By / Nov 30

Within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), resolutions have traditionally been defined as an expression of opinion or concern, as compared to a motion, which calls for action. A resolution is not used to direct an entity of the denomination to specific action other than to communicate the opinion or concern expressed. Each year, resolutions are passed during the annual meetings of the state conventions.

Highlighted below are some examples of resolutions on ERLC related issues from the 2018 conventions:

Alabama Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 1: On a Call for Prayer and Unity

RESOLVED, That we encourage all U.S. citizens to demonstrate unity in advocating freedom of speech and religious liberty for each other;

Resolution No. 2: On Christian Parenting for All Children

RESOLVED, That Alabama Baptists encourage all fathers and mothers to be equally committed to active participation in the challenges of raising their children in an atmosphere of healthy family life and that each play an effective personal role in the development of their children;

Arkansas Baptist State Convention

Resolution No. 2: On Opposition To Issue No. 4 – The Proposed Constitutional Amendment To Expand Casino Gambling To Four Arkansas Counties

RESOLVED, that should Issue No. 4 be approved and casino gambling is expanded in our state, we will endeavor to restore and rehabilitate individuals caught up in the destructive cycle of problem gambling, and will attempt to provide a safety net for the gamblers’ families and communities as we are called to do as Christ-followers.

Resolution No. 4: On Christian Citizenship And Civic Participation

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, meeting at Central Baptist Church, Jonesboro, Arkansas, October 23-24, 2018, encourage all believers to engage the culture by being informed and proactive citizens, by voting in all elections, by praying for all those in authority and positions of influence, and by participating appropriately in civic matters.

Resolution No. 5: On Christlike Communication And The Use Of Social Media

RESOLVED, that we guard our tongues, using caution and wisdom in our media and social media, and refrain from remarks that tear down others made in the image of God, including refraining from gossip and slander (Psa. 141:3; Prov. 6:16–19; 17:27–28; 21:23; James 3:10–12);

Illinois Baptist State Association

Resolution Concerning Churches’ Compassion Toward Infertility

RESOLVED, that said messengers urge IBSA churches to stand firm and together in helping parents during these times of struggle, indecision, and/or heartbreak so that everyone knows and understands they are part of the greater family of God and that their difficulty, problems, and/or struggles can be overcome through Christ. (Rom. 12:12)

Resolution Opposing the Teaching of LGBTQ Values in Illinois Schools

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Illinois Baptist State Association meeting in Maryville, Illinois, November 7-8, 2018, urge IBSA churches and their members to stand against efforts to impose LGBTQ curricula and books upon the students, families, and citizens of the State of Illinois.

Resolution on Abuse and Prevention

RESOLVED, That we call on pastors and ministry leaders to foster safe environments in which abused persons may both recognize the reprehensible nature of their abuse and reveal such abuse to pastors and ministry leaders in safety and expectation of being believed and protected;

Missouri Baptist Convention

Resolution No. 4: On Pornography Being a Public Health Crisis

RESOLVED, that the Missouri Baptist Convention calls for education, prevention, research, strict enforcement of obscenity laws, and policy considerations where needed at the church, community and societal level in order to address the pornography epidemic that is harming the people of our state and nation.

Resolution No. 5: On the Prohibition of Legalizing Sports Gambling

RESOLVED, that we encourage our fellow Missouri Baptists and all other followers of Christ to refuse to participate in any form of gambling.

Resolution No. 6: On Marijuana Ballot Measures

RESOLVED, that we, the Missouri Baptist Convention, protect the people of our great state from the future legalization of recreational marijuana (through the initial step of legalizing medical marijuana) by urging a vote of “NO” on each of these three ballot issues;

Resolution No. 7: On Gun Violence

RESOLVED, that we affirm that it is the depravity, sinfulness, and wickedness of the human heart that gives birth to gun violence and mass shootings;

Resolution No. 8: On the Missouri Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision and Racial Reconciliation

RESOLVED, that the Missouri Baptist Convention call on the Missouri Legislature to formally denounce the decision of the Missouri Supreme Court of March 22, 1852, in that it contradicts the principle that “all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”

Resolution No. 9: On Sexuality and Christian Identity

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention meeting deny the validity of a “gay Christian” identity, recommit themselves to fight all forms of sinful temptation, and affirm the biblical portrait of the believer as one who has decisively broken with all sinful identity and practice and is with all Christ’s church a new creation who is being progressively sanctified by God

State Convention of Baptists in Ohio

Resolution No. 4: On Voting as an Expression of Christian Citizenship

RESOLVED, That we prayerfully urge the candidates for political office and the current officials to endorse the Biblical values upon which society should rest;

Resolution No. 6: On Biblical Sexuality and the Freedom of Conscience

RESOLVED, That we stand in solidarity with those whose jobs, professions, businesses, ministries, schools, and personal freedoms are threatened because their consciences will not allow them to recognize, promote, or participate in activities associated with unbiblical marriage;

Resolution No. 7:  On Reaching Refugees and People Groups in Ohio

RESOLVED, That we will be committed to extending Christian love and friendship to all people groups entering our state;

Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma

Resolution No. 3: For Foster Care and Adoption

Knowing that Christ calls us to minister to the vulnerable, and that Jesus modeled love and compassion toward all children and commands us to care for them, we call on Oklahoma Baptists to take an even more active role in foster care.

Resolution No. 5: For Sexual Integrity, Accountability

We deplore, apologize, and ask for forgiveness for failures to protect the abused, failures that have occurred in churches and ministries, including such failures among Southern Baptists. We condemn all forms of abuse and repudiate with a unified voice all abusive behavior as unquestionably sinful and under the just condemnation of our Holy God and should be properly reported to state/legal authorities.

Resolution No. 6: On Recreational Marijuana and the Abuse of Drugs

We pray that the citizens of Oklahoma will oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana and that the church will be proactive through Christ-centered ministries to reach people who are addicted to substances.

South Carolina Baptist Convention

Resolution on Medical Marijuana

RESOLVED, That we, the messengers of the South Carolina Baptist Convention meeting in North Charleston, November 13-14, 2018, are opposed to the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana;

Resolution on Racial Reconciliation

RESOLVED, That we profess our commitment to Build Bridges with the love of our Savior to make disciples of Jesus Christ across every cultural barrier to the glory of God the Father (Matt. 28:18–20, Acts 1:8).

Resolution on Sports Betting

RESOLVED, That we urge the members of the South Carolina General Assembly to reject state-sanctioned sports betting and any other expansion of gambling;

Resolution on Religious Liberty

RESOLVED, That we urge those in the legal profession to engage in defending the rights of those individuals, groups, or churches facing discrimination for their religious beliefs;

Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC)

Resolution No. 1: On Pastors and Political Engagement

RESOLVED, that we refuse to compromise the reputation of Christ and the clarity of the gospel message, regardless of perceived political implications or potential loss of religious liberty;

Resolution No. 3: On Justice Reform

RESOLVED, that we ardently call upon and pray for decision-makers at every level in the United States judicial system to apply the law equally, irrespective of race or socio-economic status;

Resolution No. 5: On Abuse

RESOLVED, that we acknowledge that spousal abuse dishonors the marriage covenant and fundamentally blasphemes the relationship between Christ and the church;

Resolution No. 6: On Posture of Christians Toward Refugees

RESOLVED, that we repudiate any and all assaults on the dignity and humanity of God’s image-bearers, regardless of refugee status;

Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia

Resolution No. 2: Prayer for the President and Other Elected Leaders

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the SBC of Virginia Annual Homecoming meeting in Hampton, Virginia, November 11-13, 2018, urge the churches of the SBC of Virginia to pray confidently, regularly, and fervently for our President, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and all local, state, and national governmental leaders.

Resolution No. 5: Condemning Religious Violence Against Jewish People

RESOLVED, That we will encourage churches of the SBC of Virginia to guard against and reject anti-Semitism and to be zealous to share the hope of Christ for all peoples.

West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists

Resolution on Violence

RESOLVED, [in opposition to] the use of violence or force against any person or group on the basis of political persuasion, racial background, gender distinction, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation

By / Jun 14

Editor’s note: This is the eleventh article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

What is suicide?

Suicide is the act of purposely ending one’s own life.

What is difference between suicide attempt, gesture, and ideation?

Suicidal ideation is any self-reported thoughts of engaging in suicide-related behavior.

A suicide attempt is a self-inflicted, potentially injurious behavior with a nonfatal outcome.  A suicidal gesture a feigned attempt at taking one’s life, often gambling their lives that they will be found in time and that the discoverer will save them.

Although gesture and attempt are often used interchangeably, some clinicians believe the former term should be abandoned since it can be dismissive of a realistic intent to commit self-harm.

How many people in the U.S. commit suicide every year?

In 2016, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, the number of suicide deaths totaled 44,965.

How often do suicide attempts end in suicide?

There were an estimated 1,124,125 annual attempts in U.S in 2016. For adults, there is an average of 25 attempts for every death. For young people there are an estimated 100-200 attempts for every death.

What are the most common methods of suicide?

More than half of all suicides involve a firearm (51 percent). Another one-in-four (25.9 percent) are the result of suffocation or hanging. Almost 15 percent are by poisoning, and fewer than two out of every hundred suicides (1.9 percent) are a result of cutting or piercing.

Who commits suicide more often, men or women?

Men are more likely to die by suicide than women (77 percent of all U.S. suicides were men), but women are more likely to attempt suicide. There are on average 3.7 male deaths by suicide for each female death by suicide. But there are three female suicide attempts for each male attempt.

Men are more likely to use deadlier methods, such as firearms or suffocation (firearms are involved in 51 percent of suicides, while suffocation accounts for 23 percent). Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide by poisoning (18 percent of all suicides are by poisoning).

What ethnic or racial groups are most likely to commit suicide?

White men are the most likely group to commit suicide, accounting for 69 percent of annual suicides, and white women are the second most likely, accounting for 20 percent of annual suicide deaths.

Among non-whites, American Indians and Alaska Natives tend to have the highest rate of suicides, followed by non-Hispanic Whites. Hispanics tend to have the lowest rate of suicides, while African Americans tend to have the second lowest rate.

How often do pre-teens commit suicide?

Suicide in pre-teens (age 10-14) is rare (436 deaths in 2016) compared to the rates for teenagers age 15-19 (2,117 in 2016).

The vast majority of child suicides are male (85 percent) and take their life at home (84 percent). The most common method of suicide is by hanging/strangulation/suffocation (80.5 percent), while firearms account for 13.8 percent and poisoning 3 percent. Less than 1 in 3 (29.5 percent) children disclosed an intent to commit suicide and only about 8 percent leave a suicide note.

In which states are suicide rates the highest/lowest?

The six states with the highest suicide rates in 2016 were Alaska (26.0), Montana (25.6), Wyoming (24.6), New Mexico (22.6), Nevada (22.1), and Colorado (22.1).

The six states with the lowest suicide rates in 2016 were Maryland (9.7), Massachusetts (9.3), New York (8.5), New Jersey (7.7), and the District of Columbia (5.9).

What is suicide-by-cop?

Suicide-by-cop is a colloquial term used to describe a suicidal incident where a person engages in a consciously, life-threatening behavior to the degree that it compels a police officer to respond with deadly force.

A study using data from 1998 to 2006, found that among 707 officer involved shootings, one-third (36 percent) were attempted/completed suicide-by-cop and half of the people (51 percent) were killed. Almost all of the suicidal persons (95 percent) were male, and almost always (80 percent for men, 100 percent for women) armed with a firearm or knife.

What is a suicide loss survivor?

Research-based estimate suggests that for each death by suicide there are 147 people are exposed (6.6 million annually). Among that group, more than six experience a major life disruption.

If each suicide has devastating effects and intimately affects around six other people, there are over 269,000 loss survivors a year. Based on the 8,651,815 suicides from 1992 through 2016, the number of survivors of suicide loss in the U.S. is more than 5.2 million (1 of every 62 Americans in 2016).

What is the Christian perspective on suicide?

From a Christian perspective, suicide is sinful and wrong because:

  • Suicide is a sin against God as the creator and sustainer of life. It rejects God’s sovereignty and usurps his prerogative in regard to life and death (cf. Job 12:10).
  • Suicide is a violation of the sixth commandment (cf. Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17).
  • Suicide disregards the image of God and the sanctity of human life (cf. Gen. 1:26–27; 9:5–6).
  • Suicide is poor stewardship of one’s body (cf. 1 Cor. 6:19–20).
  • Suicide overlooks the value of human suffering (cf. Rom. 5:3–5; 8:28; 2 Cor. 4:17–18; 12:10).
  • Suicide demonstrates misdirected love and is injurious to others (cf. Matt. 22:36–39; Eph. 5:29).
By / May 3

The case of Alfie Evans, a terminally ill British infant who died several days after being taken off ventilation, has raised troubling concerns about the state’s authority to intervene in parental rights. But it also has caused some to wonder what they would have done if they were Alfie’s parents.

We often aren’t prepared for the questions that arise in such situations. For example, when should life-sustaining treatment be withdrawn? Do Christians have an obligation to delay death as long as humanly possible? What should we do if we disagree with medical providers about continued treatment of a dying relative?

Such questions are complicated, and the answers often depend on the individual context. But there are certain principles and considerations that can help guide our decisions about withdrawing life-sustaining medical intervention.

Withdrawal is allowable when the fatal condition is irreversible

A primary consideration when determining whether treatment should be withheld or withdrawn is whether the fatal condition is reversible or irreversible.

When a person suffers a potentially fatal threat to their health (e.g., disease, injury), their impaired condition may be either reversible or irreversible. If the condition is reversible, appropriate medical intervention and treatment exists that may possibly restore a person to a state where they are no longer in imminent danger of dying. Medical intervention that restores health and reverses the dying process is known as curative care and should be the first option.

However, if no effective intervention or treatment is possible, the condition is irreversible (i.e., terminal) and the impaired condition will lead to death. This is what is meant when we say that a person is dying, or has entered the dying process.

We can’t always know whether a person’s condition is reversible or irreversible. In most cases, the best we can do is rely on expertise that is based on the collective experience of the medical community. But when the probability is that the condition is irreversible, we are under no moral obligation to continue life-sustaining interventions we believe will be futile.

Withdrawal of treatment should not cause or hasten death

Whether death is imminent or non-imminent, our first consideration for dealing with people in the dying process is that we take no action with the intention of hastening the end of their life. As bioethicist Gilbert Meilander explains, “‘Allowing to die’ is permitted; killing is not. Within these limits lies the sphere of our freedom.”

Withdrawal of treatment is not the same as withdrawal of care

If curative care is not possible because the condition is fatal and irreversible, we still have a duty to provide one of three other types of care:

Symptom care – In some situations, a person may be in the non-imminent dying process. They may suffer symptoms such as shortness of breath that requires medical intervention, such as artificial respiration. Out of respect for life and to prevent unnecessary suffering, all necessary symptom care—a form of palliative care—should be provided until death become imminent.

Comfort care – People in the dying process should not suffer needlessly. When death becomes imminent, palliative care should shift from symptom care to comfort care. The main distinction is that comfort care focuses on providing direct relief from the stress and pain of dying. Comfort care is provided to make the last state of dying as comfortable as possible.

Respect care – The dying process often leads to deterioration of the body. Because a person is often unable to care for their own bodies, they may feel a loss of control. Our duty is to provide such care for people unable to take care of themselves in a way that restores their sense of dignity. We should, for example, ensure that their bodies are adequately cleaned and that they afforded a level of decorum and privacy from unnecessary exposure. No matter what stage a person is in the dying—or living—process, respect care should be provided to all who are in need.

Withdrawal of nutrition or hydration should be a last resort

If food and liquids can be administered through oral means and are capable of providing either comfort or nourishment, we have a moral obligation to provide them as a form of care (Matthew 25:31-45). To actively withhold nutrition or hydration to hasten death is evil. However, there may be situations where artificial nutrition and hydration can cause discomfort, pain, or complications and the most loving form of comfort care would entail withholding nutrition or hydration.

Disagreement should be respectful

Health care workers are under no moral obligation to provide treatments they believe are likely to be futile, harmful, or wholly ineffective. While we may disagree with their judgment, the principle of charity requires that—unless we have evidence to the contrary—we assume their refusal to continue treatment is rooted in concern for the patient. As Christians, we must be careful about unfairly maligning health care providers over disagreements about the best methods of treatment.

That does not mean, of course, that we must always submit to a specific expert opinion. Doctors and nurses are fallible, and there is not always a consensus about whether treatments are effective. If another group of health care providers is willing and able to take on the case, transfer of care is a legitimate option.

Parental authority should be respected, but it is not absolute

In a recent article on the Alfie Evans case, Andrew Walker and I argued that the state much respect the rights of parents:

Parental authority over children is explicit in Scripture (Deut. 11:19; Eph. 6:4). The parent-child relationship is one of divine origin and design, accomplished through the one-flesh union of a mother and father. Scripturally speaking, parents are tasked with raising children. For this reason, the mother and father of a child ought to retain primary authority over the child. This is grounded on the basis of an innate link between parent and child—whether biological or adoptive—and right of the parent over the child. This is both commonsensical and appeals intuitively to our sense of justice.

Although children are a gift to parents from God, all children ultimately belong to God. Parental authority is a sub-authority, ordained and limited by what God allows. Just as parents do not have a the authority to abuse or neglect their child, they do not have the authority to hasten their untimely death.

While parents should be given wide latitude in making medical decisions for the child, healthcare workers have an obligation to oppose parental decisions that may significantly harm their children.  

All healing comes from God

Whether God works within the natural laws he has established for health or provides miraculous intervention, we should recognize that all healing comes from God.

“Sometimes it is clear that scientific principles are used to facilitate that healing; sometimes the connection with known science is not so clear,” says the Christian Medical and Dental Association. “We need to give God the credit at all levels of healing, whether we understand the science behind it or not.”

We must also, however, trust God has a purpose for withholding healing and remember that physical death is the expected outcome of human life (Hebrews 9:27). As the Apostle Paul says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Our love ones have no reason to fear either death or the eternal consequences of their sin, though, when they believe in Jesus (John 3:16). That is why the most important step an individual can take when preparing their loved one for death is to ensure they know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.

By / Mar 8

Editor’s note: This is the tenth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

What is an abortifacient?

An abortifacient is a chemical or drug that causes embryonic death by either killing the child directly or by preventing implantation in the uterine lining of the embryonic child. The term abortifacient means “that which will cause a miscarriage” (derived from the Latin abortus (miscarriage) and faciens (making).

How do abortifacients differ from contraceptives?

The purpose of contraceptives is to prevent conception (hence the term “contra”— against—conception). The scientific understanding of contraception is that it occurs at fertilization. The historical meaning of contraceptive—and the one still used by pro-lifers—is methods that prevent fertilization.

However, in 1972 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists change the definition of conception to mean implantation of the embryo into the wall of the mother’s uterus. As physician Meghan Best explains, under the new definition, any device that prevented the embryo from implanting in the uterus could be marketed as a contraceptive.

“This change of definition means there are two classes of contraceptives,” says Dr. Best, “those that work before fertilization, the classic definition, and prevent the sperm from joining with the egg; and those that cause an early abortion by acting after fertilization.”

What this means is that some, but not all, contraceptives may have an abortifacient effect. Obviously, barrier contraceptives, such as condoms or diaphragms, which place a physical obstruction between the sperm and the egg are not abortifacients. Some devices considered contraceptives—such as the IUD or intrauterine device—are highly likely to be abortifacients because their primary function is to prevent implantation.

But there are some oral contraceptives—“the Pill”—that may or may not have an abortifacient effect. As Dr. Best explains:

There are three known actions by which the pill prevents pregnancy:

1.    The pill suppresses ovulation (egg production);

2.    The pill makes it difficult for the sperm to move through the cervix; and

3.    The pill makes the lining of the womb thinner and hostile to the embryo implanting.

The first two actions are not controversial, as they obviously just stop egg and sperm from getting together. They are acting before fertilization. The concern is the third effect. Some Christians have argued that if the first and second mechanisms fail, so that an egg is produced and sperm do get through the cervix, then an embryo could form. If this was the case and the womb was not prepared for the embryo to implant and develop, it would put the pill into the second contraceptive category of abortifacients.

However, I think there is better evidence that if the first and second mechanisms fail and an embryo is formed, then we would also expect the third mechanism to fail (as they come as a package—all or none) and you would not have an abortion, but an unplanned pregnancy. There are disagreements about the reliability of the evidence both sides claim to support their arguments. The definitive research needed to decide the issue once and for all has not, and probably will never be, done.

Are “emergency contraceptives” abortifacients?

Emergency contraception—sometimes also known as the “morning after pill”—is a method of contraception that is taken after sexual intercourse with the intention of preventing pregnancy.

There are three main types of emergency contraception approved for use in the United States. The first type uses Levonorgestrel (Plan B One-Step, Next Choice One Dose, After Pill, Take Action, and My Way). As with oral contraception, it is unclear whether this drug has an abortifacient effect.

The second type uses Ulipristal acetate (ella), which is suspected of having an abortifacient effect.

The third type is the copper T IUD, which is also suspected of having an abortifacient effect.

Are abortifacients used to induce abortions?

The two broad methods for legal abortions in the U.S. are medical and surgical. A medical abortion (sometimes referred to as a medication abortion, chemical abortion, or pharmaceutical abortion) is a method that uses an abortifacient to stimulate uterine contractions and end the pregnancy in a process similar to miscarriage.

The FDA approved method for chemical abortions is a two-step process involving the drugs mifepristone and misoprostol. Mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) ends a pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed to maintain a pregnancy. Because this hormone is blocked, the uterine lining begins to shed, removing the child (in the embryonic state) that was attached. The second step, which occurs 24 to 48 hours later, requires taking misoprostol which causes the woman to expel the child and the uterine lining in a matter similar to a miscarriage.

What is RU-486?

The most common drug used for medical abortion is Mifeprex, the brand name for mifepristone, a drug that was formerly known as RU-486. The drug was developed in France in the 1980s and banned by President George H.W. Bush Administration’s FDA in 1989. In 1993, President Bill Clinton asked the FDA to review the ban, which was lifted in 2000.

Currently, the drug is approved by the FDA provided it is “dispensed in certain healthcare settings, specifically, clinics, medical offices and hospitals, by or under the supervision of a certified prescriber.” In 2016, the FDA extended the time the abortion pill could be taken to 70 days into a pregnancy. (Despite how the name might sound—“Are you for 86?” (“86” being slang for ejecting something or someone—RU-486 was derived from the initials of the French pharmaceutical company that patented the drug (Roussel Uclaf) and the serial number (486).)

Are abortifacients dangerous to women?

As Americans United for Life notes, numerous, well-documented studies in peer-reviewed medical journals have demonstrated that chemical abortions pose significant medical risks for women. A review of nearly 7,000 abortions performed in Australia in 2009 and 2010 found that 3.3 percent of patients who used mifepristone in the first trimester required emergency hospital treatment, in contrast to 2.2 percent of patients who underwent surgical abortions.

Women receiving chemical abortions were also admitted to hospitals at a rate of 5.7 percent following the abortion, as compared with 0.4 percent for patients undergoing surgical abortion. Another study revealed that the overall incidence of immediate adverse events is fourfold higher for chemical abortions than for surgical abortions.

By / Dec 14

Editor’s note: This is the eighth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

Since the early 1990s, about 10 million children have been born because of in vitro fertilization. While this reproductive technology has been a blessing to many infertile couples, it has come with a high price: for every child conceived through IVF, there are between 5 to fifteen humans who will die in the embryonic stage.

This means that roughly 100 million humans were created that will die outside the womb.

Of these human beings, approximately 3 percent will be donated for use in embryonic stem cell research programs.

The debate about the morality of research that destroys human embryos has waxed and waned for the past fifteen years. But rather than achieving a consensus on the issue, Americans are still divided. Unfortunately, the complexity of the issue and the peculiar terminology used often prevents many Christians from developing a fully informed opinion on the matter.

Roughly 100 million human were created that will die outside the womb.

Here is what you should know about embryo destructive research and how it relates to the ethics of “making life.”

What are stem cells?

In the human body there are around 200 different cells. Most cells are a particular type (such as the ceruminous gland cell) and have a specific function (in the case of the ceruminous gland cell, producing earwax). Stem cells differ, though, in that thy are relatively undifferentiated and unspecialized – they have not yet obtained a special structure and function

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 development.

How are stem cells different than other types of cells?

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.

Why are stem cells so important to research?

There are two main reasons stem cells are of interest to both scientific and medical research. First, stem cells provide a valuable tool for studying both normal and abnormal cellular processes. By learning how stem cells differentiate and become specialized, scientists hope to gain a better understanding of how cells in general work and what can go wrong. Second, stem cells may prove to be an indispensable source of transplantable cells and tissues for repair and regeneration. If stem cells can used to produce new and differentiated cells that are damaged because of disease (such as Parkinson’s disease) or injury (e.g., spinal cord damage), it would transform regenerative medicine.

What are embryonic stem cells?

Embryonic stem cells (ESCs) are stem cells that have been taken from the inner cell mass of a blastocyst, a embryo of about 150 cells that has not yet implanted into a woman’s uterus. (“Embryo” is the term for humans (and other mammals) in the stage of development between fertilization and the end of the eighth week of gestation, whereupon the being is referred to as a fetus until the time of birth.)

Where do the embryos for embryonic stem cells come from?

Some infertile couples that wish to conceive turn to in vitro fertilization (IVF). Oftentimes during the process, more embryos are created than are implanted into a woman’s womb. If they have no intention of giving birth to these embryos, the couple can donate them for research purposes. Currently, all human embryonic stem cell lines in use today were created from embryos generated by in vitro fertilization (IVF).

What are adult stem cells?

The term adult stem cells simply refers to any non-embryonic stem cell, whether taken from a fetus, a child, or an adult. Adult stem cells are sometimes referred to as somatic stem cells to differentiate them from human germ cells, sperm cells, and egg cells).

What is a stem cell line?

A stem cell line is a family of constantly dividing cells, the product of a single group of stem cells, which can be grown indefinitely in the laboratory.

Why is there a controversy over ESC research?

The process of obtaining stem cells leads to the destruction of the embryo from which the cells are taken. Because human life begins at conception, embryo destruction is immoral since it is the destruction of a human being. Even some people who do not believe that human embryos are deserving of full moral status worry about what the effects of normalizing such practices may have on society.

Advocates of ESC research, however, argue that it is unethical to impede potential advances that could heal disease and relieve the suffering of fully developed human beings. They believe that the moral status of a 150-to-200-cell early human embryo should not take precedence over responsible scientific inquiry.

Doesn’t the government ban the use and funding of embryonic stem cells research?

Research using cells taken from destroyed embryos is illegal in many countries, including Germany, Austria, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and New Zealand. Most African and South American countries also have some form of restriction or ban.

However, in the United States there are no restrictions on research and only minimal restrictions on government funding of embryo-destructive research.

In 1995, Congress attached language to an appropriations bill prohibiting the use of any federal funds for research that destroys or seriously endangers human embryos, or creates them for research purposes. This provision, known as the Dickey Amendment, has been attached to the Health and Human Services appropriations bill each year since 1996.

In 2009, President Barack Obama issued Executive Order that lifted all restrictions against federal funding of stem cell research. The courts ruled that the language of the Dickey Amendment prohibited the use of government funds to directly destroy an embryo, but could not prohibit funding a research project using embryonic stem cells.

President Trump has not overturned the previous administration’s policy.

Aren’t embryonic stem cells more effective than adult stem cells at treating diseases?

No. In fact, just the opposite is true: there are more than 70 conditions currently being treated with adult stem cells, and zero with embryonic stem cells. Despite the media hype of the early 2000s, embryonic stem cell research has proven to be useless at treating medical conditions.  When tested on animals, embryonic stem cells turned into tumors. As biological engineer James Sherley once explained, “Figuring out how to use human embryonic stem cells directly by transplantation into patients is tantamount to solving the cancer problem.”

Government and private funding sources have consistently shown a preference for adult stem cell research. For every dollar spent on embryonic stem cell research, 4 dollars are spent on research using adult stem cells. However, because of its unethical nature, more needs to be done to oppose any federal funding and discourage private funding of embryo destructive research.

Can Christians support embryonic stem cell research?

Several passages in the Bible strongly suggests that human life begins at conception

 (cf. Job 31:13-15; Psalms 51:5; 139:13-16; Matthew 1:20). The Bible is also clear about the taking of innocent life (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:17). For these reasons, Christians should not support medical research that requires killing innocent human beings at the earliest stage of their development.  

By / Nov 16

Editor’s note: This is the seventh article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

Because of celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and the popular TV series The Handmaid’s Tale, the issue of surrogacy has become a popular topic in 2017. While the methods may be new, the use of pregnancy surrogates has been around for almost all of human history. Indeed, it could be argued that surrogacy is one of the first examples of a “reproductive technology.”

Yet despite its ancient origin and current topicality, it’s an issue few Christians have thought about from a biblical perspective. What is surrogacy? Is it moral for believers to use surrogates?

Here is what you should know about surrogacy and how it relates to the ethics of “making life.”

What is surrogacy?

Is it moral for Christians to use pregnancy surrogates?

Surrogacy is the practice by which a woman (called a surrogate mother) becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby in order to give it to someone who cannot (or will not) bear children of their own. A surrogate mother is a woman who carries and gives birth to the child of another woman, who is usually infertile, by way of a pre-arranged legal contract.

There are two main types of surrogacy, gestational surrogacy and traditional surrogacy.

Additionally, if the surrogate mother receives compensation beyond the reimbursement of medical and other reasonable expenses, the arrangement is called commercial surrogacy; otherwise, it is referred to as altruistic surrogacy.

What is traditional surrogacy?

In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate mother is impregnated naturally or artificially, but the resulting child is genetically related to the surrogate mother. A traditional surrogate is the baby’s biological mother since the child was conceived from the union of her egg and the father’s sperm.

What is gestational surrogacy?

In gestational surrogacy, the pregnancy results from the transfer of an embryo created by in-vitro fertilization (IVF), in a manner so the resulting child is genetically unrelated to the surrogate.

Gestational surrogate mothers are also referred to as gestational carriers.

Is surrogacy legal?

The laws forbidding or allowing both altruistic and commercial surrogacy vary from country to country and, within the U.S., from state-to-state. The law also varies based on whether the surrogacy is commercial or altruistic.

Is surrogacy ethical?

Almost all Christian bioethicists agree that most forms of surrogacy are theologically and morally problematic. The moral qualms generally concern the exploitation of women (e.g., “womb-renting”), the selling of children, the violation of the marital covenant, and the use of embryo-destructive reproductive technology.

Concerns about exploitation of women

In a commercial surrogacy arrangement in the U.S., the surrogate mother is typically paid $20,000 to $25,000, which averages to approximately $3.00 per hour for each hour she is pregnant, based on a pregnancy of 266 days or 6,384 hours. Few women who have the financial means are willing to undergo the pain, trauma, and grief of surrogacy for such low wages. Women who have low-income or a lack of financial resources are typically recruited to be surrogates.

In addition to being exploited for their wages, such women are rarely fully informed about the potential health risks associated with surrogacy (e.g., hormone injections) or with the emotional damage that can come from giving up a child. Many are unaware, for example, that during pregnancy, the female body is biologically, hormonally, and emotionally programmed to bond with the child.

Selling of children

Children are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3) and not a commodity that can be bought and sold. Traditional surrogacy is always immoral if the mother gives up her child for payment. Likewise, gestational surrogacy is always immoral when the embryos or games used in the surrogacy are “purchased” for the purpose of implantation.

Many, if not most, Christian bioethicists and legal scholars would agree that commercial surrogacy is morally and legally problematic since it constitutes the sale of a child. Some even claim it is a form of human trafficking. The general consensus is that such arrangements violate the human dignity of the child and the gestational mother.

Violation of the marital covenant

As Scott B. Rae and Paul M. Cox explain, surrogacy violates the creation norm for marriage, family, and procreation, by introducing a third-party contributor, either in the form of a womb donor or a womb and an egg donor.

For instance, the use of donor gametes is an act that includes a third party in an event that was meant to remain strictly within the marriage covenant. It also prevents infertility from being a burden shared by both spouses. As Dawn McColley explains,

Because of the special union in marriage, problems such as infertility are shared by both spouses and should be borne by both. Our traditional marriage vows say, ‘for better for worse, … in sickness and in health.’ By using the gametes of a donor, the fertile spouse refuses to share the burden.

This refusal to share burdens is not a Biblical response to God’s will, nor is it the way Christian spouses ought to treat each other. Children are not the sole, sacred purpose of marriage. If God has chosen to withhold that blessing from one spouse, He necessarily chose to withhold it from the other.

General concerns about embryo-destructive reproductive technology

On average, only about 25 percent of embryos that are created by the use of IVF and transferred to the womb develop until birth. Because of this high failure rate, surrogacy often involves creating more embryos than will be implanted in the womb. The embryos are usually kept in a state of suspended animation (i.e., cryogenically frozen) until their death (which usually occurs in less than 10 years).

Several passages in the Bible strongly suggest that human life begins at conception

(Job 31:13-15; Psalms 51:5; 139:13-16; Matthew 1:20). The Bible is also clear about the taking of innocent life (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy. 5:17). For these reasons, Christians should not support any reproductive techniques that create embryos that will not be implanted in a womb.

Doesn’t the Bible mention surrogacy?

There are two cases of surrogacy mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 16, Sarai tells Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2). In Genesis 30 very much the same scenario occurs but this time it was Rachel who said to her husband Jacob, “Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her” (Genesis 30: 3).

Neither of these accounts provides an example for Christians should act. Both cases illustrate the distortion of family relationships and society that result from breaking the marital bond in order to overcome infertility.

Are there any forms of surrogacy that are ethical?

One surrogacy arrangement that many Christian bioethicists believe may at times be morally acceptable is “rescue surrogacy.” In this situation, a surrogate mother volunteers her womb to save an IVF-created embryo that has been frozen and is destined for destruction. While concerns such as the violation of the marital bond are still applicable and should be taken into account, the rescue of an innocent child may be a morally justifiable overriding consideration.

By / Oct 19

Editor’s note: This is the sixth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

In this series we’ll be covering three broad areas of bioethics categorized as “making life” (beginning of life issues, such as reproductive technologies), “taking life” (end of life issues, such as abortion and euthanasia), and “faking life” (the melding of human biology with machines or other species).

Each category comes with a dizzying array of terms, some that are technical and some that are common but whose meanings differ from normal usage. Since understanding the ethical issues requires understanding how the terms are used, we need to develop a glossary of terms. The following are common terms related to “making life.” Whenever the meanings of terms are generally disputed, I’ve relied on the common understanding used by the majority of evangelical Christian bioethicists:

An A to Z glossary of terms related to 'making life.'

Artificial insemination – the intentional introduction of sperm into a female's uterus or cervix for the purpose of achieving a pregnancy by means other than sexual intercourse. (Source)

Assisted reproductive technologies – the term for all techniques involving the direct manipulation of human eggs, sperm, and/or embryos outside the human body. Sometimes abbreviated as A.R.T. or simply as reproductive technologies. The most common form of assisted reproductive technology is in vitro fertilization. (Source)

Conception – the fertilization of a female gamete (egg) by the male gamete (sperm), which creates the life of new human being. Because fertilization is a process, the term conception is sometimes used to refer to the beginning of the fertilization process when the sperm and egg are fused, the end of fertilization (syngamy), full genetic expression (when the human being has reached the stage of being 8-cells), or implantation (around 7-10 days after fusion). (Source)

Donor gametes – the donation of gametes (either sperm or eggs) by a third-party. Donor games are often combined with the gametes of one member of an infertile couple to ensure that one parent has a genetic link to the child.

Ectopic pregnancy – a pregnancy where the embryo implants outside the uterus (usually in the fallopian tube), where the baby will not live. (Source)

Embryo – In human development, the stage of development between 5 and 11 weeks.

Embryo cryopreservation – the process of preserving embryos created during IVF at sub-zero temperatures for potential, later implantation.

Fertilized egg – the term is sometimes used to designate the time period (about 20 hours) after the sperm has penetrated the egg but before syngamy has occurred. However, the term is often mistakenly used to refer to the zygotes or embryos, which have already fused and the egg (female gamete) no longer exists as a separate entity.

Fertilization – the process that begins when the sperm penetrates the egg and ends at syngamy.

Fetus – In human development, the stage of development from the twelfth week until birth.

Gamete – a type of cell that fuses with another cell during conception to create a new and distinct human being. The female gamete is called the oocyte (ovum or egg) while the male gamete is the sperm.

Gestation – the time between conception and birth, during which the embryo or fetus is developing in the uterus. Also known as pregnancy. (Source)

Human being – an individual human that is created at conception (the beginning of fertilization) and exists throughout every stage of development (e.g., infancy, adolescence, adulthood).

Implantation – the stage of pregnancy at which the zygote adheres to the wall of the uterus.

Infertility – the inability either to conceive after one year of unprotected intercourse or to carry a conception beyond the first trimester (twelve menstrual weeks). (Source)

In Vitro Fertilization – the use of assisted reproductive technologies to manipulate the gametes into the process of fertilization that occurs outside of the womb (“in vitro” means “in glass” as opposed to “in vivo”, within a living tissue system).

Miscarriage – the unintentional ending of a pregnancy prior to 20 weeks gestation. The term miscarriage is often preferred to the medical term is “spontaneous abortion,” because of the association of with an “elective abortion.”

Oocyte – the technical term for the human female gamete, often colloquially referred to as the “egg.”

Oocyte cryopreservation – the process of preserving female gametes (i.e., eggs) at sub-zero temperatures for potential, later conception using assisted reproductive technologies.

Ovarian stimulation – the use of medication to stimulate ovulation, either to correct infertility or as a precursor to in vitro fertilization. (Source)

Personhood  – Most Christians believe that all human beings are persons, and thus when conception creates a new life what is created is both a human being and a human person (Psalm 139:13-16). The secular view, however, is that personhood is not conveyed to all human beings automatically and is based on either a later state of human development (e.g., implantation, birth, etc.) or after meeting certain functional criteria (e.g., viability outside the womb, the ability to feel pain, etc.).

Secondary infertility – a term applied to couples who have successfully given birth to one or more children and then are unable to conceive over one year’s time. (Source)

Spermatozoa – the technical term for the human male gamete, often referred to simply as “sperm.”

Sperm cryopreservation – the process of preserving male gametes (i.e., sperm) at sub-zero temperatures for potential, later conception using assisted reproductive technologies.

Stillbirth – the death of the child during or before birth. In the U.S., a baby that dies before birth but after having passed the 20-week mark is considered stillborn. (Source)

Surrogacy – the term for when one woman agrees to carry a child through pregnancy and deliver it on behalf of another person. The surrogate may either be the child’s genetic mother (traditional or genetic surrogacy) or carries a child that has been implanted into her for which she has no genetic relationship (partial surrogacy).

Surrogate mother – a woman who engages in surrogacy on behalf of another. Sometimes called a gestational carrier. If the woman receives compensation for carrying the child it is considered a commercial surrogacy. If she receives no compensation (other than medical costs, etc.) it is considered an altruistic surrogacy. (Source)

Syngamy – the stage of fertilization when the gametes have completed fused and combined their DNA. The step usually occurs about 20 hours after the sperm has penetrated the egg and started the fertilization process.

Zygote – In human development, the stage of a human between the beginning of conception (a single cell being) until it becomes an embryo (i.e., about the fifth week of development).

By / Sep 21

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a monthly series on what Christians should know about bioethics.

From the time of Adam and Eve until the late 1970s, there was—with one notable exception—only one way to make a baby: the sexual bonding of a man and a woman. The number of baby-making methods increased to two in 1978 after the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube baby.” Today, there are about 40 ways to make a baby, almost all of which can be accomplished without sexual intercourse.

Until the 1970s, “reproductive technologies” focused almost exclusively on helping a couple prevent conception. Although the tools ranged from the benign (thermometers) to the controversial (the Pill), most people understood both how they worked and whether their use could be considered ethical. Now that we have methods which sound like acronyms for U.N. agencies — IH, AID, ICSI, IUI, GIFT, ZIFT, IV — few people understand what they are, and even fewer know whether they are morally acceptable.

The rapidity by which the baby-making process has evolved has outpaced our moral reflection. However, there are few considerations, ranging from the personal to the linguistic, which should guide our thinking about reproductive technologies.

Love Your Infertile Neighbor

Our moral reflection has been outpaced by the new baby-making technologies.

The first is the duty to our neighbor. No matter what we think of the new methods for making babies, we should never dismiss the reason that they were created: to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by infertility, a curse that has plagued couples throughout our history. The Bible frequently mentions the problem of infertility and of the seven women mentioned by name who were barren (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah, Elizabeth, Michal, and Samson’s mother), six later bore a child. In each of these situations, Scripture implies God was directly responsible for delivering them from infertility. Today, the 2.5 million couples affected by infertility feel the same strain and longing, though they have the option of turning to technology, rather than God alone, for deliverance.

The number of people affected is humbling: After one year of sexual relations, approximately 15 percent of American couples are unable to conceive a child. This inability can become emotionally trying and leads many couples to seek out medical solutions to overcome their affliction. Every year couples spend millions of dollars on reproductive technologies for the mere chance of conceiving a child.

For Christians, medical intervention to overcome infertility may be acceptable, providing we do not violate established biblical principles or our consciences in the process. This consideration will necessarily limit the types of options that are available, but there are a number of methods, such as the use of fertility drugs, that do not lead to the most morally repugnant outcome: the production of multiple embryos that must be discarded or frozen and placed in storage.

Don’t Destroy Your Children

Whether out of ignorance or oversight, the pro-life community has until recently tended to overlook embryo destruction that occurs outside the womb. Unfortunately, though it has now caught our attention, we tend to oppose those who would destroy embryos for speculative scientific research while giving a pass to our fellow citizens who create “extra” or “spare” embryos out of the desire to have a child.

But while the motives may differ, all created embryos have the same moral status and deserve the same level of protection from harm. The pain of infertility does not provide an exemption to this obligation.

Fortunately, the first options that most physicians would consider are the least objectionable. Methods such as gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), or in vitro fertilization can be approached in a way that is respectful of human life. Whether they are completely acceptable for Christians is a question worthy of debate. In the absence of clear scriptural guidelines, there are bound to be disagreements (I would almost always advise against their use, though I respect those who do not share my qualms). However, there are some methods and approaches that are indisputably unethical and temptations to act immorally abound.

A prime example is the routine practice of creating “excess embryos”, a practice that is common, though not essential, to the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The IVF procedure is inherently expensive, often costing between $10,000 and $30,000 per treatment and the likelihood of success is dismally low. Even the best of techniques offers less than a 50 percent chance that a live birth will occur. Because of these obstacles, couples are often tempted to set aside ethical concerns in order to increase the chances of fulfilling their desire for a child.

Christian couples, however, should never be willing to unnecessarily sacrifice an innocent human life. The extra expense required to avoid moral wrongdoing may be substantial or even prohibitive. But the cost of destroying the embryo is even higher. It is never God’s will that we kill one child in order to give life to another. If it cannot be done morally, then it must not be done at all.

In welcoming Louise Brown—the world’s first “test-tube baby”—into the world we ushered in an era of new ethical dilemmas, a Pandora’s box that includes human cloning, the creation of “designer” babies and the eugenics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Whether we create a dystopian future for ourselves will depend on whether we humbly accept our limits and fully understand our obligations. We may have dozens of new ways to make a baby, but the purpose of baby-making remains the same: to bring into the world a human being created in the image of God.

Other articles in the Basic Bioethics series:

Why Christians should care about bioethics

How Christians should think about bioethics

How Christians should think about bioethics (part 2)

How to illuminate the Christian perspective

By / Aug 9

In a recent interview, Elizabeth Harman, a professor of philosophy at Princeton University, presents what is likely to be the worst defense of abortion ever made by a reputable philosopher.

Although I’ll be quoting Harman verbatim throughout this article, I recommend spending the five minutes to watch the video. It is truly one of the most jaw-droppingly incoherent cases for abortion you’ll ever hear.

To recap, Harman says she is defending the “liberal position about early abortion” that there’s “nothing morally bad” about early state abortions. Harman’s position is that among “early fetuses” there are two “very different kinds of beings.” She claims that she and her interviewers “already had moral status then”—that is, as an early embryo—“in virtue of our futures.”  Harman’s claim is that they were all “the beginning stages of persons.”

Ironically, Harman’s view is based in part on a famous, reputable argument against abortion, one that claims what makes killing inherently wrong is that it deprives a victim of their future experiences. She also concedes that the early embryo does indeed have moral status because it is the beginning stage of a person—just as infancy, adolescence, and adulthood are later stages of a person.

But Harman then adds a strange qualifier: the early embryo only has moral status if it lives. “[S]ome early fetuses will die in early pregnancy,” says Harman, “either due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that’s a very different kind of entity. That’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person and it doesn’t have moral status.”

Before we continue, let’s consider the implications if we applied her “different kinds of beings” principle to one of the other “stages of persons.”

Imagine there are two children, Jack and Jill, who are in children’s hospital and being treated for a serious illness. The doctors tell Jack he has been cured and can go home tomorrow, but they tell Jill her disease has progressed and she is expected to die tomorrow. Jack has a future, while Jill does not. According to Harman, Jack is a being that has moral status (because he will continue to have a future), but Jill is not only a being who does not have moral status right now (because she does not have a future), but Jill is a being who never had moral status.

That’s a strange conclusion, but it gets even more bizarre. In the example above, Jill’s condition is similar to miscarriage in that her moral status is changed by a natural death. But Harman argues that moral status also changes because of the decision to have an abortion. So in Jill’s case, she would cease to have moral status—and indeed would never have had moral status—if her doctor decided to murder her.

But that can’t truly be what Harman is claiming, can it? Could she really be claiming that our moral status depends on whether or not someone is planning to kill us? Sort of. As we’ll see, she adds a qualification that she believes distinguishes the early embryo from other stages of human development.

Her interviewers then ask if we can only determine if the being had moral status after it ceased to have a future. “Right, so there’s the real question of ‘How can we know?’” says Harman, “Well, often we do know. If we know that a woman is planning to get an abortion, and we know abortion is available to her, then we know that fetus is going to die. It’s not the kind of being like the fetuses that became us. It’s not something with moral status.”

To clarify, Harman thinks she is not claiming that the action of the pregnant woman determines whether the embryo has moral status. She is merely saying that if the child is going to die, then the child no longer has moral status—and never did. We’ll consider her reasoning in a moment. But let’s finish hearing her claims.

“Often we have reason to believe that the fetus is the beginning stage of a person,” says Harman. “If we know that a woman is planning to continue her pregnancy, then we have good reason to think that her fetus is something with moral status. Something with this future as a person.”

At this point one of the interviewers, James Franco, points out this sounds like circular argument: the permissibility of abortion depends on the moral status of the embryo, and the moral status of the embryo depends on whether the woman chooses to have an abortion.

Harman says that’s not the argument she’s making. She says, “So you [James] have moral status and, in my view, back when you were an early fetus you had moral status. But it’s not that aborting you would have been wrong. Because if your mother had chosen to abort her pregnancy, then it wouldn’t have been the case that you would have had moral status because you would have died as an early fetus. So she would have been aborting something that didn't have moral status.”

Let’s outline what Harman is claiming:

1. James now has moral status and had it as an early embryo. Let’s say that James has moral status now, at time Z, and also had it then, at time X.

2. However, if James’s mother had chosen to kill him in between time X and Z—let’s say that she aborted him at time Y—then James would have never existed at time Z (and so could not have moral status) but would also not have had moral status as time Y.

3. James had moral status if and only if he did not die, which is dependent on whether his mother decided not to abort him. Once she decided at time Y to abort him, he no longer had moral status at time X.

Harman clarifies that a child only has moral status if he does not die. “It’s a contingent matter if you have moral status,” says Harman, “you actually have moral status but you might not have counted morally at all if you had been aborted. You would have existed but you would have had this very short existence in which you would not have mattered morally.”

What Harman is saying is that events in the future affect the moral status of persons in the past. If the mother decides to have an abortion, then the child will die and thus he never had moral status at time X. If the mother decides not to have an abortion, then the child will live and thus always had moral status, including at time X.

How is this possible? Why is the moral status of the child contingent on whether the child dies because the mother decided to have an abortion?

As Harman explains, “Just given the current state of the fetus, it’s not having any experiences, there’s nothing about it’s current state that would make it a member of the moral community. It’s derivative of it’s future whether it gets to have moral status. So it’s really the future that endows moral status on it. And if we allow it to have this future, then we’re allowing it to be the kind of thing that now would have moral status. So in aborting it, I don’t think you’re depriving it of something it independently has.”

Harman here falls back on the tired old functionalist arguments for abortion. The embryo doesn’t yet have certain faculties necessary for moral status (consciousness, experiences, etc.) and thus only can get these faculties if the child lives. If you kill the child, though, it can never get these faculties and thus never had moral status.

The argument Harman makes in the video is based on a paper she published in the journal Philosophy & Public Affairs. In that paper she says we should deny the claim that, “For any two early fetuses at the same stage of development and in the same health, either both have some moral status or neither does.” Her reasoning is based on what she deems the Actual Future Principle: “An early fetus that will become a person has some moral status. An early fetus that will die while it is still an early fetus has no moral status.” She says the Actual Future Principle leads to the following conclusion: “The very liberal view on the ethics of abortion: Early abortion requires no moral justification whatsoever.”

It may seem that Harman’s argument for abortion still relies on the circular reasoning we mentioned above (i.e., the permissibility of abortion depends on the moral status of the embryo, and the moral status of the embryo depends on whether the woman chooses to have an abortion). But her argument is even less coherent than that. She preemptively responds to this objection by saying:

First, the objector is right that "you just can't lose" if you have an abortion. As I have argued, the Actual Future Principle implies the very liberal view on abortion. Therefore, according to the Actual Future Principle, no moral justification is required for an early abortion.

In other words, an early fetus that will become a person has some moral status but an early fetus that will die while it is still an early fetus has no moral status.

So there is no moral justification necessary for killing the early fetus since a fetus that dies has no moral status.

(Most professors wouldn’t allow a freshman taking Philosophy 101 to attempt to pass off this circular reasoning as a reasonable argument. Yet somehow it made it into a peer-reviewed philosophy journal.)

Harman’s entire argument is rooted in the idea that the current moral status of certain beings is dependent on what other people do to them in the future. If the child is killed, then it never had moral status since you can’t have moral status as an embryo if you do not have a future.

This argument utterly fails as a defense of abortion. But that’s not really Harman’s point. Her argument is not meant to justify abortion (which it cannot do because it’s based on circular reasoning) but to give a woman who wants to have an abortion a justification to ignore their conscience:

There is something upsetting and saddening about having an abortion, for many women, which is independent of uncertainty about the choice itself. It has seemed that the only way to explain these experiences is by saying that these women are recognizing their moral responsibility for a morally significant bad event, the death of the fetus. The very liberal view blocks this explanation.

The reason many women regret their abortions is because their conscience bears witness to the “the work of the law is written on their hearts” that killing one’s child is morally wrong (Rom. 2:15). Harman is attempting to give them a way to sear their conscience (1 Tim. 4:2) so that they will not have to recognize the natural guilt we feel in killing our own children. All that Harman has done, though, is torture logic and reasoning to justify the killing of children’s futures.

Addendum: The best rebuttal to Harman was offered a decade before her paper was published. In 1989, philosopher Donald Marquis provided an intriguing argument that explains why abortion is wrong that relies on many of the same reasons Harman herself accepts. Marquis circumvents the discussion of fetal personhood and examines the question of what makes killing wrong. According to Marquis, this is the question that needs to be addressed from the start:

After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible.

Marquis concludes that what makes killing inherently wrong is that it deprives a victim of all the “experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future.” It is not the change in the biological state that makes killing wrong, says Marquis, but the loss of all experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future (hereafter we will refer to these as EAPE).

These EAPE are either valuable for their own sake or lead to something else that is valuable for its own sake. When a victim is killed, they are deprived not only of all that they value but all that they will value in the future. Therefore, what makes the prima facie killing of any adult human being wrong is this loss of future EAPE.

This has obvious implications for abortion. Marquis concludes that:

The future of a standard fetus includes a set of experiences, projects, activities, and such which are identical with the futures of adult human beings and are identical with the futures of young children. Since the reason that is sufficient to explain why it is wrong to kill human beings after the time of birth is a reason that also applies to fetuses, it follows that abortion is prima facie morally wrong.

Because Marquis defends the argument in detail, I won’t rehash the points he makes in response to objections. I recommend that anyone who finds fault with the conclusion read the paper in its entirety.

By / Aug 3

A team of researchers in Oregon has made the first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States, according to MIT Technology Review. Previously, such experiments had only been conducted only a few times by scientists in China.

As the report notes, none of the embryos were allowed to develop for more than a few days—and there was never any intention of implanting them into a womb. The purpose of the experiment was to show that by using “germline engineering” biotechnology may one day be able to eradicate or correct genes that cause inherited disease.

Critics of such experiments, however, warn that the procedure may be used to create “designer babies” where parents can select and enhance children for such traits as height, looks, or intelligence.

What is germline editing?

Gene editing (or genome editing) is a form of genome engineering in which DNA is inserted, replaced, or removed from the genetic material of a cell using artificially engineered enzymes, or "molecular scissors." Germline editing is when this procedure is used on the genome of germline cells.

What is a human germline?

Our genes, the basic physical and functional unit of heredity, are passed on from generation to generation through our sex cells (i.e., ovum (egg) and sperm). These sex cells are part of the germline. The term germline can refer to these cells in an individual or to the lineage of cells spanning generations of individuals. The other cells in the body that are not part of the germline (and hence do not pass on traits to other generations of people) are called somatic cells.

How do scientists “edit” the human genome?

A common method of genome editing, and the process used by the both American and Chinese researchers, is the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The simplistic explanation is that the “molecular scissors” (Cas9, an RNA-guided DNA enzyme) cuts an enzyme on a specific spot of DNA in the nucleus of a cell. The cell then repairs the break using a piece of single-stranded DNA that has been injected into the cell by scientists.

The following video provides a more in-depth, technical explanation of how CRISPR and Cas9 edit genes.

Is gene editing immoral or unethical?

There are two main ethical concerns related to such experiments.

The first is that human beings (embryos) are being created for the sole purpose of being experimented. After the experiments, the humans are killed. This destruction of innocent human life is a direct violation of God’s moral law (Genesis 9:5-6).

The second ethical consideration for gene editing is the purpose for which is done—whether the reason is therapeutic or for enhancement—and the long-term impact on both individuals and on mankind. This is why the ethical issues differ for gene editing on somatic (non-reproductive) cells (which would affect only the individual being treated) and on germline (reproductive) cells (which could potentially impact not only the individual but their offspring and future generations of their descendants).

The concern for germline editing is that therapeutic treatments that are passed along to future generations may have unexpected and unintended consequences. In essence, we would be experimenting on future generations without their consent.

The other worry is that the procedure could eventually be adopted for non-therapeutic genetic enhancement, a form of eugenics. For example, the process could be used by wealthy people to create “designer children” whose genetic “improvements” (e.g., height, intelligence, longevity) would be passed along to future generations.

Is there an ethical consensus on germline editing?

Currently, most researchers and ethicists agree that genome editing of human somatic cells for therapeutic treatments is largely uncontroversial, while germline editing should be prohibited. The process is banned, however, in 15 of 22 nations in Europe, though it is has not officially been banned in the U.S.

One area of disagreement is between groups who think that all forms of germline editing should be disallowed and those who believe the process should be used for research purposes on non-viable germline cells.

Why is non-therapeutic genetic enhancement problematic?

From a Christian perspective, therapy implies fixing a malady that is a result of sin entering the world, such as curing diseases or restoring broken physical systems. Enhancement, in contrast, is attempting to make improvements of the body that are either not the result of sin or not necessarily caused by human brokenness. Distinguishing between therapy and enhancement is a perennially tricky issue for Christian ethicists. Additionally, not all therapy is beneficial and not all enhancements are sinful.

Using gene editing for enhancement, though, is troubling for several reasons. For example, using the process on ourselves implies that humans know how to “improve” on God’s general design for the human body. It also can imply that certain traits (such as height or a particular IQ) are so preferable that they should be purposefully engineered so that they can be distributed in a way that is outside the normal distribution range for the human species.

Other concerns include questions about the cultural and social impacts of having certain humans be engineered to have the “right” traits. Will the changes lead to unjust forms of inequality? Will those who do not possess the preferred traits be treated as inferior or sub-human? Will discrimination increase for those who are unable or unwilling to modify their children?

Ultimately, the reason we should oppose germline editing is because children (and future generations of children) are to be considered as gift from God (Psa. 127:3) and not as products that we can tinker with and modify to our preferences.