint This Week. If you didn’t understand his quote, or if you’re not sure how it impacts your life, you’re not alone. Many Christians are in that same boat. But it’s time Christians catch up and become what Scott Rae – my other guest this weekend – calls, “Pro-Life 3.0.”
According to Dr. Rae, a professor of ethics at Talbot School of Divinity, most churches are Pro-life 1.0, in other words, we’re up to speed on the taking of life: we tend to stand against abortion and euthanasia. And some of us are up to speed or at least getting up to speed on pro-life 2.0, or the making of life. This includes challenges surrounding fertility treatments like IVF and surrogacy. (But we still have a long way to go on this one. I mean, how many young married couples, even in our churches, utilize in vitro fertilization without realizing they’ve created excess embryos that will either be discarded, abandoned, or selectively aborted? And how many know which birth control pills are abortive and which are not?)
But we now face issues not only concerning the making and taking of life, but of remaking life. The astounding speed of technology allows us to use what was intended for healing diseases or sickness to enhance or improve people. And as we’ve mentioned before here on BreakPoint, this brings with it the threat of eugenics.
This weekend, BreakPoint This Week offers a crash course on upgrading to Pro-Life 3.0. I hope you’ll listen on your local radio station or by visiting BreakPoint.org and clicking on the “This Week” tab. Once informed, churches can begin to help their people make wise decisions about bioethical issues they’re confronted with every day. But ignoring these issues won’t make them go away.