Statement on Human Species Altering Technologies

PRINCIPLES OF MORAL EVALUATION

  1. Principle of Restricted Involuntary Risk to Innocent Human Life

    We affirm that, other than life-for-life situations, actions risking harm to innocent human life are allowed without the explicit voluntary consent of that life only if it is necessary to reduce a real threat to that particular human life. In other than life-for-life situations, jeopardizing innocent human life without consent is only justified to benefit that one life and for no other reason.

    Other than life-for-life situations, we deny that actions risking harm to innocent human life without consent is ever justified, except in efforts to assist that one life. Risking harm or death to innocent human life, other than life-for-life situations, without consent, for any reason apart from trying to assist that one life, is worse than risking innocent human life with consent. But we also believe consent is not alone sufficient to justify harming innocent human life. We here distinguish between individuals who voluntarily sacrifice their lives for others, and individuals who either take or authorize their deaths for selfish reasons. Self-sacrificing heroism is worthy, but self-centered destruction is not.

    Biblical Basis

    God says, “Do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Ex 23:7).

    God condemns those who make money from shedding innocent blood (Dt 27:25).

    God hates “hands that shed innocent blood” (Prv 6:17). It is wicked to “murder the innocent” (Ps 10:8).

    Parents are condemned for sacrificing the lives of children for what they consider a good cause (Lv 20:2-5). “They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters … and the land was desecrated by their blood … Therefore the LORD was angry” (Ps 106:38-40).

    Judas is condemned for voluntary self-murder (Mt 27:5-10; Acts 1:20).

    Application

    Human species altering technologies, i.e., germline genetic modifications, risking involuntary harm to human lives, is immoral and impossible to justify under any circumstance.

    For Example

    The Chinese scientist who fused human cells with rabbit eggs and the Kentucky scientist who created cow-human hybrid embryos did so by harming and then destroying hundreds of individual human lives at the embryonic stage of development. These human lives were undeniably innocent and destroying them had nothing to do with pursuing their welfare.

  2. Principle of Respecting the Unique Value of Each Human Life

    We affirm that, other than life-for-life situations, actions intending harm to innocent human life without consent cannot be justified as a means for benefiting others. In other than life-for-life situation, harming innocent lives without consent as a means of helping others violates the unique value of each human life.

    We deny that, other than life-for-life situation, actions harming innocent human life without consent should ever be used to benefit others.

    Biblical Basis

    God created every species “according to their kinds” (Gn 1:21, 25).

    God designed every species to reproduce “according to their kinds” (Gn 1:22).

    Every creature has unique value to God no matter how small. Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father” (Mt 10:29).

    But individual human lives are worth more to God than any other species because each individual human life bears the image of God. “Whoever sheds the blood of man (even just one), by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God created him” (Gn 9:6). And Jesus said, “do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:31).

    Application

    Human species altering technologies risking involuntary harm to innocent human lives in order to benefit others is immoral and impossible to justify under any circumstance.

    For Example

    Research on implanting human embryos in animal wombs aims to extend the range of options for gestating life (carrying a baby) in the womb. If perfected, this will give women the choice of having babies without the burden of carrying them in their own bodies. But all harm generated to perfect or apply this technology is born by the babies and never by their mothers.

  3. Principle of Keeping Prospective Harm Proportional to Prospective Good

    We affirm it is never right to create or to risk more foreseeable harm than foreseeable good. It is foolish, irresponsible, and negligent to act knowingly in a way that risks harming something of greater value to achieve something of lesser value.

    We deny that it is morally responsible ever to take actions risking more harm than good.

    Biblical Basis

    Jesus taught that it is foolish to start something that costs more than it is worth. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him” (Lk 14:28-29).

    And Jesus taught that it is wise to avoid taking action if you discover it will cost more than it is worth. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able … to oppose the one coming against him?” (Lk 14:31).

    Application

    Human species altering technologies with power to harm or destroy all future generations cannot be justified by comparing it to the good of improving life for a few.

    For Example

    It is hoped that germline therapy will result in eradicating genetic diseases like sickle-cell anemia or Tay-Sach’s disease. But this will also generate power to create “designer children,” and to mix human with animal chromosomes in a single somatic cell. Human nature is such that regulation has never been sufficient to prevent rogue governments or individuals from ever using power for nefarious purposes. Thus the harm that may be done to all humanity by human species altering germline manipulation must be compared to the benefit proposed by the elimination of diseases by germline therapy.

  4. Principle of Respecting the Unique Dignity of Each Human Life

    We affirm that each human life has unique dignity and it is never right to act in ways that knowingly reduce the unique dignity of any human life. Knowingly reducing or ignoring obligation to treat every human life with honor (as worthy of unique respect) violates the unique dignity of each human life.

    We deny that actions can be allowed that knowingly reduce or disregard the unique dignity of each human life. We distinguish between the responsible need to expose and punish dishonorable conduct and obligation to respect the inherent dignity of each human life. Censoring dishonorable conduct is right, but denigrating the dignity of a human life is never right.

    Biblical Basis

    Where God judges Moab “because he burned, as if to lime, the bones of Edom’s king” (Am 2: 1), the issue at stake is violating respect for the unique dignity of a human life even if that individual is an enemy.

    Application

    Human species altering technologies that knowingly reduce or disregard the unique dignity of human life are immoral and impossible to justify under any circumstance.

    For Example

    A Stanford University scientist recently injected human neuronal stem cells into mouse fetuses, creating mice with brains about 1% human. And the Stanford team now wants to create chimeric mice whose brains are 100% human. Technologies that serve to confuse human-animal species boundaries reduce or disregard the unique dignity of human life.

  5. Principle of Respecting the Shared Nature of Human Design

    We affirm that no component of the human race possesses, or can ever possess, moral authority sufficient to authorize changing the fundamental design of humanity for everyone else. It violates the equal relation each has to the shared design of humanity for any component of the race to presume authority either to redesign the nature of humanity or to reconfigure the genetic future of the race.

    We deny that it can ever be moral for any component of the human race to assume authority to reconfigure the shared design of humanity.

    Biblical Basis

    The whole belongs only to God. Although Pharaoh claimed authority over all things, Moses denied this by announcing, “the earth is the LORD’s” (Ex 9:29). God later at Sinai proclaimed, “the whole earth is mine” (Ex 19:5).

    God was angry at Aaron and Miriam for presuming authority that was not rightfully theirs, so that Aaron is forced to plead, “do not hold against us the sin we have foolishly committed” (Nu 12:11).

    Implication

    Human species altering technologies that assume authority to reconfigure the shared design of humanity are immoral and impossible to justify under any circumstance.

    For Example

    Whereas somatic cell therapy only affects those treated and is not passed on, germline therapy affects all future generations of those treated, and after several generations spreads widely through the human gene pool. Human-human germline transfers alter the species and may destroy non-consenting human beings in the process of perfecting cures. Moreover, no one can anticipate infallibly the full consequences of germline alterations. Animal-human germline transfers are even more unacceptable because they will forever redefine humanity by confusing species distinctions.

  6. Principle of Respecting the Sacred Nature of Human Design

    We affirm that the design of human life is sacred and that it can never be right to violate knowingly the sacred nature of its design. Refusing or ignoring the obligation to respect the transcendent nature of human design (as having significance beyond its material components) violates the sanctity of human design.

    We deny that it can ever be moral to treat the fundamental design of human life in ways that oppose or reject its sacred nature. Human efforts to reconfigure the human race through human species altering technologies are a form of self-deification, in which men seek to be self-Creators.

    Biblical Basis

    The design of human life not only originated with God but is in some way also patterned after the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27).

    It is arrogant, dishonoring to God, and presumptuous for creatures to criticize their Creator for their design. “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” (Rom 9:20).

    God warns, “You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” (Isa 29:16).

    God says, “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker … Do you … give me orders about the work of my hands?” (Isa 45:9, 11).

    Application

    Human species altering technologies opposing the sacred nature of the fundamental design of human life are immoral and impossible to justify under any circumstance. Efforts to redesign humanity trespass the Creator’s role in relation to the design of human life, and are therefore incompatible with the sacred nature of human design.

    For Example

    Concerning the attraction of power to redesign humanity, Nancy Duff of Princeton has observed that “Many people wonder if this is a miracle for which we can thank God, or an ominous new way to play God ourselves1.” Human deification is among the strong incentives driving interest in genetic technology, and Leon Jaroff writing for Time has said, “All told, genetic technology will give humankind an almost godlike power to improve its condition2.” On this Leon Kass, chair of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, has warned that, “If scientists are seen in the godlike role of creator-judge-savior, the rest of us must stand in inferior relation to them as creatures-judged-tainted. These worries despite the hyperbolic speech, are not far fetched.”

A FINAL QUOTE

We must recall that C. S. Lewis warned of trusting the power of scientific knowledge beyond the virtue of human nature. He said:

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them. But … I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called “Man’s power over Nature” must always and essentially be …

In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them … The real picture is that of one dominant age … which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irreversibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But even within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men … Each new power won by man is a power over man as well3.

Author: Dr. Daniel Heimbach, Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; with contributions by Dr. C. Ben Mitchell, Associate Professor of Bioethics and Contemporary Culture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; and Dr. Don Buckley, M.D., Pensacola, Florida

Edited by: Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

Endnotes

1 Nancy Duff, testimony before the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, March 14, 1997.

2 Leon Jaroff, “Seeking a Godlike Power,” Time (15 October 1992).

3 C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 69-71.

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