July 18, 2010

On Being a Neighbor

We see this happen in media interviews all the time. They have come to be known as “gotchya” questions where the interviewer takes joy in setting up a scenario that the responder must either refuse to answer, or he is forced to stumble through the answer to the satisfaction of the interviewer and/or the audience. This is similar to the attempt to trip-up Jesus when asked which commandment is the greatest of them all. A Pharisee, and interestingly a lawyer, posed the question perhaps counting on Jesus to make a misstep and pit one precept against another. How then could Jesus claim to be any sort of authority? The Pharisees could take gratification in his lack of understanding and enjoy his public humiliation. But ultimate truth cannot be destroyed, even by a lawyer driven by an agenda of deception.

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July 16, 2010

CBHD Beyond Therapy Bioethics Conference

The 17th Annual Conference on Bioethics opened with Dr. William Hurlbut speaking on Embodiment, Biotechnology and Human Dignity. In it, he reminded the crowd that "bioethics is not a profession, it is a conversation for the whole human family"and the physician is really only "nature's assistant." For Dr. Hurlbut, human dignity is most evident in the face of Christ. Not in keeping with a proper view of human mortality, he quoted the mission of those for an unfettered biotech future. William Haseltine, head of Human Genome Sciences, stated: “The real goal is to keep people alive forever.”

Dr Brent Waters of Garrett Theological Seminary spoke on Late Modern Medicine and Bioethics, drawing our attention to the Creator-creation distinction and reminding us that it is good to be a creature, but being a creature comes with limitations that should be embraced, not overcome.
It is good to be a creature. To be a creature requires that we have a beginning and an end. A creature depends on its creator and fellow creatures. Our creaturely status reminds us that we are not God. When we tend to ignore our status as creatures, we tend to view ourselves as self-made beings.
In Being Human in a World of Digitized Reality and Artificial Life, Dr. Mike Sleasman, Managing Director of CBHD, walked us through the technological forecasts of Sir Robert Boyle and Sir Arthur C. Clarke, contemplating those things yet to be achieved. Sleasman well-articulated the problem of the "consumer doctrine of planned obsolescence."

To conclude the day, Dr. Dorothy Roberts of Northwestern University discussed Race and the New Biocitizen. In this very interesting talk, she  drew attention to a particular problem of unnecessary correlations between race and genetics, highlighting the FDA statements and marketing of certain phamaceutical to the african-american population.

To obtain recordings of these and other paper presentations, visit The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for more info. More highlights from the rest of the conference tomorrow!

July 5, 2010

Is IVF a Sin?

On an internet discussion board, several (Christian and non-Christian) have been interacting on the question of whether IVF is, according to Christianity, a sin. Without going into tremendous detail here, IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) is an artificial reproductive technology (ART) used to fertilize a woman's egg outside of her body and implant it into her uterus later. The process may move as quickly as having one egg fertilized and immediately implanted, or the process may be longer where several eggs are fertilized and 2-3 are implanted and several embryos stored for use another time. And then there are variations in between as well as some extreme circumstances like the so-called Octomom story of 1009. Some couples choose to have the embryos screened for genetic defects or gender, never implanting the "bad" ones. Others will freeze and store dozens of eggs, not knowing exactly what will become of them in the future. Some of the debate over embryonic stem cell research stems from the existence of hundreds of thousands of embryos that are currently in storage, many of which will never be claimed by their parents. Yes, I said parents.

So below is the discussion which caught my attention:
I don't know that IVF is a sin. I have issues with it, but they are only my opinion, and I have no Biblical reference for it or any other reference. Some of my issues include fertilization of numerous embryos: what do they do with the ones they don't implant? If they implant several embryos, what happens if they all implant? I know several people who were offered selective abortion, which I believe is wrong. And when it comes to choosing gender, I just think that is way wrong.
However, I would not presume to judge you for undergoing IVF. It is ultimately your choice. If you have prayed about it and strongly feel it is the right thing to do, then go for it. 

It's a good thing we don't make all of our decisions according to the few final words in this emotional recommendation. She believes there is something wrong with the use of IVF if it involves the creation of unused embryos, the destruction of embryos, or sex-selection. Her concern is rooted in the concept of human dignity, that life is precious and worthy of respect at every stage. Sadly, she does not explain that the embryo is a human at its earliest stage and destroying a tiny human person is to kill that person. If we think something is wrong, we ought to be able to say why, but perhaps she was driven by the higher moral principle to not judge. That one she claims without hesitation and it appears to be at the top of her moral hierarchy. Is this the kind of advice we should be giving for any questionable situation? "Pray about it and if it feels right...." ? Perhaps "continue to seek wisdom and knowledge from others AND continue to pray" is the better course.

So the question is, is IVF a sin? Let's rephrase it. Is killing another person a sin? If the technology involves the destruction of human embryos, we are in safe, though sad, territory identifying the act with an act of sin.