Christian Biotechnology: Not a Contradiction in Terms
Presented with the idea of “Bioethics” most people in the scientific community today immediately get the impression of repressive, Luddite forces wishing to stifle research and advancement in the name of morality and God. Unfortunately, this stereotype too often holds true. If one looks over the many independent sites on the Internet regarding bioethics, reads popular magazines and publications, or browses library shelves for books on bioethics, the message seems quite frequently negative. Many Christians –and particularly those in conservative camps– seem to have a deep seated fear of many elements of biotechnology. While this is slightly less problematic with such advances as genetically modified plants and animals (which are targeted more by liberal neo-pagans and primitivists), it is certainly very true in the field of medical experimentation and especially stem cell and embryonic research. In many ways, this dedication to an anti-technology stance is very unfortunate. It seems that the bulk of Christian activists are failing to realize that biotechnology can serve as a powerful tool for the advancement of Christian principles and goals, and that far from being an enemy it may actually be an ally in the cause of Christ. In a very real way, biotechnology may actually give mortal humans the power to actually enact the answers to questions such as “what would Jesus do?” Jesus would miraculous cure the sick, feed the masses with a single loaf of bread and a few fish, cast out demons, and raise the dead — these are things that we may never have done before, but today are on the verge of being able to do. As a manager and mover in the fields of biotechnology or pharmaceuticals, a Christian has the opportunity to radically approach these issues with a fresh new perspective which sees inhuman progress a pathway towards the ultimate realization of the mission of Christians here on earth.
In orderly to fairly discuss the issues at hand, it is important to establish a few basic assumptions. Any debate in which the parties do not clearly state the assumptions on which their arguments are based must be doomed to be unproductive, because if the underlying assumptions clash then one cannot logically reach agreement on the conclusions drawn from such disparate foundations.
In this paper, several very basic Christian assumptions are made. The first is that the Bible is indeed the literal word of God, and that it is the only true authority on the will of God. While tradition is useful, it is only valuable as it gives insight into the obscurities (or in the case of Jewish traditions, the context) of scripture and is not in itself authoritative. So for example a tradition which states that abortion is wrong would not be theologically valid without direct scriptural support, though for the record if one studies scriptures it is possible to indeed construct a case against abortion. As a correlate with this idea is that which states God himself endowed humans with reason and with intellectual and scientific abilities, and that these abilities should be honored. Reason and science allow us to understand the scriptures and the universe, and it is not an affront to God to study science and pursue knowledge of the physical world in order to understand his ways better.
It is further the contention of this writer that the original creation of God has fallen from its state of grace and been corrupted. So what now passes for “natural” is only the state of nature as corrupted by sin and not necessarily reflective of God’s original design, which can be learned from His Holy Nature as seen in the Bible more than from looking at the physical world. Only pagans and pseudo-pantheists look at the world as it currently is physically and assume morality from that world — in short, this paper holds that something being more or less “natural” is in no way evidence that it is more or less moral.
The final, and certainly most controversial (among Christians) point which this paper assumes is that the role of Christians is to perfect the world as much as possible and to stand against (and hopefully defeat) the fruits of sin. God tells us to be perfect as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48) and he instructs us to pray that the will of God will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. (Matt. 6:10) This seems to indicate that we are meant to do our best to emulate God, and to return the earth to the status it held before the Fall when it was like Heaven. This is not to say the arguments presented here depend on embracing a Kingdom Theology or even a millennial stance, though this might help prove their perceived merit. Even from a very conservative perspective which believes in the Rapture and suggests that the world is incapable of being perfected, one must surely understand that the closer we can bring the world to the perfection of heaven (though we can never fulfill the will of God completely) the closer we will be to fulfilling the mission which we have been given. Many theologists have allowed that our duty is to “sustain, restore, and improve… our fallen world. We are called to mitigate the Fall’s effects and thus improve human and planetary life.” (Gushee, 34)
So whether or not it is possible to perfect the world, the argument of this paper is that our solemn duty as Christians is to use all means at our disposal to bring the spiritual and physical world into alignment with the will of God.
Biotechnology has the potential to be a part of bringing the physical world into alignment with God’s will. In addition to instructing his people on the pastoral care of their fellow Christians and the need for witnessing, it seems that Jesus and his exalted father have also given other commandments to humankind. For example, mankind was supposed to be a guardian and caretaker of the garden of the world, and later, after the time of Noah, a shepherd of the animals of the world. Christians in particular also have a mission to feed the hungry of the world, care for the sick and dying, and bestow mercy upon those who are suffering. This call to social service could theoretically be fulfilled by such beautiful and self-sacrificing lives as that led by Mother Theresa. To some degree however, there are rather small limits to what one person can do practically in direct philanthropy. On the other hand, through biotechnology it may be possible to fulfill these commands from the comfort of the boardroom and the laboratory with more far-reaching results than one could hope for in the actual mission field. Through biotechnology it may be possible to create a supply of genetically modified crops that could solve problems with world hunger and truly fulfill our mission to feed the hungry. Through biotechnology it may be possible to once and for all eradicate many of the diseases that plague mankind, and forever answer the call to care for the sick. Through biotechnology we may be able to save lives and to extend lives, both lengthening the ministry of Christians and the time that the unsaved have to accept Christ. Through biotechnology we may finally be able to eradicate many aspects of suffering and even sin that have plagued humankind, and in so doing fulfill the demands of God upon us. With this is mind, it is both sad and ludicrous that Christians have put so much energy into resisting biotechnology.
Loaves and Fishes:
Biotechnology and the Miracle of Food Production
Two of the great miracles of Christ are recorded in Matthew 14 and 15, which speak of his dividing five loves and two fishes (or in the second case seven loaves and a few fishes) and with them feeding thousands of people with food to spare. Another great miracle at the wedding in Cana occurs when Jesus turned water into wine. (John 2) The holy scriptures specifically say that the wine of Jesus was better than the best wine that could be bought. In many ways, these miracles are prototypes for the goals of a biotechnologist — to take the minimal gifts of nature and replicate them and improve upon them. Feeding the hungry and filling a need with better products than previously existed was one of the roles of the Messiah, and it is something that his followers can aspire to continue in.
Perhaps one of the most promising areas in which biotechnology may better the world is in the area of increased food production, and a betterment in farming techniques and yields. Unlike some other areas of biotechnology studies, the genetic modification and adaptation of food producers such as plants and meat animals is already well underway. This is not a matter of distant sci-fiction with its speculative threats to human well-being and its questionable possibility of success. Genetically modified plants designed to be stronger and more resistant to threats (such as insects and herbicides) have already come into widespread use across the world. So in this area, it is relatively simple to analyze the use and importance of this field of research. Transgenic crops have proven to be vital food source for both economic and humanitarian purposes, while transgenic animals are quickly proving to be just what the meat, milk, and egg industry need to increase profits and production. Christians everywhere should be in support of biotechnology and genetic modification in food production, as this has the potential to erase world hunger and improve corporate profits all at once.
Genetically modified (GM) crops are safe and proven in the field. Scientists are not just tinkering with DNA for fun — GM crops are being created that are far superior to traditional hybrid strains in hardiness and resistance to pests and poisons and weather, while still carrying the full array of nutrients and sometimes even a little more. One common genetic modification used widely in America is to make crops that are resistant to specific pests, little cotton bolls. This can reduce the amount of pesticides needed to grow crops, which in turn reduces the poison going into the consumer and the environment, while making it possible to grow more crops on the same amount of land. Another common modification is making crops that are resistant to specific herbicides — this makes it so farmers can practice no-till methods of growing plants. In traditional farming, it is necessary to deep plow the ground every year to kill weeds, but this unfortunately leads to soil erosion and loss of land. If plants can be resistant to weeds (or more precisely to the herbicides used to kill weeds) then this plowing can be foregone and save the farmer lots of money while protecting his soil. Genetic modification might also make a plant more resistant to drought or severe weather.
GM plants are so superior to other crops that their use has skyrocketed in all crops where they have been successfully introduced. According to generally known statistics, such as those released in succinct form by the Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology (2003), the majority of corn, soy, and cotton grown in the United States was genetically modified stock. Of soy crops, 81% in the U.S. are genetically altered. Genetically modified corn is on the increase, and in 2003 a full 40% of American grown corn was genetically altered. Genetically modified cotton represented 73% of the cotton crop. Significant percentages of canola (54%) and squash and papayas (54%) were also genetically modified.
Of course, the “every body is doing it” is hardly a perfect moral justification for Christians. Just because the majority of U.S. farmers recognize the importance and economic validity of GM crops doesn’t necessarily make their production morally valuable. So to recognize the Christian perspective on biotechnology and farming, and particularly the manufacture of new strains of plants for farmer, it may be necessary to back up and look at the issue from a wider perspective. In order to do this, let us temporarily limit our discussion to a specific instance of applied biotechnology, and so argue from the specific to the general.
Golden Rice: feed the hungry and rescue the perishing
Perhaps the best example of a biotechnical miracle still in the budding is the creation of Golden Rice. In a nut shell –or perhaps more appropriately one might say in a rice shell
Golden Rice is a transgenic rice strain which has daffodil genes added that introduce beta carotene to the rice, and incidentally give it a beautiful golden sheen. Many strains of Golden rice also have specific genes that encourage iron to be collected in the rice grains. These are important because beta carotene allows the body to produce Vitamin A Deficiency in Vitamin A throughout third world countries has caused blindness in millions of children, and additionally worsens iron deficiencies. Iron deficiencies, of course, cause anemia, weakness, and even death. So Golden Rice has the potential to help prevent blindness and death in populations which eat a diet consisting almost entirely of rice. Such populations are found throughout the far east, especially in countries such as India and China.
Golden rice is a true biotechnological success story. It as painstakingly developed over years of “public” research funded jointly by universities, corporations, and government (European Union) forces. The development of this plant was truly groundbreaking, because it was the first successful case of pathway engineering as a method of sharing genes between plant types. When the research had been completed, the inventors primarily responsible for its development intended to release it for “humanitarian” purposes — intended that it be given to subsistence farmers through the far East so as to combat vitamin deficiencies there. However, upon preparing for its release, the inventors discovered that patent issues applied which were not entirely expected. “There were 70 IPRs and TPRs belonging to 32 different companies and universities, which we had used in our experiments and for which we would need free licenses to be able to establish a ‘freedom-to-operate’ situation for our partners, who were keen to begin further variety development…” (Potrykus 2000) At this point, the story could easily have turned into a tirade against big business and industry. However, the creators of this strain realized quickly that without business “Much of the technology I had been using was publicly known because the inventors could protect their right.” (Potrykus 2000) The creators quickly realized that they could work with business to create a compromise that would both allow the Golden Rice to reach needy subsistence farmers and impoverished nations, and produce a profit.
The story of Golden Rice shows how biotechnology businesses can be both moral and humanitarian, and also lucrative, providing mutual benefits for people of the world and the managers of industry. After deciding to work with industry, creators of the Golden Rice arranged for an industry leader, Zeneca, to take charge of arranging the licensing of their product. To support humanitarian needs, it was decided that golden rice would be freely licensed to subsistence farmers, which was generously defined as those who made less than 10,000 American dollars of income from Golden Rice.
Golden Rice has been a wonderful opportunity both for subsistence farmers and the impoverished in the far East, and for the biotechnology industry. For the poor of the world, the creation of Golden Rice ha followed the Christian calling to help those who are in danger (in this case of going blind and dying), and to feed the hungry. It has provided a valuable new product which can not only help to erase vitamin deficiencies, but also to allow the poor of the land to sell this Golden Rice to better their economic status up to a limit of $10,000 American Dollars per year, and after that the rice is not bizarrely expensive.
As for biotechnology, Golden Rice has provided evidence to assure the worried bioethicist of the world that genetic modification can be a positive thing. And it promises to provide profit as the country becomes better equipped to see (quite literally) the value of genetically modified crops, and to be invested in the growing of such crops once farmers do happily start making more than $10,000 per year. All in all, this is a win-win situation, showing the ethical and symbiotic relationship between big industry, biotechnology corporations, and the impoverished of the world.
So, the question becomes, what could anyone possibly say bad about Golden Rice? The answer is not that Golden Rice is bad for the environment, because it is not, or that it is harmful economically, because there is no hard evidence to that extent, or that it is in any way physically bad for anyone. Rather, the argument against Golden Rice has generally been that it functions as a “Trojan Horse” sneaking the idea of biotechnology into the mainstream of a greater portion of the world. Of course, this is only a problem if one feels there is something inherently wrong with biotechnology, which there is not. Golden Rice actually provides the perfect example of how positive biotechnology can be.
So although there are no truly legitimate concerns about the effects of biotechnology in terms of crops like Golden Rice, it is important to realize that some Christians hold a somewhat understandable ethical concern about this biotechnology. These Christians feel that in changing the genetics of plants, such as the rice plant, we are in essence acting in sin with the spirit of pride. It is as if we are saying to God, “We know better than you do what rice should look like! It should be more like a daffodil!” Some Christians feel that nature represents the perfected work of God, and that by “messing with” nature, we are in essence altering a masterpiece. They would suggest that it is as if someone were to walk up the Mona Lisa and paints a mustache on her because they think it is meant to be a self-portrait of Leonardo DaVinci.
Christian advocates against transgenic plants may draw from verses such as those in Psalms, which say, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork..” (19:1) Such verses seem to indicate to them that if we are to alter any part of the face of nature, we will be altering God’s testament about himself. In some ways, this concern may date back to a pre-Christian sense of pantheism, in which Nature itself was seen to be God. What Christians need to realize is that Nature is not God, but instead that nature is the work of God, and this work has been given to humans to control and to guide.
Throughout the Old Testament, a separation is made between God and nature. Many of the prophets mock idol worshippers, saying that one should not worship the created when one may worship the Creator. In Genesis, this vital truth is illustrated in the Creation story. God is portrayed as being a force outside creation, working to bring nature into being ex-nihilo. God speaks things into being and calls them forth into existence. They are at no point identified with being a part of God. After finishing the Creation, God goes one step further and creates man (and then woman). To man is given “dominion” over the earth. God then gives to Adam the job of naming all these things which have been created. In essence, it is as if God was passing over control of creation and speaking forth of existence (as symbolized by naming) to Adam, so that from this day forward, Adam would be the steward and guardian of creation.
One of the central tenants of Christian environmentalism and Christian conservationism is that as good stewards, we are responsible for taking care of all of God’s creations. The idea of dominion over the earth, somewhat contrariwise, has also been used for centuries to justify humankind’s use or even destruction of the natural world. For example, in deforestation, or in eating meat, over which we have “dominion.” It is not the place of this paper to entirely determine whether as masters we should be harsh to nature, or protective of it, however it does seem that this one thing is certain: when Christ returns and demands that we return the earth which God has given to us to the dominion of the Father, he will expect to see that we have not significantly diminished its glory. Some people would argue that as stewards of the earth we are not justified in changing creation through genetic modification, and that God will some day expect that we have used the gifts he has given us (even if they were not always precisely what we needed, and even if that means using them all up). It is the position of Christian biotechnologists, such as the author of this paper, that whether or not we are justified in occasionally treating harshly with nature, we are meant to, in the end, better the world, and not to return it diminished by our use. The earth is not a cake which has been given to us to eat and which, when we are through with the gift, it will be all gone. Rather, the earth is more like a car, which God has given to us as a loan, and one is justified in thinking he would like to get it back in similar if not better condition than that in which it was lent. This is vividly shown in parables given by Jesus in the Holy Scriptures.
In the New Testament, Jesus tells the story of a Master who goes away and leaves three servants in charge of his belongings. To each servant he gives a variable number of golden coins, called talents. To the last servant, he gives only one talent. While he is gone, the servant to whom he gives the most talents invests the money while the master is gone, and otherwise spends it. The second servant does the same. The final servant, however, buries his one talent to preserve it, because he would rather keep his one talent in tact than to risk losing the one piece of gold he was given. When the master returns, he find the first two servants have more than doubled the money he gave to them because they have invested wisely and gotten a return. In short, they had been good stewards. They did not just give back to him the money he gave to them, but also new money. However, the servant to whom the master had given but one talent digs up the gold and returns it to his master. He suggests that he should be congratulated for so perfectly preserving that which he had been given. The master (who obviously at this point represents God) literally sends him to Hell. The master says, “Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strawed.” (Matthew 25:26)
In essence, this story indicated that when God gives us a gift, or when he gives us something to hold for him in guardianship, he expects to get it back, plus more. He wishes to reap what he did not sow. One must keep in mind that according to Genesis, mankind is a Steward and a guardian over the earth. Should we not expect, then, that when Christ comes to reclaim his throne on earth, he will expect to have it returned to him with all of the nature and biodiversity it had originally, but also with interest… with more species and more diversity? In essence, this parable seems to be suggesting (in combination with our traditional understanding of humans as the stewards of the earth) that we will be condemned if we have simply preserved nature. We must also better nature. As Christians, we do not wish to go to Hell for just giving God back the earth that was given to us.
This story gives a very strong Biblical reason why we should be making more plant strains (and animal strains, for that matter). However, some Christians may still object by saying that while we are meant to improve upon nature in some way perhaps, we are not meant to mix such drastically different species, just as in the Old Testament it was against the will of God to mix various fibers in a garment. This metaphor will be discussed in detail later. However, it is important to understand that when it really comes down to it, what we are doing with bioengineering plants is really no different than what farmers have done for centuries in creating hybrid plants, such as teacup roses. Hybrid plants are created by artificially cross-pollenating between different species of plant. Christians have never had a problem with this historically, and to the best of the knowledge of this author neither have the Jews.
Manyu people fail to understand is that there is no significant difference between cross-pollenating using microscopic carriers of DNA to produce exactly the hybrid that is wanted in a relatively short period of time and laboriously cross-pollenating with needles or Q-tips between macroscopic plants over a great deal of time. In fact, many hybrids produced the old fashioned way tended to lose positive traits in their attempt to gain new positive traits. This is why so many hothouse roses today which have been created for beauty no longer have a scent. In a more serious example, many vegetables and crops today which have been “naturally” hybridized or selectively bred for resistance and durability in shipping have, in the process, lost a very significant amount of their nutrition. How is this more noble or ethical than very specifically cross-pollenating on a microscopic level to produce both durability and superior nutrition? In short, it is neither more noble nor more in touch with God’s will.
It seems that people may be calling human fear by the name of God’s will, rather than truly fearing to disobey God. Humans have always, since the beginning of time, changed the nature God has given us, whether that be chopping down forests to make houses, or by breeding bizarre dogs like poodles. This does not deny God, it merely interacts with his work. After a fashion, mowing the grass is putting one on the slippery slope to the genetic creation of plants — both alter the face of nature. It is important to understand that this slippery slope does not need to be stopped out of fear any more than we need to never mow our lawns again, but rather it should be allowed to continue until the slope reaches a wall where God has actually set down some law against proceeding any further, or where science simply cannot proceed due to technical difficulties.
If God truly had a point past which he did not wish us to go, it seems reasonable to expect that past this point it would be to go. This is somewhat illustrated in the story of the Tower of Babble, in which when people were building a tower taller than God wanted them to build at the time, he confused their languages so they could not build it. God placed a technical limit on what they could achieve until he was ready. At this point in time, we have built towers much higher than the original tower of Babble was meant to be, according to archeologists, and God is apparently all right with this, considering that skyscrapers are not regularly falling down and that the people who work in them are not regularly having strange mutations in their language. This illustrated two important points, and a conclusion. The first point is that God is capable of putting a stop to any research he disapproves of all by himself, without causing any type of global catastrophe. If scientists simply could not understand the language of DNA without becoming confused, that could be a legitimate working of God.
The story of the Tower of Babel has one more vitally important significance for biotechnologists. It shows that God may have a timeline for humans in which some progress which was not acceptable thousands of years ago may be acceptable now. The Tower of Babble was too tall and was destroyed, but today’s Empire State Building and other such monolithic towers are not too tall for God and are still standing. In the same way, it is possible that in the past, creating new life forms such as mules or combinations of fibers were not what God wanted people to be doing yet, but today it is acceptable. The conclusion to be drawn from this is that Christians need to be able to believe in an omnipowerful God, who is in himself not threatened by the puny science of mortals. Christians need not worry so much about whether or not science is overthrowing God, because they should understand that God can take care of himself. No small human in a white lab coat can hurt God. Therefore what science is doing it is allowed to do by the will of God.
It is time to move from this theological discussion back into the issue of biotechnology again. So far Golden Rice has been discussed as a perfect example of biotechnology in the adaptation of plant life. So far, it has been relatively conclusively shown that Golden Rice is good for impoverished humans, and wealth-seeking nations such as America and the European union, and that by adapting rice one can fulfill the Christian call to rescue the perishing and feed the hungry. This end is eminently justifiable. The means, meanwhile, are perfectly reasonable. Here we have not even a matter of the ends justifying the means, or the means justifying the ends. Rather, both stand on their own. In the example of Golden Rice, one sees that one is being a good Steward of God’s gift of rice, by taking the several strains of rice which God has given to us, and like a faithful servant, investing and multiplying them so that we now have many strains of rice which can be used for the benefit of the kingdom of God. That Christians today could stand in the way of such careful stewardship and such a great humanitarian cause shows a fatal slip into a Luddite’s pantheistic view of nature. Arguing from this one example, one can see how every form of bioengineering plants, which benefits farmers and industry and consumers, while increasing the multitude of plant forms within God’s great world, is in its very essence Christian.
So far we have discusses primarily forms of biotechnology in plants which result in “genetically modified” crops. These are, as mentioned above, basically high-tech hybridizations. It is important, as an aside here, to add that very similar reasoning (apart from the hybrdizations argument) can apply to the creation of brand new plant forms, or plant forms which so little resemble their predecessors as to be functionally original. Biotechnology, so far as this author is aware, has no so far released a brand-new food crop. However, as more and more plant genomes are sequenced, it seems this could be done in the future.
Imagine, if one will, that science could create a plant which could grow in almost any climate, with no extra pest protection or fertilization or water needed, and the fruits of which supplied 100% of our dietary requirements, while the main body of the plant could be used for creating super-strong textiles or papers, similar to the way hemp is used now. Imagine also that this plant has exceptionally high yields per acre, so that a mere acre or two planted could feed a family for an entire year. Such a plant would be a gift to subsistence farmers and civilized nations alike. It would be able to eliminate dietary deficiencies and much death due to starvation. Meanwhile, it would be a valuable cash crop for struggling individuals. Even within inner cities, the planting of such a crop in the yards and tree lawns of the city may be able to help alleviate poverty. What if instead of grass, it was standard to plant “Super Veggie” in every yard? Such a plant would be a miracle in many ways.
According to an article by the group Tomorrow’s Bounty (2004): “Currently, the world population stands at more than six billion people and is growing at a rate of about 1.3% per year. The United Nations conservatively projects world population will rise to 8.9 billion by 2050. With this growth will come a greater demand for food worldwide and an increasing need for higher-yielding crops that are less susceptible to disease and pests.” Does it not seem reasonable to suggest that in addition to fulfilling humanitarian requirements placed on The Church, the creation of such a plant would please a God who said he wished to reap where he did not sow. “Biotechnology could increase crop productivity in the developing world by as much as 25%, helping address world hunger and minimizing damage to the environment.” (Tomorrow’s Bounty 2004) If as creations we can honor our creator by mimicking his divine attributes, one might suggest there is no truer tribute.
As a final thought in this subject of the creation of modified and original strains of plants, one must be reminded that according to the Bible, in answering the question, “Is such a thing or person of God?” The scriptures reply “you shall know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:20) If the fruit of biotechnology in plants is an end to starvation and enrichment of the lives of humans everywhere, what more evidence could be needed to prove that such a thing is of God?
Transgenic Animals: The meat of the question
After sequencing the human genome, science’s next big projects were to map the entire DNA code for chickens, pigs, and cows. Within the last year, a sequence of the chicken genome was completed. (Spencer 2004) Currently the pig genome is slated next for completion, while the recording of cow genome is well under way. The study of animal genetics allows us to drastically improve our breeding stock in farms all over the world. Currently there are many problems in the meat industry, such as animals sickening or the occurrence of bloodlines that have been weakened through selective breeding for weight or other such factors.
Bioengineering has the potential to create breeds which are healthier, stronger, and both more productive and more profitable. There is even a chance that genetic engineering of animals or other biotechnological developments could reduce the amount of animal pain and suffering associated with meat production. However, some Christians and bioethicists see even more problems with engineering animals than in doing the same with plants. It is important for the Christian biotechnologist to understand the importance of animals in the God-sanctioned food system, and to understand that in the modern era so far from the perfection of the original creation, our contributions to the development of animals are vital.
The importance of bioengineering animals has been recognized by most governments. This is especially true since the bioengineering of animals is not confined to meat animals. Many of the most important transgenic creations have been designed not for eating, but for testing on. Animals such as the “AIDS mouse” –which was engineered to “express the virus in every cell of its body and [pass] the virus on to subsequent generations.” (Edwords, 1999, 3)– are invaluable weapons in the war against disease. Partly because of the creation of such laboratory animals which are useful in government-sponsored facilities, most nations have allowed for patents on new transgenic developments.
The U.S. patent office issued a ruling that even animals are potentially patentable… In 1988, the first mammal was patented: the ‘onco-mouse,’ genetically engineered with human genes to predispose it to developing cancer. It is sold as a research model for use in cancer studies… [currently] Nearly two hundred genetically modified animals, including pigs, cows, and sheep, are awaiting patent approval in the U.S.” (Edwords 1999, 3)
In discussing the morality of genetically developing animals, one ought not fall into the trap of debating the morality of animal experimentation, however. One way or another animals will be used in scientific experiments, and there are very strong Christian cases which may be made for such experimentation — though it is not the subject at hand. Rather the point is that if animals are to be used for medical and cosmetic experimentation, it is much better that these animals be genetically prepared for their life’s work. In this sense then, the arguments for developing animals specifically for medical testing are identical to the arguments for developing animals for meat, except that one ought to replace the argument for “curing world hunger” with an argument regarding “curing disease.”
Despite the exciting potential of animals being designed specifically for the use of scientists, by far the most common and wide-reaching use of genetic engineering in animals regards those animals who are intended for human consumption. Some time in the distant past, animals kept by farmers might have been treated on an individual basis, allowed to grow at natural speeds or live in relatively natural settings. In today’s world of factory farming, however, animals are raised en masse, and it is vital that they function like parts of a well-oiled machine. The goal of modern farming is to make the entire life cycle from conception to table as quick as possible, and to maximize the volume of production. So it is important to minimize the time from birth to full slaughter weight, to shorten the length of time between pregnancies, and to increase the total average weight in meat animals. For animals whose production is centered on other products, such as eggs or milk, it is important to increase output and minimize distractions.
Traditionally, these kind of traits have been selectively bred into animals through micromanaged breeding programs, with heavyweights standing at stud. However, this does not always work to impart the traits needed, and some of the ideal traits for meat animals may interfere with their reproductive success. For example, the biggest and most valuable male turkeys have breast so large that they are incapable of sexual reproduction with hens! Artificial insemination has definitely helped this situation, especially as the best studs in the world can theoretically ship semen globally. However, genetic modification promises even better results.
Down on the farm these days, not only are the plants more productive but so are the animals. Australian scientists have engineered a breed of pigs that is 30% more efficient and can be brought to market seven weeks earlier than ordinary pigs. They have also made sheep that grow 30% faster and will soon make their wool grow faster as well. In the United States, a new breed of turkey hen has been created that lays more eggs because it no longer engages in ‘non-productive’ mothering activity over them.” (Edwords 1999, 9)
Like genetically modified crops, it seems that bioengineered animals are already a fact of life. So in many ways the arguments regarding them are similar to the arguments regarding plants. For example, many people may feel that while selectively modifying animals is somehow more of a crime against nature than doing the same to plants, presumably because animals are higher in the food chain and close to humans in a physiological sense. However, this tends to apply the same argument that one can in fact commit a crime against nature, whereas this essay has sought to shown that such a crime is impossible — one can commit crimes against God as a creator, but one cannot directly offend the non-sentient “nature” which is his creation.
As mentioned before with plants, the argument that animals are somehow sacred and that because of that they should not be altered is essentially non-Christian. Though some world religions disagree, God is not a cow, and his holiness is not essentially damaged by the introduction of new genes into the bovine breeding pool. All of creation belongs to God and shows his handiwork. As the many biblical metaphors about animals (especially sheep) demonstrate, nature and our four-footed friends are meant to show us things about God. However, genetic engineering of specific animals does not take away from the ability of other animals to demonstrate things about God. Just as importantly, one must remember that all DNA comes from God, and that no matter what humans do with it, it is still a part of God’s over-all design and the resulting animal is still a creation of God in the biggest sense. Mules are the perfect example of this. God didn’t create mules, humans created them by breeding donkeys and horses. But mules are still a part of God’s creation. With animals, as with plants, one quickly sees that it is not possible to defile the work of God, and that nature itself is not intrinsically sacrosanct.
The existence of animal hybrids like mules bring up much the same issues as plant hybrids: namely that there is nothing particularly unique about bioengineered genetic modifications in comparison with the end result of extensive genetic selection or hybridization in breeding stock. Christians should, in fact, be pleased to know that the Bible seems to endorse using technological methods to affect the genetic make-up of herds. In Genesis 30, the good book records the story of Jacob’s wages when caring for the herd of Laban. He was appointed as his wages all the cattle and goats that were speckled and spotted, and all the brown sheep. Subsequently, when breeding time came:
He [Jacob] set the rods which he had pilled before the flocks in the gutters in the watering troughs when the flocks came to drink, that they should conceive when they came to drink. And the flocks conceived before the rods, and brought forth cattle ringstraked, speckled, and spotted. And Jacob did separate the lambs, and set the faces of the flocks toward the ringstraked, and all the brown in the flock of Laban; and he put his own flocks by themselves, and put them not unto Laban’s cattle. And it came to pass, whensoever the stronger cattle did conceive, that Jacob laid the rods before the eyes of the cattle in the gutters, that they might conceive among the rods. But when the cattle were feeble, he put them not in: so the feebler were Laban’s, and the stronger Jacob’s. (Genesis 30:38-42)
This is obviously a very primitive sort of genetic modification, using striped sticks to make animals give birth to striped offspring — it seems quite possible, in fact, that the only reason the cattle repeatedly gave birth to spotted offspring was through some grace of God. However, it is obvious that to ancient readers, this was considered to be a use of technology to fool Laban.
The modern meat and animal industry has a variety of problems which are the frequent target of critiques by both “animal rights” activists and more reasonable or even Christian individuals who are concerned with the level of cruelty involved in modern factory farms. Earlier in this section it was explained that modern farms tend to focus on production over quality, and that the focus in today’s factory farms was on bringing animals to the highest adult weight as quickly as possible. As one might expect, this can cause a lot of problems for the health and welfare of the animals. Stories abound in “animal rights” literature of animals bred to be so heavy that they are incapacitated, or which grow too quickly for their bones, and other such painful problems. According to an article in the Washington Post, farmers now generally expect big birds with fast growth times, most big farms will “grow out” chicks to an adult “processing” weight in only about six weeks. The author of this article explained that this speed often causes painful joint and bone conditions. (Skrzycki 2003)
Likewise, many animals being kept in a profit-oriented factory farm may be in conditions which lend themselves to illness, or be bred for meat quality rather than for resistance to disease. “Because crowding creates a prime atmosphere for disease, animals on factory farms are fed and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides and antibiotics, which remain in their bodies and are passed on to the people who eat them, creating serious human health hazards.” (PETA 2003) These problems may be partly alleviated by biotechnology, which could prove to make a difference in the degree of cruelty inherent in a factory farm, while still raising –or at least maintaining– the bottom line.
Of course, there is a certain amount of harm inherent in farming animals for food. There’s no entirely non-cruel way to kill a creature, after all. However, as little as a hundred years ago, animals lived relatively good lives in the months or years before they died and they certainly were not kept in the kind of conditions that more moderate activists today complain about. It could easily be argued that we are being poor stewards of God’s animals when we allow such suffering. Some people may blame biotechnology for such cruelty, associating factory farming with biotechnology in some respect. However, this is not necessarily a logical connection. Perhaps the greatest threat to biotechnology in working with the meat and animal industry is that biotechnology is perceived as increasing the threshold of cruelty. While biotechnology could be used to further the mistreatment of animals, it can also be used to offset the problems that come with factory farming so that methods which increase profit will not have to be linked with the creation of more pain and illness. Rather than boosting profits but causing harm, biotechnology can be both profitable and helpful to the animals and the human consumers involved.
How biotechnology could better both the profits of farmers and the lives of animals and consumers is evident when one looks over some of the more promising research that is currently being undertaken. For example, at the University of Illinois, a project is currently underway regarding the genetic manipulation of pig breeds. “The genetic research in question is designed to boost milk production in sows, improve their digestive health and increase production of healthier animals without the use of drugs… A gene from a Holstein cow that increases milk production was inserted into female hogs, which were the mothers of the pigs in question.” (Ellis 2003) Such a project would obviously be very helpful for the well-being of a herd, and being able to avoid the use of antibiotics or other drugs on piglets and sows would be healthier for consumers.
Another fascinating development is what is called the Enviropig (TM) an “environmentally friendly breed of pigs that utilizes plant phosphorus efficiently.” Phosphorous is a common byproduct of hog factory farms, because most pig excrement is very heavily contaminated with it. In order to combat this, some pigs are given a fungal enzyme called phytase which serves to break up phosphorous in the diet and make their byproducts less toxic. When phosphorus is present in the water supply, it increases algae growth. At higher concentration, “extensive eutrophication can occur, leading to the production of methane and nitrous oxide potent greenhouse gases… [it] also occurs in estuaries and near shore marine environments with production of nitrous oxide… The projected growth of the livestock industry… is expected to accelerate environmental problems on a global scale.” (GTPRP 2003) The Enviropig (TM) can make a significant difference in terms of this problem because its excrement does not contain such environmentally dangerous chemicals. This is better for people who live nearby to hog processing places. It is well documented that people who live in close proximity to factory farms and feed lots have higher rates of certain illnesses due to the pollution that is found in the local water and air from the excrement. This means that in yet another way biotechnology would be able to save lives and make living conditions better for people of all ages who would otherwise be suffering from the side effects of the excrement fumes. Being environmentally sound is also, of course, better for the pigs themselves who would otherwise be wallowing in phosphate excrement, for the adaptation makes their time before slaughter less disgusting. One would assume that an animal who is wallowing in poison would therefore produce somewhat tainted meat. Less phosphorus in the farm setting would lead, in that case, to healthier meat for human consumption. It is important that this genetic improvement would therefore be less cruel for both the pigs and the people! Even better, the Enviropig (TM) has benefits to farmers: they have to worry less about environmental cleanup, and they also do not have to purchase the food supplements that are needed to make unaltered pigs able to process, rather than excrete, the phosphorus.
There are many additional possible improvements to be made to our breeding stock though genetic modification. Many of these are under research, no doubt, and many more will come to be researched as biotechnology increasingly gains acceptance. For example, a little earlier it was mentioned that selective breeding has increasingly attempted to make unnaturally weighty animals, and this has resulted in joint and bone problems. These problems, one must remember, are both cruel to the animals who suffer from them, and also they lead to unhealthy meat and loss of meat due to downers and animals too sick to produce human-grade food. As a good steward of God’s creations, it cannot be our duty to breed animals to the point where they suffer needlessly, even though it is our duty to increase the value of these animals (as discussed in the earlier exegesis of the talents parable). It is also not our place to be wasteful with God’s gifts, and it is wasteful to be breeding pigs and other animals either so that they do not reach their full weight potential, and thus humans will need to take more lives to get the same amount of meat, or that they become ill and cannot be used for food, but instead die wastefully.
Unfortunately, selective breeding cannot do much to change the skeletal structure of animals to support the weight which can be achieved through such selective breeding. So it is almost inevitable that “natural” breeding programs end up making animals whose bodies are unnaturally formed, and self-destructive after a fashion. How much better it will be when genetic engineering can create heavier stock animals, which can produce far more meat per animal, and who also have sufficient bone mass and powerful enough joints to support their mass! Farmers have attempted to achieve this kind of success by switching to other animals, such as buffalo or ostriches, instead of cows and chickens. However, these animals often have meat which is not as succulent as that of the traditional farm animals, and their meat-to-bone ratio is not nearly as good as even healthy pigs. It would be entirely possible to breed transgenic pigs and other stock to have heavier bones and better joints, so as to support their weight. Likewise, it could be achieved that their bones and muscles were designed to keep up with the high speed of growth without injury. Additionally, of course, these stronger bones would also be valuable in making good, strong bone byproducts, such as gelatin and glue. This would again increase the value of these animals, while making them healthier, and one assumes happier.
Another example of biotechnology potential would be the creation of cows that do not need to be pregnant every year in order to keep producing milk. Currently, goats only need to give birth irregularly, and they will be able to provide milk for a significant number of years. However, cows must be bred on a yearly bases, and of course any male cows are worthless to a dairy farmer. These male calves are subsequently sold to the veal industries, where they are kept in often very inhumane conditions. Veal crates are unhealthy for both consumers and for the calves contained within them, and additionally, they are not as profitable for dairy farmers as a female calf, who could produce milk, would be. If all dairy cows threw female calves, with only the rare male, this would decrease the number of calves destined to be veal, and increase the number of milkers. Additionally, if female cows could continue to produce milk without needing yearly pregnancies, then farmers would not need to lose milking income during the periods of the pregnancy cycle when milk is not produced. This would be better for the animals whose young would not be kept in poor conditions, and who would not themselves need to go through the stress of repeated pregnancies.
It would also be better for consumers if the price of milk was lowered subsequently, as the farmers made more money. One might also be able to create a substitute for bovine growth hormone (BGT), which is currently used to increase milk production. BGT has been blamed for cruel overdevelopment of cow udders, and infections that may lead to death. Some speculate that it might also be unhealthy for humans to drink the milk of cows treated with BGT. Transgenic cows would naturally produce sufficient growth hormones to increase their milk flow, and the biotechnology industry could theoretically create a cow that produces this amount of milk without the dangerous physical side effects for both the cows and theoretically for the human consumers.
So one can see how genetic technologies could theoretically improve the lives of animals, farmers, and consumers alike. Biotechnology is already producing animals that can live healthier lives and therefore produce healthier meat for human consumption. Additionally, it is right on the horizon that scientists will be able to create many other improvements to animals that would make them more efficient and less harmful to the environment and to humans. Biotechnology could make it possible to end many inhumane practices, and could possibly be the solution to the problems that have been presented by the traditional breeding and animal product production methods. However, genetic modification is not the end-all-and-be-all of biotechnology; on the contrary, there are many more potential advances that could revolutionize the way meat is produced and animals are treated in our society. Some of these may seem almost like science fiction, but one must recall that over the past century, there has been very little that humans have imagines that they have not begun to be able to accomplish. Many of these “science-fiction” ideas are already being researched and are in the beginning stages of development.
One advance which biotechnology is pursuing is the creation of synthetic meats. Synthetic skin has already been created and used extensively for humans in need of skin grafts and other reconstructive procedures. In fact, many people can thank skin grafts for saving their lives. Something similar might be used to grow meat for consumption. Alternately, something very much like meat could theoretically be grown on plants. Some plants already have similar protein and other nutritional content to meat, such as soy and avocados. With some effort put forth, it would seem reasonable to create a plant-based “meat mock” which was indistinguishable from meat taken from animals, on a nutritional level, not just on a visual level like some current soy products.
Some Christians may, however, have a problem with synthetic meat. Anti-vegetarianism is deeply ingrained in Christian culture, partly because God did order Noah to eat the meat of certain animals after the flood. However, this paper is not suggesting that all meat should be replaced with synthetic meat, but merely that for those who are eating meat for its “low carb” and cultural appeal might be better served with a cheaper synthetic, which would minimize the damage done by huge factory farms.
Another intriguing possibility with biotech is that meat could theoretically be grown in a laboratory, in a sterile environment free from the contamination of a farm and slaughter house, and free from any moral reservations one might have about mistreating possibly sentient animals. It appears at this time to be possible, though prohibitively expensive, to grow individual organs or muscle tissues in a laboratory independent of a brain, which might suffer or misbehave. If this biotechnology could reach a point where it was standardized and the components mass produces, it might not be unfeasible to grow mass quantities of meat, which had been divorced from the suffering and the contamination of factory farms. Considering that food borne illnesses affect hundreds of thousands of people yearly, and appear to be carried on a majority of factory farmed meat products (PETA 2003), it seems consumers might jump at the chance to buy meat which had never been exposed to e. coli or salmonella. Christians, meanwhile, might be concerned that this violates the principle of eating real meat, or that it somehow profanes the image of God presented in the real animals that were being replaced by tube meat. The issue of Gods image in nature has been addressed sufficiently by this paper already. Considering whether or not this would be real meat, however, and whether or not it would be something of which God would approve, one should turn to the Bible.
In order to grow meat in a laboratory, according to current techniques, the scientist takes a sample of meat tissue and convinces it to keep growing. And multiplying within a laboratory setting. In essence, what one is doing in growing meat in a laboratory from a sample is not to create meat from nothing, or to make a completely fake meat, but rather merely to encourage one piece of meat to expand into multiple pieces of meat. If one will recall this is precisely what Jesus did at the feeding of the five thousand. Our Lord and Savior took a few little fishes and divided the meat so that it fed thousands and had many pounds left over. If it were a sin in any way to take a small piece of meat and force it to replicate until it could feed many people, then Jesus himself would have been sinning when he did one of his greatest miracles. Jesus multiplied meat without killing extra animals through the power of God. It is God who has granted the scientists their intelligence, and has created this genetic code which humans can understand and manipulate. So after a fashion, scientists too multiply meat though the power of God, or more precisely the power God has given to them.
In summing up the points of this section, three things are vitally important. First, it is necessary to understand that transgenic animals are not in any way more of a threat to God’s creation than transgenic plants, and that on the contrary the Bible itself seems to advocate some sort of genetic interference with livestock. Secondly, biotechnology in the area of livestock and food production is not the great threat people believe it to be, but on the contrary can be good for the environment, for the consumer, and for the animals involved. The last and perhaps most vital point is that biotechnology in the field of meat need not be limited to the manipulation of animal DNA, but might also include technology necessary to replace the current sometimes inhumane system.
Biotechnical Feasts: the Conclusions
Both biotechnology in the realm of plant development and biotechnology in the realm of plant and animal development have been very controversial for Christians. The debate surrounding these developments tend to have a very strong moralistic edge that is not present in most debates about invention and science. Scientists themselves may be isolated from this debate within the walls of their laboratories, but the real difficulty of moral conflict lies on the shoulders to the managers of genetic and molecular research. Before a manager can feel confident facing the so-called bioethicists who would question the value of the projects they oversee, it is necessary that they feel comfortable with the project itself, in all its messy details. To build this familiarity and confidence, the manager needs not only to careful observe what is happening to his (or her) workers and (if applicable) livestock, but also needs consider studying the ethical issues at stake. So far much of this paper has been dealing with how a manager can justify genetic exploration both to self and to those Christians that question the work.
In approaching bioengineering in the realm of food, it is vital to remember that as Christians we do have a call to feed the hungry. This was part of Christ’s mission on earth, and it is part of the legacy he left for his followers. When Peter asked Jesus what he should do to prove his loyalty Christ only ask him to “feed my sheep” (John 21) — that is, to give food to the people of the world. The truth is that biotechnology can help. As a science which contributes greatly to the battle to assure that hunger does not threaten the globe, biotechnology is vital to the work of the Church. It seems pathetic that so many choose to be short sighted on this account. It has commonly been the practice of missionaries to provide food and medical care to the indigents of the nations they attend. If they could provide more than handouts, and actually provide new crops and animals that could better the ability of such impoverished farmers to support themselves, one can imagine how much more successful their cause would be.
The Christian community at large would do well to remember the idea of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which suggest that until individuals have their needs met on a basic level (such as having food and shelter and medical care) they cannot strive to meet them on a higher spiritual level. Spiritual hunger may be strong among the poor, but it cannot outpace physical hunger. If as a world we can solve the problem of hunger, perhaps more people will be distracted from the chores of subsistence long enough to hear the word of God. Surely this is the goal behind the commandment that we feed those who have no food and care for those who are ill. Indeed, caring for the sick and ill is another field in which biotechnology excels.
Touching Grace: biotechnology and medicine
The followers of Christ have traditionally been instructed by God to care for the ill, and to seek ways to overcome what seems medically overcomable. As Jesus told his followers: “Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) In the time of the Gospels, Jesus was obviously referring to doing these things through supernatural means. Times have changed, though, and today physical miracles are far less likely to occur. At the very least not all Christians can be expected to heal with a touch! Does this mean that Christ’s instructions are any less valid in the current day? Some might argue that case, but it seems more likely that the terms have changed while the command has not. If, as Christ says, “the kingdom of God is come nigh unto you” (Luke 10:9) then it seems Christians ought to continually act as if the kingdom of God remained nearby and that the physical reality around us was meant to be used to achieve the means of that kingdom. Biotechnology promises to be able to heal the sick, and possibly even to someday raise the dead. The devils of mental illness, homosexuality, alcoholism, and other behavioral diseases might also be cast out through the miracles of chemical and genetic engineering.
If the Christian community can embrace science and use it as a tool, then the possibilities for realistically fulfilling the commands of God to heal the sick and raise the dead become far greater. Even if the Church as a whole is unable to embrace science, it is vital that individual Christians feel free to become involved in the creation and management of biotechnology. Instead of fearing the ability of science to heal, or considering it as “competition” of some sort with the healing performed by God, we need to realize that science can be part of the work of God. Christians have always understood that God works through natural means and through human hands. For example, in the Bible God consistently speaks of how he has sent his judgment down on the Israelites for one sin or another. While in some cases this judgment takes the form of supernatural catastrophe, more often it consisted of an invasion or punishment by human forces. God consistently used humans as instruments of his will. So if Philistines and Babylonians could be used by God to advance his kingdom, then it seems fully possible that biotechnologists could also reasonably be used by God for his purposes. It seems obvious it would be better if these purposes were being advanced by Christians, working purposefully by God’s will, rather than by heathens.
Medicine has always been one of the great concerns of technology and biology, and it is little surprise that modern biotechnology offers great advances in the medical field. Genetic engineering has opened up a whole new field of potential therapies, moving light years away from the somewhat clumsy medicines of the past. It is becoming increasingly likely that the surgeons of the future will operate not so much with barbaric scalpels and sutures, but with the unintrusive precision of selective gene manipulation and correction. Likewise the rough animal or plant derived medicines of the past seem to be increasingly giving way to medicines that are specifically designed for the human system. “For instance, genetically engineered human insulin, used in treating diabetes, has all but replaced that derived directly from animals.” (Edwords 1999, 7)
Other biotechnological advances already in regular use include screening for disease-carrying genes so prospective couples can make informed decisions about trying for children, the development of synthetic skin for burn victims, and the development of new medicines for a variety of diseases. The sequencing of the humane genome has set up countless possibilities that had not previously existed, such as the ability to selectively knock out and replace “bad” genes and so stop genetic illnesses even in adults. Such technology is already being processed in laboratory animals. Many other biotechnological miracles have gone through their preliminary testing and may be expected to be available to doctors before many more years.
The bottom line of the debate over biotechnology should be the simple fact that medicines made through biotechnology heal people, and as Christians we are called to be healers. How could it possibly be wrong to create healing medicines? There are three essential arguments against biotechnology in medicine. The first is against gene therapy and says that by changing human genetics we deny that we were made in the image of God. Another argument specifically focuses on the tendency of medical biotechnology to try to create human-animal hybrids for their research — many ethicists suggest that this blurs the line between humans and animals and is therefore evil. The final commonly made argument deals specifically with the sanctity of unborn life, and deals with cloning and other fetal or stem cell research. Each of these arguments has its merits, however an exploration of the topic will reveal that though they seem to stand on Christian principle, each has significant flaws.
In the Bible, the Church is instructed “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick…” (James 5:14-15) Obviously there is an element of faith healing at work here, but one notices that the author of this missive does not merely instruct the elders to heal with prayers, but to anoint the sick person with oil. In ancient times, as many modern aromatherapists and herbalists will point out, oils were used as one of the more intelligent and scientific of responses to illness. This of course actually has some basis in science, considering the sanitizing effects of certain plant oils, and other restorative qualities. The appearance here of the use of oil in faith healing indicates a relationship between the science of medicine and the faith demanded of Christians in their role as healers. The vast majority of Christians today are obviously not attempting to eschew all medical attention and advances, though factions within the Christian church do exist which do not believe in healing by medical medicine. Nonetheless, it is important to clarify the Biblical justification for science and medicine within healing, because this mandate provides a justification for the use of biotechnology to develop that medicine.
Considering that medicine is certainly justified by the Bible, and that earlier arguments have justified the use of biotechnology in plants and animals, it makes sense for the Christian public and the Christian manager to feel entirely comfortable with the use of biotechnology for the manufacture of medicine. There are a great many ways in which biotechnology can be used to develop needed medicine and medical supplies, some of which involve transgenic creations such as insulin-producing microbes and others which may involve custom plants or even animals. For example, biotechnology could be used to up the percentage of helpful medical chemicals located in such drug-producing plants as the opium poppy, or even to introduce to plants the ability to produce needed chemicals. In many have less side effects than laboratory remedies, but their mild side effects are offset by the difficulty of consuming sufficient qualities both and/or in the pill form. If science could improve the chemical benefits of the plants while retaining their natural ability to pass gently through the system, then more efficient herbal remedies might be developed which could be honestly and safely prescribed by doctors.
Biotechnology is additionally proving capable of developing pseudo-synthetics such as the spectacular creation of human insulin and human skin. Research into biotechnology has proven not only capable of developing biotechnological solutions such as better gene therapies or altered medicinal plants and animals, but also a host of other techniques that replace or improve on existing processes. For example, biotechnology has created new diagnostic techniques, including analysis of the genome to find genetic clues to disease and microscopic investigative techniques such as monoclonal antibody technology. Biotechnology has also allowed for creative cures such as the generation of human insulin and collagen, and the development of synthetic skin. New antibiotic and from the creation of newer, stronger, antibodies to such experimental solutions as creating microscopic predators or operating a genetic sabotage upon diseases. One of the more exciting developments for the ability of Christians to help third world countries such as Africa is the pending release of new vaccines based on completely harmless altered forms of deadly viruses that are safer than either live or dead vaccines.
In all honesty, very few Christians have a problem with this level of biotechnology, which does not vary that much from more traditional medicine. The making of medicines and medicinal plants through biotechnology may not seem particularly threatening to the pro-life and pro-nature principles of much of Christianity the way that issues such as gene therapy and cloning may be. A Christian manager promoting his business to Christians might do well to focus on these elements of a pharmaceutical corporation.
Gene Therapy: are we still in the image of God?
While tradition medicine might be eligible for unrestricted support from most Christians, many more have a problem with the idea of gene therapy. Gene therapy is based on the idea of altering the genetic structure of the patient themselves so as to cure gene-based diseases. These alterations can be brought about by a variety of means, including altering specific cells and reintroducing them, or creating some sort of virus or other carrier which will introduce the new DNA into the cells and so alter their composition. There are two basic sorts of gene therapy, the somatic (which creates changes which are not passed on to offspring) and the germ-line (which is usually worked in conjunction with in vitro fertilization and is passed on to offspring)
This logical next step in biotechnology and medicine has been researched in great detail over the years, and is now beginning to show success against certain congenital diseases. Recently a number of clinical trials concerning gene therapy as a cure to X-linked SCID or severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (as made famous by David the Bubble Boy) have shown marked success and rendered their beneficiaries able to participate in everyday life in a way they would not otherwise have been able to do. “We’ve been working in gene therapy for many years in the lab and it is great to take that work into the clinic and see some therapeutic success.” (Meikle 2002)
Recently gene therapy reversed the condition of a young boy in Britain inflicted with SCID. The procedure took a few of his own bone marrow cells, altered their DNA, and reimplanted them so that the altered DNA could spread. His parents speak of their decision to go through gene therapy rather than traditional methods which would have put their child through “chemotherapy, sickness, loss of hair, loss of taste in the mouth — and he might be sterile in future… We went for gene therapy. It has proved itself. We are over the moon, pleased and really proud we have our son back. He is bouncy and full of it. We can’t do enough for him.” (Meikle 2002)
Using gene therapy as an alternative to the crippling illness and pain associated with traditional transplant measures seems an obvious choice in this situation.
The easiest choice in life is, however unfortunately, not always the most ethical one. While the World Council of Churches has put a stamp of approval on somatic gene therapy as a way to combat crippling and lethal diseases, they have spoken out against germ-line therapy and somatic therapy which is not specifically aimed at healing serious illness. Additionally, many Christians and bioethicists feel that gene therapy which alters the genetic composition of an individual is to some degree an affront to God: “For human beings to become their own creators and to determine their own destiny, Ramsey believes, is to open the way to human destruction.” (Cole-Turner, 66) The major political movement against gene therapy, which has been agitating to have it banned in America, is spearheaded by religious (primarily Christian) leaders who feel it compromises the integrity of the design of God.
However, the idea that humans were actually created imperfectly goes against the fundamentals of Christian theology. God created a perfect and even deathless world. Gushee, a modern Christian apologist, explains that we must see “these inherited diseases as legacies of the Fall and hence worthy subjects of our best efforts to safely mitigate them.” (Gushee, 34) They are a result of sin, and not part of the fundamental design of humanity. This seems perfectly reasonable and even obvious. A human who released a deadly virus into the population would be called evil, and rightfully so. Can we think, then, that a perfect God would have originally designed a world in which he included genetic fatal illnesses? What kind of God would create Tay Sachs?
In eliminating genetic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Tay Sachs, diabetes, sickle cell, and the other hosts of genetically carried diseases, science would be restoring humanity to something more closely attuned to it’s original design. Those who are opposed to gene therapy seem to imagine that the work of God would be somehow defaced by such work, and that humanity would be so taken away from its original design. However, this sense ignores the fact that humans were created in the image of God (who is surely a model specimen of health!), and were not designed to be crippled by genetic disease which occurred later through sin and decay. Moving towards health would be like removing a blot from the face of creation — in a sense it would be akin to the work of art restorers who labor in the Sistine Chapel painstakingly removing years of grime and paint to display the brilliant original work of the master. So it makes perfect sense for Christians to support biotechnology that aims to restore the work of God to its original perfection — after all, the sin of humans marred the creation, it is only right that the dedication of humans should work to repair it.
Biotechnology and the Indefinite Prolonging of Life
Illnesses are not the only blots on the perfect creation of God, nor is biotechnology fated to be content with eradicating genetic disease. According to the Bible, in the days of the Patriarchs, life lasted much longer than it does now. Life spans in the early Book of Genesis consistently lasted for upwards of 400 years, with the length of human life spans deteriorating as mankind drifted slowly farther away from the original plan of God. So it seems that in God’s original plan for humankind, aging and death from old age was meant to be delayed for centuries beyond what it is now. Those working to restore the original blueprint of creation should rejoice to know that modern biotechnologists predict that they will be able to drastically slow down the aging process through biotechnology and gene therapy. ” medical technologies extending human life are no longer far off.” (The Osgood File 2001) Of course, some Christians argue that to lengthen life expectancy goes against the will of God:
The Christian perspective as explained by theologians Diogenes Allen from Princeton and Richard John Neuhaus of the Institute of Religion and Public Life sees death as a blessing because, (1) this life cannot satisfy our longing for perfect love (2) indefinite continuation would be dreary (3) the very shortness of life calls for self-examination, and (4) it breaks through our solipsistic self-regard. Interestingly, Allen pointed out that a belief in justice has been a powerful motivation for people to postulate an afterlife. Good people suffer in this life, but will be rewarded in the next. Philosopher Eleonore Stump of St. Louis University suggested that medieval Christians would have thought our efforts to postpone death “was a perplexing stupidity on our part” since it prolonged our separation from God. (Bailey 1999)
However, many would argue a certain absurdity to this position. If postponing death is such a bad thing, why did Christ heal the ill or raise the dead? One might also ask why the Bible consistently speaks of the goodness of old age and long life. “Thou shalt be buried in good old age,” (Genesis 15:15) God says to those who are faithful to him. The fact that Biblical patriarch lives to be hundreds of years old does not merely indicate that this was humankind’s original model, but also there was something superior about it.
One must consider the meaning for Christianity about the expansion of life. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 Paul says: “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” This confirms in the Word of God what common sense already suggests — maturity develops with age, and that as humans progress through their lives they become more able to deal with spiritual things. The spiritual potential of an expanded life time is fascinating. Most people spend their childhood, teen years, and early adult hood in a state of rebellion and foolishness that eventually gives way to the stolidness of middle age and the eventual wisdom and returned innocence of old age. One must consider the implications of a lifetime that was four times as long — what if, in fact, the first 60 or even 100 years of human life are the equivalent of being a teenager, and humans were meant to have another three hundred as mature and wise individuals? If sinners had another 300 years to learn the error of their ways (as most older people now have done in their 70 or 80 years), and saints had another 300 years to do God’s work, one can imagine how much better the world would be.
The medieval idea that life was just preparation for the afterlife denies the truth presented throughout the Bible which speaks of the importance of living life for God who is the “way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:16) Judaic culture, from whence Christianity sprung, has maintained this deep respect for the length of life. In one interfaith bioethics conference, the Rabbi Neil Gillman expressed the traditional Jewish disdain for the idea that death was somehow a moral good: ” ‘There is nothing redemptive about death. Death is incoherent. Death is absurd.’ In Judaism the primary metaphor for God is that God is Life, he explained… Leon Kass asked the rabbi if Jewish tradition would endorse prolonging human life for twenty years? Yes, answered the Rabbi. Forty years? Yes. One hundred years? Yes. The indefinite prolongation of life is a moral good, then? Yes, yes. yes, answered Rabbi Gillman.” (Bailey 1999)
The difference between the medieval sense of death as the ultimate goal of life and a more on the value of life and being alive is obvious not just in the area of anti-aging technology but also in relationship to the possibilities of biotechnology for the severely injured, handicapped, and those prematurely born. New advances in biotechnology have the potential to extend the life of those who would otherwise die in a natural setting. Stories about of life support keeping brain dead bodies breathing, of premature infants hooked into machines that regulate every aspect of their existence, and other such artificial supports. Some will argue that these advances are a denial in the face of death, and that the ability to keep these individuals on the borderline of life and death for an indefinite amount of time is not something of which biotechnology should be morally proud. However, these arguments fail to give credit to the power of God to heal in the end, and also seem to overlook the commandments of the Bible to save those who are dying.
Others have argued that extending life indefinitely might somehow be an affront to God. Reference here is made to the quote in Genesis which reads: “And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:…. So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.” (Genesis 3:22-24)
Those who oppose lengthening human life spans suggest that these verses show God does not wish for humans to live forever. Indeed, they are right in saying humans cannot be immortal. However, it is important to keep in mind that even if the human life span was lengthened considerably and all disease eradicated, it still would not constitute a guarantee of immortality.
One assumes there is some upper limit past which human life cannot extend — a limit which is signified by the Cherubim with a flaming sword. However, this hard upper limit does not seem to be (Biblically) less than a millennium, which was the age of the oldest recorded human in the Bible. It is impossible to think that all the Patriarchs who lived for hundreds of years were defying God by failing to die on schedule — and it stands to reason that if humans could return their life span to something resembling those Biblical standards they too would not be defying God. In truth, God is sufficiently powerful that one assumes he is able to control the advance of biotechnology without any effort on the part of politicians or self-denial on the part of scientists. The benefits both to the kingdom of God and to humanity as a whole which would be posed by eliminating genetic illness and the worst degeneration of old age are sufficient that they present a compelling argument to the Christians among the leaders and managers of the biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies to put emphasis on developing methods for preserving and extending life at all its stages.
The “Demons” of DNA: biotechnology and behavioral modification
One of the great concerns of many bioethicists, it seems, is that science will go too far and begin to use gene therapy and genetic selection in order to mandate such human variables as intelligence and personality. Many scientists and philosophers who are comfortable with the idea gene therapy for illnesses such as Tay Sachs are very uncomfortable with the idea of gene therapy to eradicate the genes for personality traits such as a tendency to be alcoholic, to have other mental illnesses, or to be exceptionally aggressive. For such therapy seems as if it may indeed be possible. “Many behavioral traits, from cheerfulness to sexual orientation, have already been linked, if tenuously, to variations in single genes. Many more such links will be reported in the near future…. There will come a time when we will understand enough to manipulate even complex genetic systems,” (Aldridge 1998)
The idea that science could somehow remove free will in this fashion is terrifying both to many Christians and to many others who have no particular religious beliefs. It would be very easy to suggest that a manager of a biotechnology firm should simply commit never to be involved in such a travesty against the natural disposition of a person, and never to be involved in creating technology to be used for such alterations. Certainly such a stance against “unnecessary” gene therapy might make a company popular. However, one would do well to consider whether or not it would actually be appropriate.
While a genetic predisposition to, for example, alcoholism or violence is not precisely a lethal illness, it does represent a truly serious issue for those who have such a gene. This is even more true in the case of genes that contribute to homosexual longings, to depression, or to schizophrenia. If genetic diseases are a symptom of the fall from grace, surely a genetic predisposition to sins such as alcoholism and homosexuality are an even more acute symptom of the fall. Evidence suggests that in the future biotechnology may be capable of providing a gene-level cure for any existing genetic tendency towards many of the most dreadful of sins. To do so would be to lift a great weight of temptation from the shoulders of those afflicted with these genes. While it does not seem like something that should necessarily be done without the party’s consent (e.g. done to infants or the unborn) it seems reasonable that it should be available to those who desire it.
Consistently in the Bible the followers of God are instructed to help keep their brethren from stumbling, and the work of God is that which leads one out of temptation. There is no stronger temptation, it would seem, than that which is encased in one’s DNA, and no greater Christian virtue than to help an individual banish this temptation. Christians seem to think very little about using psychoactive drugs to deal with mental problems such as alcoholism or depression. Likewise, many Christians believe strongly in very heavy-handed therapy for homosexuals to help them overcome their orientation. One has to wonder what the difference is between using drugs or aversion therapy to overcome a temptation and using gene therapy — save that the later may be more permanent.
It seems that a great deal of the opposition to gene therapy aimed at adjusting behavior is based on a misconception that such therapy would violate the free will of the patient. However, this is not the case. A person can be an alcoholic without the alcoholic gene if they so choose. They can be violent without a gene for violence, and homosexual without a gene for homosexuality. Genes dictate certain hard-wired temptations, but not behavior. The free will of the individual would not be sacrificed.
It is understandable that many people would be upset by the idea of using gene therapy as a way to help alcoholics and homosexuals change their behavior. The idea of discriminating against certain genes often calls up nightmarish recollections of Nazi extremism. (Rifkin 1983) People recall the “pink laws” that banished homosexuals in Nazi-era Germany into concentration camps. Anytime one is dealing with eugenics and gene therapy as a way of improving the human race, the issue becomes unfortunately embroiled with ideas of genocide. What people fail to realize is that there is a huge difference between painlessly altering one’s DNA to improve one’s life and sending one to a concentration camp. In and of itself, there is nothing intrinsically harmful about altering genes. Compared to some of the other traditional responses to violent or illegal temptations, gene therapy is actually quite humane. This therapy does not advocate burning at the stake, isolation or concentration camps, electroshock therapy, lobotomies, chemical castration, physical castration, flogging, stoning to death, or any of the other wonderful ways by which homosexuals and other moral deviants have been treated over the years. On the contrary, it promises to provide hope to the thousands who are caught in a homosexual lifestyle by the conception that they have been programmed from birth to be gay and cannot escape..
Exodus International is a global “outreach” group that targets gays and lesbians for Christian therapy programs. Exodus does not generally believe that being homosexual is a genetic issue, though they freely admit that there is a 40%-50% correlation between genes and homosexuality (this is precisely what one would expect if one believes that changing genes only removes hardwired temptations, but does not remove the free will to create one’s own temptation. Some people who are not genetically gay no doubt choose to act out in the gay lifestyle, while many who are genetically gay may painfully resist the temptation). What is fascinating about Exodus is that it vividly shows how many homosexuals are unhappy with their orientation and are desperate to change it even if that means being permanently celibate or taking extreme measures.
The pain is real and vivid. As one woman says: “As a lesbian, I tried to live behind a false front of happiness. But inside I was miserable.” (Rebekah Johnston in Exodus 2004) Another man chimes in: “unlimited sex left me in complete despair.” (David Foster in Exodus 2004) This genetically triggered problem can even be deadly. “None of my gay relationships seemed to last for long; eventually I gave up and tried to commit suicide.” (Tom Cole in Exodus 2004) Like social anxiety or physical deformities, it can even have terrible social effects: “Although I appeared successful in my professional nursing career, I lived with a constant fear of being ‘found out’ as a practicing lesbian.” (Dottie Ludwig in Exodus 2004)
One can easily see how homosexuality could — if its genetic determinants could be pinned down precisely — easily be understood in the paradigm of something that needs healing (at least for those people who are uncomfortable with its effect on their lives). Other behavioral or mental problems which are genetically linked are even easier. Alcoholism, for example, is believed to have a genetic link, as is violent behavior. Both can literally destroy self and others, and be entirely debilitating. The illness model has long been used with less than perfect success by psychologists dealing with mental illness, deviancy, or more mild social phobias and anxieties. However, so far this model has been more about giving specific diagnoses and prescribing the right medicine to be taken every day ad nauseum, rather than about the actually curing of the disease. Gene therapy may be the first option to truly cure some of these diseases.
Many modern Christian programs that deal with behavioral issues, such as homosexuality, alcoholism, and spousal abuse, discuss the idea that there are demons at work in one’s life. This has some Biblical grounding. While a specific “demon of homosexuality” or “demon of alcoholism” is never mentioned in the Bible, the language of the Bible seems to indicate that many mental, if not all mental, problems are caused by demons. For example, when King Saul has insomnia, the Bible refers to his being bothered by a devil.
Consistently in the Bible, mental illnesses such as those that would now be diagnosed as epilepsy or schizophrenia were spoken of as being possessed by demons. This is why in the list of things his disciples should be doing, Jesus instructs them not only to heal the sick but also to cast out demons. Not only are mental illnesses referred to as demons, but also physical illness. Jesus speaks of demons which cause blindness or other physical ailments. Throughout the years of the early church, diseases which we now understand in medical terms were understood and discussed as examples of demon possession. (Szasz 1970)
Of course today, we know that illness and blindness have physical causes. There are no little red fellows with pitchforks causing plagues, but rather there are bacteria and viruses causing them. This does not mean that Jesus or the Bible are lying, but rather it means they had a different conception of the connection between the physical and the spiritual.
It has long been problematic for Christians watching the advance of science. It is the place of science to explain the mechanics of how reality takes place. It is the place of religion not to give mechanical explanations of the world, but to give their spiritual significance. In primal religions, it appears that the spiritual and the mechanical often intersect in ways that would seem puzzling to a post-Copernician modernity.
The great anthropologist David Abram (1997) recounts his experiences among the primitive peoples of rural Asia who maintain a very different understanding of spirits and demons than modern Western thought would uphold. Traveling with a grant to study the relationship between magic and medicine in these cultures, Abram found that through utilizing his abilities in slight-of-hand and other stage magic he quickly earned the respect of the magicians and shamans of the people he studied in Indonesia, Bali, Nepal, and other areas as well. His focus of study shifted from the relationship between folk medicine, ritual curing, and magic to a wider and more philosophical examination of the relationship between magic and nature among these indigenous people.
The relationship between magic and nature seemed to be the key to all other dealings that these sorcerers and shamans have with the world around them and with dealing specifically with illnesses. The shamanistic “magic” practiced in these cases are more a heightened reception to the world and forces at work around the healer or magician, rather than something which occurs on a purely inner level.
Abram notes that the Western idea that “nature” represents the mechanical and all that is mysterious or powerful is considered to be the “supernatural” does not necessarily line up with the concepts held by other cultures. In Bali, for example, Abram witnessed the lady of the house where he was a guest taking rice patties to the woods as offering for the household spirits, and these offerings were carried away by ants daily. At first Abram thought this was a waste, that the offerings so carefully set out for the spirits were instead carried away by bugs, but he came to the realization that in a way these ants were the spirits of the forest and home. After all, it protected the home from being overrun by ants if, instead, the ants were given all the food they needed outside of the house. It is a very modern and Western concept that spirits are necessarily completely separate from the physical flesh. (Abram 1997)
While Abram’s story obviously takes place in a pagan culture, it seems feasible to suggest that the same all-embracing mindset that one sees here might have existed in the minds of the ancient Hebrew scribes of the Bible. The clear-cut separation between the material and the physical does not appear to have been introduced into Judeo-Christian thought before the influence of Greek philosopher, nor to have been solidified before the scientific revolution of the Renaissance. So while this sense is important to understanding Christian tradition and modern thought, the Bible itself must be understood as a text which may be read without it. If in the Bible God refers to (for example) blindness as being caused by a demon, and if today we have hard scientific proof that blindness is actually caused by any of a host of physical and diagnosable ailments, this does not mean that God was lying or that the Bible is erroneous. What it does mean is that the Bible was written for the audience of its time, who (like the Bali medicine man) understood that physical occurrences have spiritual ramifications. In short, the demons of the Bible might not in all circumstances be as later artists have imagined them, horned and fanged and brandishing pitchforks. On the contrary, demons might be nothing more or less than bacteria, viruses, and mutated strands of DNA that stand contrary to the will of God.
The idea of demons in our DNA might seem strange, but at the same time it is strangely evocative and fits with the common sense. After all, does not the invasion of an illness seem spiritually like the invasion of a foreign entity– and is it not even seen by science as a literal “possession” by alien forces? Common demonology, as it is taught in churches and popular books, even admits the possibility that children may be born demon posessed — which may be the remnants of an ancient understanding of the demons in our DNA.
So perhaps biotechnology and gene therapy may become a sort of high tech exorcism, functioning to expel the same demons that earlier Christian miracles worked to banish, but in a way more in tune with our modern sensibilities than the smoke and mirrors of earlier ages. Knowing what we now know about the science of disease, there can be no doubt that if ancient exorcisms worked to cure such genetic diseases as schizophrenia, they did so by altering the nature of the DNA of the one upon whom the exorcism was performed. Casting out demons was possible because God is all powerful, and capable of altering genetics to suit his whims — yet there is no reason to think that God might not then have worked through demonology and the “magic” of prayer and ritual to expel demons, and today work through biotechnology and gene therapy to achieve the same results.
Let it be assumed, then, both that gene therapy would make it possible to alter the genetic basis of temptations and that doing so would be the equivalent of exorcising the demons which many associate with these various sins. It has already been shown how this could be beneficial for those who suffer from these problematic genes, in the stories of homosexuals desperate for a cure, or the difficulties of alcoholics in their relationships with themselves and their families. If we have the potential to help people who have genetic temptations or other non-life threatening but nevertheless significant mental or physical disabilities (from severe obesity to epilepsy to manic-depression), then it would seem both unchristian and essentially cruel to forbid the benefits of such treatment to them. Despite the nay-saying of the bioethicists, it seems obvious that treatment should be available to those who desire it for conditions that impair their ability to enjoy life or serve God. If one of the greatest of moral rules is to do unto others as one would wish done to one’s self, then surely the compassion of scientists and managers must recognize the degree to which they themselves would wish that –if they were to seek treatment– healing would be available for them. By overcoming temptation and allowing for the possibility of a world in which every person had a greater potential for morality and normality, biotechnologists and doctors would be doing the traditional work of priests and prophets — in short, the work of God. “Altering [genetics] could be seen as an act of participation in the redemptive work of God…” (Cole-Turner, 92)
As an important disclaimer here, it might be necessary to clarify that no moral manager or promoter of biotechnology should support the mandatory or forced treatment of any sort of illness or deficiency, whether it happen to be physical or mental. While God calls Christians to remove the stumbling blocks from the feet of their fellows, to heal and to aid them, and to be beside them in need, the Bible does not call Christians to force their will on the unwilling. The idea of free conscience is important in the New Testament. So if an individual feels that it is their God-given duty to struggle with the inner genetic demons of predisposition, or if (strange as it might seem) they enjoy the experience of that genetic flaw (as some homosexuals might), it is the role of a Christian society to allow them that freedom.
Doomsayers might suggest that the very existence of genetic engineering as a popular solution to mental problems will lead to the mandatory application of genetic engineering as a cure-all for society’s ills. However, experience has not shown such disasters to occur with prior drugs which have had similar goals and great popularity. For example, Prozac and similar mood drugs have had some success treating mental illness, anxiety, attention deficit, and other such problems which gene therapy in the future may be able to cure with far fewer side effects. Yet despite the ability of drugs to treat such illness, people are not routinely having these drugs forced on them, or being unwillingly medicated. There is no reason to think that genetic cures would be any more enforced. Likewise, vaccines (which are even more like genetic therapy in that they are so permanent and do not require a constant supply of resources to continue treatment) have a long history of altering the bodies of willing subjects. Some people to this day continue to have a problem with vaccines, considering them to be unsafe or somehow immoral — and despite their success and scientific soundness, no one who has objections to the process is forced into vaccination. So there is every reason to assume a similar history would unfold in regards to genetic therapy.
Another common fear of bioethicists is that genetic engineering with be used to create a better, stronger, and smarter breed of humans. Today the ability to make humans smarter and more beautiful and virtuous does not exist, but there is no reason to believe that it cannot achieved nor that it should not occur. Many bioethicists automatically recoil at the idea of what one report calls “upgrading” (Sweden 1991) humans, and generally suggest that no bioengineering of humans should be allowed which is not necessary for the sustainment of life or which might effect future generations. As with other ethical concerns with biotechnology which have already been discussed, this fear can be seen as somewhat short sighted and based more on frightening science fiction distopias than on any real issue. Many ancient philosophers such as Plato, whose writings have been approved since by countless Christian patriarchs, speak glowingly of the importance of breeding strong and virtuous citizens so that the perfect city can survive. According to Plato’s Republic, it was vitally important that “the best men must have intercourse with the best women as frequently as possible, and the opposite is true of the very inferior. ” (Plato, 121) This was hardly designed to promote licentiousness, and on the contrary the Republic was so laid out as to discourage lewdness in all ways. The goal rather was to assure that the next generations of guardians and citizens were fit for their places in every way imaginable. It seemed evident to Plato that a nation would not be able to exist in a pure and just state if its citizens were not strong and healthy and descended from the best men and women. According to Plutarch, this philosophy was carried out throughout the Greek state of Sparta, in which a man who was unhealthy might suggest that his wife take for a lover a virtuous and healthy man to give her children for him to raise as sons, or an man might ask another man for the company of his young and beautiful wife because his own was not capable of having well-favored children. The Spartan King Lycurgus, Plutarch wrote, did not wish for his “citizens [to be] begot by the first-comers, but by the best men… other nations seemed to him very absurd…where people would be so solicitous for their dogs and horses as to… procure fine breeding, and yet kept their wives…mothers only by themselves… infirm, or diseased;… [when] children of a bad breed would prove their bad qualities first upon those who…were rearing them.” Sparta was the greatest of the warring states of Greece, and so long as her traditional stances held she was also one of the most internally harmonious and just. While as a Christian one cannot support the idea of adultery, the reasoning that only through external sexual conduct could healthy children be assured seems imminently reasonable, and is mirrored biblically too in the stories of Leah and Rachel who gave their handmaidens to Jacob in order to increase the chance of bearing sons for the family.
It may even be speculated that the Old Testament prohibitions against intermarriage with the natives of the Promised Land was based in the need to preserve ideal “breeding stock” (if such a crude term might be applied to human affairs). In many ways, bioengineering provides a positive way in which the human gene pool might be improved to make us more able to represent the image of God and more virtuous so as to better live according to his will.
Both through the outlawing of intermarriage and through other revelations of God, one may find some justification for improving the genetic status of humans. According to Genesis, man was created in the image of God. This is frequently cited blindly (as by Rifkin in his various attacks on biotechnology) in order to justify preserving the human genome as it currently stands. However, what such advocates against gene therapy fail to take into consideration is that within a few chapters humankind falls from grace and no longer embodies an image of God. It is absurd to think of God as being physically and morally weak and insufficient and ugly, and inasmuch as genetic engineering aims to make humans stronger and more beautiful and intelligent in all ways it seems that it will only be bringing them closer to the original image of God in which they were created.
The possibility for improving humanity ought not to be greeted with fear, but rather with joy and excitement. For the first time it may be possible to effectively and totally eradicate illness and old age, and to limit the amount of pain and temptation humans feel in their lives. Even more exciting, it seems possible to make humans for the first time more prone to goodness and cooperation, loosening the grip of gluttony, anger, sloth and lust upon the population. Every human and indeed the world at large would be better off if selfishness could be minimized, and the grip of sin upon the emotional and physical world could be loosened. This might be possible with the biotechnology of the future. As for the genetic perfection of the human body (better, stronger, faster, and more beautiful), it is difficult to see where the real problem lies.
Bioethicists list many concerns with genetic therapy that tend to revolve more around the results for the “rest of us” than for those who are actually on the receiving end of therapy. Examples of such complaints might be the possibility of socioeconomic inequality between the “beautiful people” and those who have not received gene therapy, as ethicists say that “the distribution of desirable biological traits among different socioeconomic and ethnic groups would become badly skewed” (Zimmerman et al. 1991, IV), or the fear that genetically superior humans would compete with and overcome their genetically primitive ancestors. However, such fears are not dependent on an inherent immorality with the technology but with the application within our current social structure. It seems equally possible that if we were to create a gentler and better sort of human, they would have the capability to resolve the social inequalities which plague our generation, and create a far better and more essentially moral and Christian world.
When the issue of genetic engineering and gene therapy arises for anyone involved in decision making within the biotechnology fields, it is important that fear does not take the upper hand. It is sad that Christians in particular have been responsible for the worst sort of fear mongering, for God specifically says, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) This mind can be used to create and to hope and to envision a world which is not made worse by having better and healthier humans in it, but (reasonably) made better, healthier, happier, and morally enriched by the presence of humans who excelled in all these attributes. It is the role of a manager — and particularly a Christian manager — to take a progressive and idealistic standpoint. From a deontological perspective, it would be consistent to wish that all humans were healthier and happier, and so it would be ideal to take steps to make humans healthier and happier. At the current historical junction, genetic engineering promises to provide an incredible new weapon in the fight to do just this.
The Value and Nature of Human Life
While the issues surrounding medical treatment through gene therapy and the extension or improvement of natural life through biotechnology may seem relatively clear cut in light of Biblical ideas of God as life and of Christians as healers, there are issues with medical biotechnology which are far more awkward for the Christian involved in this field. So far all the issues discussed have fallen into a general category of moral goods questioned not so much for their end result as for the methods by which they were achieved. They involve definite benefits not only to all humanity but also (in case of human patients) to their immediate subjects as well. However, there exists an issue within biotechnology which, though giving good end results, may involve active harm to some form of human life. There are three basic categories into which such issues fall. The first is the general discussion regarding research which involves human embryonic tissues or stem cells, and which results in the destruction of what might potentially (if implanted successfully in a receptive uterus) grow into a child. The second issue is that of cloning, both for the purpose of research and for the purpose of reproduction. The final issue is that of chimerical animals who are part human and might theoretically be created with human-like emotions and intelligence.
All of these three issues are particularly difficult because the do seem to have legitimate moral concerns. These are not merely issues raised by the ranting of a Luddite who cannot stand rice of a different color. Rather these issue deal with the real physical and moral rights of potentially sentient creatures which are in immediate danger of being denied. However, the discussion (from a Christian standpoint) is made difficult by the fact that neither Jewish nor Christian tradition has ever been consistently clear about the definition and genesis of human life, and this is a subject on which the Bible is unfortunately quiet. So while some argument can be made from scriptures and moral or legal tradition, the question of embryo or chimera rights are sufficiently new that it is hard to find evidence regarding them in aged theology or philosophy books.
Stem cells have been much in the media recently, as a result of popular debate regarding the ethics of using them in research. A great deal of misunderstanding appears to accompany the arguments made, especially between laymen who are not actively involved in the biotechnology industry. Stem cells, as is commonly known, are derived from fetal tissues. Though to some their name (and usefulness in potential cures for illnesses such as Alzheimer’s) may imply that they are taken from the brain stem, this is most certainly not the case. In fact, stem cells are usually not derived from anything even remotely resembling a thing with human anatomy. A stem cell is actually derived from one of the very earliest set of embryonic cells. Once fertilization has occurred and the cell begins to divide rapidly, the first little round bundle of cells contains stem cells. These stem cells may divide into any body part from this point, and contain a complete set of DNA. This is what makes them so unique — their ability to evolve into anything means that they may be used to grow almost any needed body part for transplantation or research. Stem cells are usually derived from eggs that were fertilized within the laboratory (usually as part of the process of in vitro fertilization), though slightly less productive stem cells can sometime be taken from older fetuses, from the umbilical cord at birth, or even from adults. However, the best stem cells are retrieved shortly after fertilization.
Christian biotechnology manager might be very right about being picky about the source of stem cells. Stem cells retrieved from aborted fetuses which had implanted in their mother and subsequently been aborted through maternal choice might have severe ethical reservations attached, as Christians would likely not wish to encourage abortion. Stem cells retrieved from adults or from umbilical cords out not have so many reservations (if any) attached, apart from the fact that their use is a biotechnological issue which for some is automatically disgracing. The same holds true for using established strains of stem cells, because no new harm is done and these stem cells are not themselves human. However, stem cells retrieved from specially created embryos is by far the least black and white area of stem cell research, in addition to being the most common. In the end, however, the question of what is moral in stem cell research is the question of the foundation and beginning of life. (Bedford-Strohm 2002)
If human life begins, as some theorists would hold, at the moment where sperm and egg meet and a full DNA code is completed (e.g., at conception), then to destroy a just-fertilized egg would be to commit murder. This has very unfortunate implications not just for stem cell research, but also for the morality of a number of birth control methods which prevent implantation (such as birth control pills) and for the entire process of in vitro fertilization. No one in their right mind –or at least no ethical Christian– would suggest committing murder in the name of science. So if we are convinced that life begins at conception, then it is necessary to refrain from most stem cell research and from a variety of other behaviors.
There are some benefits to the idea of life-at-conception. One such benefit is the simplicity of definition which lets any complete DNA code serve as a symbol for a complete human. Conception is the bottom of the slippery slope which makes defining the beginning of life difficult, so it makes a good place for a radical stand.
However, there are also significant problems with the idea of life beginning at conception, one of the most significant being that it does not make sense instinctually or emotionally, and that scientifically it is on uncertain grounds. To show the degree to which the life-at-conception argument is counterintuitive, one might consider its implications. If life begins at conception, then if a woman’s egg is fertilized and fails to implant due to unfavorable uterine conditions (such as being during a menstruation or the existence of endometrioses), then she has not just failed to become pregnant — additionally, her child is dead. Very few people feel that if they are married and sexually active (without protection) that every menstruation represents the death of a child, even if they know that the woman is ovulating but incapable (whether because of an IUD or for some other reason) of implantation. If even the Church truly believed that every fertilized egg represented a life, it seems they would be pressuring science to find ways to prevent implantation failure and save the . Reasonably there would be not only services for the victims of abortion (which exist) but also services for all the of regular church members. The idea that every active woman has lost many children without ever being pregnant seems almost laughable.
Scientifically and philosophically the idea that these embryonic cells are actually human beings is problematic as well. If a little ball of embryonic dividing stem cells is a complete human, then is a visually identical ball of stem cells derived from an adult or an umbilical cord also a complete human? If so, has the donor reproduced asexually? Philosophers might suggest that at the earliest life begins at implantation, because it makes too little sense to date life from before the time one’s mother became pregnant (which is at implantation). Scientists would agree that an embryo before implantation does not have all the characteristics of a complete human, and it has no potential to develop these characteristics without implantation, and so it cannot even be considered a potential human until it has implanted. The statement that life begins at conception because that is when the new human cell lives for the first time is somewhat false. Both the egg and the sperm are alive before fertilization, which represents more of a genetic change in life-form than an origin of any life spark. Were the egg dead before being fertilized, then it would certainly not be brought to life by the presence of sperm. “Life” — in terms of the cell being alive and functional — predates fertilization, but human life which is measured in terms of humanity far postdates conception.
A more realistic view of the beginning of human life would apply the same standards to the unborn as to the born. In many states life is defined by either the presence of a heart beat or brainwaves. If a heartbeat or brainwaves are there, then a person is alive and must be treated as a human. If they are not present, then a person is not alive and may be treated as a medical cadaver or buried or burned or otherwise disposed of without regards to human rights. Logically then, it would follow that this was true across the board. Heart beat and brainwaves do start considerably before most abortions are performed, which is why so many Christians are agreed on issues of abortion who might not agree on issues of birth control which prevent implantation.
For a Christian manager wishing to avoid being complicit in murder, it is important not just to look at commonsense and philosophical/scientific arguments, however, but also at the Biblical stance on the beginning of life. However, Biblically there does not seem to be support for dating the beginning of life to conception. In the Psalms the writer says to God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well; My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place.” (Psalms 139:13-15) This has been frequently and legitimately used as a defense against abortion. However, zygotes in laboratories have never been in their mothers womb, and most used to harvest stem cells are still so underdeveloped that they would not yet have implanted in their mother’s womb. So it seems difficult to defend applying a verse which speaks about a quickened child moving in its mother’s womb to the tiny ball of formless cells in a petri dish which was never created to be implanted and will never move beyond this formless stage.
All of the frequently quoted “pro-life” verses, which is to say those supporting the beginning of life before birth, occur in the Old Testament. In judging scriptures which predate Christianity, it is helpful to study the commentary and understanding of those scripture which existed among God’s first Chosen People, The Jews. On this subject, the Babylonian Talmud (Yevamot 69b) explains that “‘The embryo is considered to be mere water until the fortieth day.’ Afterwards, it is considered subhuman until it is born. ” (Robinson, 2002) This is remarkable because the fortieth day is precisely when one can expect the appearance of brainwaves ina fetus. It was also commonly understood in ancient cultures that a woman was not truly pregnant with a child (and hence that the fetus was not truly human) until the quickening, or first powerful movements, which takes place at about twelve weeks. So when in Exodus 21:22-25 punishments are allotted for a man who strikes a woman and injures or kills her fetus, the penalties are not the same for killing a human (which would be death) but instead are represented by a fine such as one might expect for any other injury.
So it appears that, Biblically, a strong case can be made for life before — but not under any stretch of the scriptures for life before pregnancy/implantation has actually occurred. The appearance of brainwaves may be the most logical choice for defining life (considering that it lines up with the traditional understanding of the beginning of life on the fortieth day), since human life is not known to exist in a sustainable fashion without brainwaves. At the very least, however, the Christian manager of a biotechnology corporation can feel assured that so long as their stem cell lines are drawn either from still-living humans (such as via umbilical cord extraction or drawn from an adult) or are taken from specially created embryos during the first few days after fertilization, there should be no question of murder in the eyes of the Biblical God.
This is particularly important because of the incredible promise which stem cell research provides. Medicine may be entirely rejuvenated by stem cell therapies.
As one source reads: “There has been a breakthrough with human stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can be grown to produce organs or tissues to repair or replace damaged ones. Skin for burn victims, brain cells for the brain damaged, spinal cord cells for quadriplegics and paraplegics, hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys could be produced. ” (Smith 1998) The embryonic cells which in a mother’s womb would be capable of growing with time into a human body which God would eventually endow with spirit, are also fully capable of growing into specifically chosen body parts within a laboratory, and joining an already existing spirit. This does not violate their reason for being — stem cells were created to develop into a body that could house a spirit (with the coming of brain activity), and in the laboratory they are guided into becoming part of already existing bodies that do house spirits given by God.
The issue of using human embryonic cells is not confined to the issue of stem cell research, though in recent time this has received a great deal of attention because it is already well under way. Yet even more controversial, if for somewhat different reasons, is the issue of cloning. While in many ways cloning is no different than other instances of genetic engineering, it has particularly powerful cultural associations which make it frightening to many. Cloning by necessity requires the same sort of use and possible loss of embryonic human cells that stem cell research does, and is therefore prey to the same moral complaints by those who believe life begins at fertilization.
Additionally, cloning poses a concern to those who fail to understand the relationship between the adult form and the clone (inspired no doubt by science fiction tales). These critics fear that the clone will not be an individual, that they will somehow be subhuman or evil or be designed for slavery. In reality, a clone is not a carbon copy complete with memories and suddenly aged to an identical physical maturity with the original. This is a scenario which exists in movies and science fiction books across the decades, but it is not a scenario which is being much researched in the fields of biotechnology. On the contrary, the clone would be for all intents and purposes an identical twin born many years later, and subsequently in need to the same treatment and care as any infant. There should be more concern that half-human chimeras would be treated poorly by law than that fully human clones, who were basically indistinguishable from their originals, would be somehow singled out for worse treatment.
In the issue of cloning there are four sub-issues: the cloning of existent animals, the cloning of extinct animals, the cloning of humans for non-reproductive reasons, and the cloning of humans for reproductive reasons. So far, if one has been paying attention to the general media hype about cloning, it appears that the major problem ethicists have with cloning animals is that it might lead to cloning humans. If one allows that cloning humans is a morally acceptable option, then it would be possible to gloss over the issue of animal cloning all together. However, this would not be the best choice for an advocate of biotechnology, because it would fail to point out the great benefits possible from cloning which begin with the benefits of cloning animals.
Before a complete discussion of cloning can undertaken, it may be necessary to quickly scan over the technology involved. Cloning so far has been completed by taking a fertilized egg and removing the nucleus (with all its genetic information) to replace it with a new nucleus with the genetic information of the original to be cloned. From there, the egg is supposed to develop until it can be implanted in a recipient surrogate mother. This obviously removes and discards the genetic information native to the egg cell (which life-at-conception theorists might say destroyed the original soul, though it is hard to predict their opinions). It also creates a new stem-cell producing egg with a new (older) nucleus which may be used to develop infants or for research purposes (for example using it in order to do stem cell research) and thus also upsetting those who do not wish the see stem cell research continue.
Many animals have already been cloned. By now most literate people should have heard about Dolly the sheep, who was a successful clone and mother of several lambs who represented the success of cloning to create true duplicates genetically who were capable of reproduction. Cloning animals is particularly important because it gives researchers information on how clone humans. In the creation of Dolly and other cloned animals such as cows and monkeys, multiple failed tests created monstrous birth defects and in remaining cases certain death soon before or after birth for many of Dolly’s siblings. Even Dolly herself, though born healthy and capable of producing healthy offspring, died at six years of age when sheep can live to be upwards of eleven. While her death is attributed to a lung infection that appears to be common among sheep kept in indoor confinement, its untimeliness has been worrisome to many. (Kolata 2003) Greater concerns exist regarding the deaths of other animal clones. For example, one of Dolly’s genetic siblings who was also apparently born healthy later displayed underdeveloped lungs and had to be killed. “Many of the cloned embryos develop so abnormally that they don’t even make it out of the petri dish alive… that newborn cloned calves frequently emerge in bad shape. Some have skeletal abnormalities. Many suffer a variety of lung and heart problems.” (Travis 2001, 1-2) There are two conclusions one can draw from the high casualty rates of the Dolly cloning experiment, and similar forays into cloning. On the one hand it could be argued that the number of casualties, birth defects, and other problems with these instances of animal cloning should serve as a precaution against human cloning. Calves and lambs that need to be butchered and rendered because they are born defective may represent an acceptable loss, the same is not true with human infants. On the other hand, “only 8 to 12% of the [non-cloned] human embryos created with IVF resulted in a live birth,” (Travis 2001, 2) There may not be much more risk in cloning than in any in vitro process. Just as importantly, the failures with animals may need to be looked at in a positive light as useful warnings that can help guide scientists away from mistakes in cloning humans and make such cloning (if it is otherwise determined to be ethical) as safe as any other sort of artificial conception. “The sorry state of cloned animals has been exaggerated… In some cases, 95 to 100% of cloned pigs, cows, and sheep that made it to birth were thriving… [and additionally] humans may be easier to clone than nonprimates.” (Travis 2001, 2-4)
So the dangers of animal cloning are still somewhat open for debate, and one might question what the point of animal cloning might be other than to prepare the way for human cloning. It so happens that there are actually very good reasons why people might wish to have livestock and other animals cloned. The first is related to the value of some animals such as racehorses and dogs or other particularly well blooded livestock or show animals whose particular physical skills might not be perfectly reproduced through the normal method of breeding. Cloning might allow, for example, the duplication of a race mare without putting her out of shape by brood-mare work, or allow a talented gelding to have offspring. Among livestock, it might make particular high producers easier to reproduce consistently and globally, especially among animal breeds who have a bad track record for shipping and storing semen.
Cloning animals might also allow pet owners who have lost beloved animals to have a genetic duplicate of that animal. This would not be mere fancy. Many people breed their dogs or cats so as to get offspring that reminds them of their own best friend, but subsequently also produce many “extra” and unwanted offspring. Reducing the unwanted pet population might be aided by the responsible cloning rather than irresponsible backyard breeding of family pets. A cloned pet would also be more predictable and reliable when it came to future behavioral developments.
For medical purposes, the most promising potential of cloning animals is the possibility of having entire sets of genetically and physically identical test subjects, particularly among primates. Being able to control against genetic differences between test groups might help show to what degree a medicine or treatment was working (as opposed to having the experiment compromised by a difference in how well the respective animal’s own immune systems or genetic predilections were working).
One of the most promising possibilities about cloning animals is that the procedure may possibly be used to bring extinct life forms back to life. Earlier it was discussed that God appears Biblically to expect the stewards of his earth to return it to him with interest, and the astonishing rate at which biodiversity is decreasing and animals are dying out through extinction at unprecedented rates seems to indicate that God will not be so pleased with humanity’s efforts to date. Some might argue that extinction of species is God’s will, but this denies the very simply Christian truth that the world is God’s creation and while we have a right to alter it and work with it we do not necessarily have a right to obliterate it. One recalls that when all the species of the earth were last faced with obliteration God instructed Noah to take a male and female of each sort aboard his ark and save them from the coming deluge. This is a model which has been consciously accepted by many in the biotechnology movement to bring extinct animals back to life and protect endangered animals. In fact, the first clone of an endangered species, a little wild ox calf, was named Noah. (Unfortunately, he died several days after birth due to an infection)
Currently work is being undertaken to allow for the cloning of endangered and extinct species. Australia seems to be the closest to succeeding at the cloning of an extinct animal. The Tasmanian Tiger, a unique dog-like marsupial predator which had been hunted to extinction by ranchers and others, is on the fast track to being reintroduced into the wild. According to project leaders there is no longer any ” ‘massive technical barrier’ to producing Tasmanian Tiger clones, ‘only a hell of a lot of hard work.’” (Holloway 2002) Australia hopes to have a clone of the Tasmanian Tiger within ten years. More attention seem to be placed on preserving remaining endangered species through cloning than on recreating deceased species, because the technical difficulties are still seeming nearly insurmountable.
All the same, one can see the ways in which the cloning of animals might have definite benefits for human and animal kind alike, and how it might be supported strongly be the Christian management of a biotechnology company. Other than the complaint that animal cloning might be the beginning of a slippery slope towards human cloning, it is difficult to find serious moral objections towards it which are not dismissed in the same way that a Luddite objection to in vitro fertilization or any genetic alteration. The cloning of animals might provide humans with valuable scientific insight, improve breeding stock, allow for the comfort of pet owners and the reduction of unwanted animal populations, give aid in animal research, and even help endangered or extinct animals make a comeback. All of these seem like perfectly legitimate reasons for supporting cloning of animals, and within the realm of what can be openly embraced by Christian led companies.
The issues surrounding the cloning of humans are far more complicated and multidimensional. There are issues to deal with concerning the safety and welfare of the clones themselves and the women who might bear them. There are concerns with the effect on society, and the purposes for which people will choose to create clones. There are great concerns regarding the morality of creating embryonic clones for the specific purpose of using their cells for medical purposes — even though many rational individuals can argue that stem cells do not qualify as humans and impose no moral obligations upon us. These concerns must be balanced with the rights of individuals to reproduce as they see fit (particularly within marriage), and the need to create medicines which protect the lives of the millions suffering from diseases and injuries which cloned embryonic cells might be able to cure.
The first concern in creating human clones is that they will have major health problems, like the animal clones that proceeded them. While a Christian could justifiably argue that embryonic cells such as those used for research are not human and that they are fair game for use in experiments, it is very difficult to argue the same thing about a full term human baby that has just been born. Clones will not be somehow less human than other people, and they will be just as capable of suffering. So if an infant is born at an unusual size and quickly grows themselves to death, or if their lungs are underdeveloped and collapse, or if they suffer from any of the other many abnormalities associated with cloning in animals, science will have inflicted these injuries on a living and (hopefully) breathing human being. This is not ethically acceptable. So it does not seem possible for Christians to participate in human cloning where the clone would be brought to term unless these issues have been resolved.
While Christians may not be able to ethically take part in the initial experiments necessary to iron-out human cloning techniques, this does not entirely rule out the involvement of a Christian-led biotechnology corporation with the development of human cloning procedures. It seems evident from the current cloning discussions that human reproductive cloning is inevitably going to be attempted by some foreign non-Christian entity at some point in the not-so-distant future. Once this occurs, Christians and others will need to be ready with the research to step in and help the unfortunate early clones to survive and to learn from the mistakes made by the first cloners. Once these errors have been worked out of the system, as they no doubt will be in the foreseeable future, there is no reason why Christians might not be able to participate in reproductive cloning without fear of creating suffering and anguish for the clones they help to birth. Already many Christians are involved with in vitro fertilization and other fertility methods which put embryos and fetuses at risk of miscarriage. Cloning would not be particularly more morally fraught than these methods, assuming the child could be assured of excellent health upon birth. So once the physical process of making clones has been perfected, the arguments for and against it become somewhat simpler and easier for the Christian company or manager to handle.
The arguments against cloning which do not depend on the physical harm it may cause to the clone or to the clone embryo, are generally as follows: Clones will not be “real” humans, clones will be unfairly treated by their parents and society, cloning is socio-economically unfair, and cloning is an affront to God. At least two of these arguments are based largely on misinformation. Clones will in fact be “real” humans and they will have free will and every other aspect of humanity, save that they will be identical twins with an adult somewhere. To say a clone is not a real human is no different than saying identical twins are somehow inhuman — it may occasionally be baffling to deal with twins, but it is hardly unnatural. Arguments that cloning is somehow socio-economically unfair because it allows those with access to its expensive services to prolong their life through cloning are likewise mistaken. A clone will be no different than any other human child — it will not extend the life of its parent/donor (at least once it has reached the stage where it might be considered reproductive cloning). There is no harm in the rich having children that are more closely genetically linked to themselves than the poor do. If anything, it may put them at a disadvantage in the class war if the next point is to be believed: that clones will be somehow disadvantaged and treated unfairly. No doubt some teasing may be involved for clones, but many children are teased. No doubt their parents may have unrealistic expectations, but many parents do. One the other hand, it is just as likely that their parents will be more, not less, understanding as the see their clone going through the same adolescent issues, and they may have good advice other parents would not. Again, the fact that clones are just delayed IVF twins must be emphasized. Finally, the idea that this is an affront to God seems absurd in light of the many other arguments made herein for genetic engineering and stewardship. If part of making ourselves the best we can be is to occasionally clone someone who was important and lost, there seems no spiritual harm in that. One assumes that, unlike many Christians, God is intelligent enough to know that clones are merely the result of a new fertility process, all of which are just ways to glorify his command to multiply.
Yet if none of the arguments against reproductive cloning hold up, what are the arguments for it? Nothing deserves to be done in the realm of biotechnology if there is not at least a very good reason why it should occur. There are several reasons why cloning may be beneficial. First, it mall allow infertile individuals to reproduce and have children who are genetically linked to themselves. It may also allow people to reproduce after death or to have reproductions of the dead (which is not quite as grotesque as it may sound). Cloning might allow individuals to produce biologically compatible children so as to provide blood marrow or other transplants of the non-lethal sort, and in a similar vein cloning can be used to create cloned embryonic cells for medical purposes.
Half of these causes deal with reproduction and the importance of reproduction to humans. This is a vital area for cloning research because “current infertility treatments are less than 10% successful. ” (Smith 1998) This is a very important subject Biblically as well as culturally. In the Old Testament questions of fertility and childbearing were vital for many women, and many stories are told of women directly praying to God to work a miracle and open their wombs so they could conceive. That the Bible records this history of God’s intervention in fertility seems to indicate that it maintains a sufficiently high status in the divine list of concerns to merit its attention by Christians. While there are theoretically other ways to allow infertile couples to reproduce (such as in vitro fertilization involving their donated eggs and sperm), these may not apply in every case. For example, a man who sustained injuries to his genitals or suffered from prostate cancer or a similar affliction may be incapable of donating sperm to impregnate his wife. Yet through cloning technologies she would be able to carry a physical duplicate of him as a child, so that his genetic line would not perish from the earth (as his son/twin carried it on) and so that she could have an active part in carrying his genetic seed.
The idea of an incapacitated individual who may want to reproduce through cloning is related to the idea of potential parents who wish for their child to be the clone of a beloved dead individual. One can imagine the possible situations: an infertile couple whose first child had died in a tragic and avoidable accident who would like to try again with a twin, a young woman whose husband died overseas who would still like the chance to carry his baby… The possibilities are as endless as they are tragic. In the Old Testament a strange custom was mandated which ordered that if a man died leaving behind a childless widow, his nearest male relative was required to get children upon her to be raised as the sons of the dead man. The Levirate marriage, as it is now referred to, was so sacred that God struck down dead two men who refused to take part in it. The continuation of the genetic line with the next-closest genes (in these cases those of a brother) was commanded by God, so one is inclined to believe that this same God were extol the ability today to allow even a dead man to continue his line and have children. One remembers that half the patriarchs of the tribes of Israel (Jacob’s sons) were born not from his wives but from surrogate mothers. In the end, cloning to provide genetic continuation makes sense within a Judeo-Christian setting, because the ancient God of Israel did put so much stock in the importance of the continuation of a family line. Nor should one think that children generated to fill the place of a dead man or woman would in any way be necessarily less well treated than children born otherwise. Most people who seek cloning understand that it will not be a duplicate copy, but rather the closest thing possible to a later twin or a genetic offspring that takes after its donor-parent.
Another justification for cloning that may seem more questionable is the idea of cloning an existing (usually sick) child so as to make another child who would be genetically compatible as a donor of needed medical assistance. For example, children who need rare bone-marrow types donated most frequently find a donor match among relatives. It has become not uncommon for parents of such a child to begin trying for another child in hopes that their next offspring will be able to donate to their first child. This is already happening, though unfortunately not with one hundred percent results (many children born are not matches). The infants thus conceived are treated as well as the first child, in most cases, with the possible exception of being required to donate blood or marrow on a regular basis. While ideally the use of embryonic clones or other stem cell and biotechnology research will make such transplantation unnecessary, in the mean time cloning may provide one of the best options for these parents to make sure their next child is in fact a genetic match.
It is very easy to argue that the primary case against reproductive cloning is based on misinformation about the nature of cloning and also the nature of what already occurs with in vitro fertilization, and on vague and unfounded fears which hold no relevance to the importance of this issue. The real argument for cloning then may be legitimately centered on the creation of embryonic clones which would be used, studied, and destroyed in pursuit of cures for the various ills of humanity. Those who have no qualms about stem cell research should also have few qualms about stem cell research using cloned stem cells, in fact using cloned stem cells could quickly become standard in stem cell research.
In many ways, using cloned stem cells would be medically ideal. Cells that could develop into any body part coupled with the exact genetic information of the DNA donor would allow the doctor to clone individual body parts, for example growing “just a heart” from the blastocyst which would be genetically compatible to be implanted into a needy individual. (Bedford-Strohm 2002) Practically overnight the issue with organ donations and the long painful lists of needy recipients awaiting donors would be resolved. 60 — what about partial clones and stem cell research?
Cloning body parts individually from stem cells, or doing research on stem cells. Grow “just a heart” in possible with prompting both from the inner cell mass of the blastocyst and possibly from cells within the human body. “Skin for burn victims, brain cells for the brain damaged, spinal cord cells for quadriplegics and paraplegics, hearts, lungs, livers, and kidneys could be produced.
A needed tissue for suffering people that will be free of rejection by their immune systems. Conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, heart failure, degenerative joint disease, and other problems may be made curable…” (Smith 1998)
Possible applications from cloned stem cells seem to almost limitless. Some like Richard Seed suggests that what we learn from cloning may allow us to reverse the aging process. Human cloning technology may be able to stop heart attacks, as scientists could treat those suffering for the attack by cloning healthy heart cells and injecting them into the heart in weaker areas to try to enourace the healthy cells to out breed the unhealthy. Heart disease kills millions, and might indeed be conquered within our shores by biotechnology.
Reconstructive and “plastic” surgeries would be made drastically easier. Genetic diseases such as Down’s syndrome, Tay-Sachs, and other diseases that were passed through families could be avoided through cloning of only healthy family members, until such time that gene therapy was available to cure the carriers altogether. Cancer, cystic fibrosis, spinal cord injuries, all sorts of diseases requiring transplants, and many more ailments may all be improved by cloning. (Smith 1998)
Considering the long list of medical advancements which cloning might enable, one would need a very good reason to justify not pursuing it as soon as possible. When the arguments presented against cloning are emotional appeals to the sanctity of human life and experience, then it may be very difficult to reconcile the emotional force of these arguments with the reality of what they protest. For example, research is currently underway regarding “synthetic” organs which could replace transplants from volunteer corpses. Those active in developing them suggest that someday “To create a liver or kidney or heart, a tissue engineer would withdraw correct cells from the cell bank, seed them into an organ framework, and grow the organ.” (Edwords 1999, 7) This will be an outcropping of cloning — a specific case of an individual’s DNA being cloned into stem cells that were prepared to grown into specific organs. The relationship between this lifesaving technology and the anti-cloning rhetoric based on the sanctity of life which seeks to forestall it somehow seems disconnected.
In closing, the arguments regarding biotechnology and the uniqueness and importance of human life become convoluted around competing ideas of a right to life. Do the rights and needs of those who are already alive and suffering outweigh the theoretical rights of a bundle of a hundred cells and some DNA? Both Judeo-Christian tradition and common sense say that they should. In many ways the arguments against these life saving technologies remind one of the arguments that took place between Jesus and the Pharisees, as he explained to them that even if God said that we should rest on the Sabbath and do no work, on this day he would still heal a blind man and give him sight. The rules regarding the Sabbath had been exaggerated and expanded through human invention until they interfered with the real work of God. In the same way modern Christianity’s conception of the rights of the unborn to life have been exaggerated and expanded until they no longer resemble the reality of the situation which is that any cell containing a little human DNA and not defunct is strictly “alive” and “human” — but that it take a soul: a mind and a heart and at least something of a body, to be human in the eyes of God or other men.
Conclusion: The Christian Manager in a Biotechnological World
So far in this work we have discussed two basic areas of biotechnology: biotechnology and its relationship to the Christian duty to feed the world, and biotechnology and its relationship to the Christian duty to heal the world. Whether in discussing creating chimerical plants and animals that could solve world hunger, or in defending the ways in which biotechnology, gene therapy, and stem cell research can help and heal, a great deal of justification for the application of biotechnology has been given. Hopefully these arguments are enough to equip any Christian manager in the biotechnology field with at least an idea how to answer the questions which will be posed to him or her. However, while the proceeding pages have made excellent argument for the necessity of biotechnology, they have not entirely and finally explained how it is to be managed. In running a biotechnology/pharmaceutical company, the manager has two important issues to be concerned about as a Christian. The first and foremost is staying true to Christian ethics. The second is to see how much profit can be made while maintaining those ethics.
In staying true to Christian ethics, there is a great balancing game to be performed, and the manager must balance his or her own personal faith and conviction on any given subject with the best interests of the company which may not be intrinsically bound to the same morality. For the moment, however, it is best just to look at issues of personal conviction. The first point that must be realized is that Christ gave us freedom from the old law. Now, this is not so much significant in terms of what the Mosaic law actually said about bioengineering, which is really very little (and this is why orthodox Jews tend to be more supportive of biotechnology than “orthodox” American Christians, because they continously reinforce their opinions with reference to the law which does not rule against it). What is significant is that this freedom must be understood not just as the Mosaic law, but of any law that is based in man’s wisdom rather than God’s — and this included modern public sentiment in regards to biotechnology. As humans we have freedom in Christ to explore biotechnology in faith and love.
The second point is that this freedom needs to be controlled to some degree. While open-minded Christian willing to read the Bible without conservative anti-technology prejudices might easily justify cloning as merely another step in the progression of mankind along the path of God. However, at the same time it is important to avoid the appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22 KJV) It is not the place of Christians to necessarily be pushing the envelope morally and creating scenarios which test the faith and moral standing of our weaker brethren. “When you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:12) In an area of study where emotions still runs so strong and so many countries are outlawing or strictly limiting human cloning, it may be the responsibility of the Christian corporation to abide by those laws. To the Christian in biotechnology it is certain true that, as the apostle said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.” (Romans 15:1) Throughout the New Testament especially Christians are called to moderate their behavior and their freedom so as not to offend other Christians or non-Christians. They are to “beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:9)
This study might indicate that the responsible biotechnology owner or manager would need to consider the degree to which its policies violate the conscience of the nation. While, for example, it might be legitimate to start cloning hearts and livers tomorrow, and full bodies the day after that, it might be a better if these things were discussed slowly and introduced slowly until they had gained a kind of foothold in the public conscience. The Christian manager needs to take care that his or her actions do not sear the conscience of the nation. There is nothing that is forbidden to do in biotechnology (so long as all subjects are consenting and treated according to the so-called Golden Rule which is drawn from the principles of Christ). However, there is a great deal that should be approached cautiously so as not to have a bad effect on the world. It is not for nothing that the Bible speaks of being gentle and doves and wise as serpents, for that is precisely the kind of peacemaking advice that the globe needs at this moment.
The second great challenge of being a manager within the biotechnology and pharmaceutical company today is the issue of money. Obviously as a manager of a corporation it is the entire function of this position to assure that everything is done properly and profitably, and also to have some guiding role in the decisions of the company. There is a great debate currently regarding the degree to which big corporations –particularly those involved in agriculture and medicine– profit from the suffering of third world countries and impoverished Americans. However, turning a profit from all circumstances is precisely the job description of a manager, and nothing else could be expected. What is necessary, though, is for the Christian manager to find a way to balance the demands of profit and the bottom line with the call from God to do good upon the earth. This is one area in which biotechnologists have some advantage because its products actually do a great deal of good.
There exists a strong Christian principle of giving freely to the needy which is part and parcel of the command to feed the hungry and heal the sick. It may be difficult to comprehend how this can be meshed with the dealing of pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms that by necessary function through the predations of capitalism. However, the end goal of bettering the world and giving some-for-nothing to the most impoverished while still turning a profit is not just a dream. The earlier cited story of Golden Rice was a perfect example not only of the success of biotechnology but also the success of biotechology corporations. The license for Golden Rice is made available free of charge for humanitarian uses in any developing nation or among farmers making less than $10,000 a year from the rice. Yet a profit may still be turned by farmers who make more money or those who are growing the rice for non-humanitarian purposes. This is precisely what one would want for a Christian-led corporation dedicated to the old valued of self-sacrifice and conversion through gifts.
So a Christian business leader in biotechnology and pharmaceutical may wish to considered some way for each of their products to both serve the poor and needy of the world while turning a profit from the well-off of the developed nations. This is particularly important in fields of medicine, where newly developed vaccines could mean the life or death for the impoverished. AIDS in Africa, for example, has been all over the news for some time now, and many people blame pharmaceutical companies for charging so much for the anti-virals necessary to keep HIV from turning into AIDS that few in Africa and no one on the streets in America can afford it without prostituting themselves and only spreading the disease farther. This has been a public relations nightmare for pharmaceutical companies, and one can imagine that a Christian-led company that could cheaply find a way to provide desperately needed cures to poor nations while charging those who could afford it would both receive the support of the world but also turn a profit.
The idea of profit combining with charity may, unfortunately, be slightly idealistic. It is best to keep in mind that according to the history of the early church recorded in the Bible and by the early fathers, a system of mutual support and worship was tried and failed. For centuries the church may have enforced a somewhat reciprocal (though hardly ideal) relationship between feudal masters and serfs, but the idea that corporations have some sort of Noblesse Oblige towards the under classes is hardly existent today. It may have been popular among Christians sixty or seventy years ago, but today most of the most religions political activists have no such opinion. The biggest members of the Christian Coalition, for example, support big business in its focus on profit and the bottom line. It seems that Church tradition has altered its stance regarding the role of money and profit in the life of Christians, and since one cannot seem to find in the Bible any references to corporations or corporate personages, then it is impossible to judge how one should be expected to behave in response to them apart from Church tradition.
While the Bible does not speak of corporations, it does set forth some basic rules for fair business. It appears that God has always valued business acumen and a mind for profit. It is said he hates weighted scales, which can easily be translated to become an understanding of how God supports the goal of a free market. While God forbid Jews to lend money at interest to other Jews, he had no such restrictions towards heathens. Likewise sharing the sacred supper and income was a ritual shared only among believers in the old church. It seems that consistently in the Bible God specifies that we are meant to support those who are close to us (within our church or are tribe) and make a profit from the remainder of the world. All this may simply go to say that corporations may in fact be justified in making a great profit from those in need, because this is their purpose.
The purpose of a Christian manager as a business person is to help the corporation make a profit; the purpose of a Christian manager as an individual of faith is to assure that the products he commandeers and the projects he creates are fulfilling the will of God and that his or her faith is shared through them. In the world of Biotechnology this is remarkably easy. A manager who guides the company towards projects which are not too offensive to the common morality so as not to cause weaker brethren to stumble will, it seems, also have good public relationships and more stable stock. A manager who guides the company towards projects which are useful for saving the world, whether that be through secret medical experimentation or through the creation of new miracle plants and animals, will both do good for the world when this creation is unleashed, but also reap the profits of that change.
It is vital then that the manager of biotechnology and pharmaceutical corporations, as a Christian, be aware of the debates on bioethics and be prepared to defend the furthest moral reaches of biotechnology (to which the company may someday aspire when public sentiment allows it to not be seen as a violation of common decency) and to understand the way in which biotechnology interacts with a vision for the restoration of God’s will on earth. Perhaps if enough of the next generation of biotechnologists are Christians and see the work of biotechnology both as a profitable thing and as way to act out their Christian duties, a new golden era of science may begin. Biotechnology holds the key to restoring humans to a state much closer to that of Adam and Eve in the original flawless bodies God made for them. Biotechnology holds the key to conservation and improvement of the physical world, and the spiritual life of humans. If the managers of biotechnology corporations could only impress that vision upon the church, one can only imagine how far unshackled technology could take the human race towards it maker.
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