Engineering - II
As interns, we had a
busy obstetrical service. In a twenty-four hour period it was
not unusual to deliver twelve to fifteen babies. Since the
patients were almost entirely wives of young military men, most
deliveries were uneventful and routine. From that experience,
however, two deliveries stand out in my memory. First, a set of
twins had complications during labor on Christmas day, 1969, and
one died. With twins, complications are common and expected
(although rarely does death occur). The second delivery began
routinely. As the head extruded with the face down (the most
common presentation), I routinely used a bulb syringe to remove
mucus and amniotic fluid from the babyís mouth so that this
material would not be inhaled when he gasped and cried to begin
breathing. When I placed my finger in his mouth (which I could
not see because of his face down position), the delivery stopped
being routine. Where the upper lip was supposed to be, two deep
crevices were felt that extended far back into the mouth. After
the entire body was out and he could be turned over, I could
tell that he had a complete, bilateral cleft lip and palate. All
I could think about was breaking the news to the mother and the
number of surgeries that would be required to give some
normality to his appearance and function.
Genetic Repair: Present and Future Dangers
The correction of
genetic defects (genetic surgery) at both the somatic and germ
levels is the extension of medical practice to the deepest level
of the physical structure of the human being. For example,
phenylketonuria (PKU) is now treated with a special diet but in
the future the genetic defect that causes the enzyme deficiency
might be corrected. This gene surgery would be considerable more
effective since it would be a one-time instead of a lifetime
treatment. The ethical problems involved in this procedure are
1) Its potential unintended effects and 2) the determination of
what is a defect.
Paul Ramsey has raised
serious questions about the dangers of genetic repair. He
proposes to allow only the correction of defects that have no
cure or relief of symptoms and those that are devastating.1
For example, he would favor genetic repair of Tay-Sachs disease,
but not cystic fibrosis because some medical "relief" for this
problem is already available. The correction of diabetes would
be "immoral." More details of his positions are provided in this
book. The following will be a review of those issues in which
genetic repair faces the same ethical considerations as other
practices in medicine. Then, we will review issues that are
unique to genetic repair.
First, the use of
science to justify power over other people was been presented
under Eugenics. Conclusions then should be transposed here where
Second, the potential
effect on future generations is an area that has not been given
adequate ethical consideration. The effect of
diethylstilbesterol on the daughters of women who took it during
their pregnancy is one example.2 Worldwide, people
take enormous amounts of medication that have the potential for
untoward effects, including the alterations of their genes.
While genetic engineering may have more potential to affect
future generations, the problem is already with us and is
Third, the movement
from animal experiments to humans is an unavoidable sequence in
the development of new treatments. If current research and its
transfer to humans is ethical, then a proscription against
genetic repair on this basis is invalid.
Fourth, harmful effects
are a potential consequence of every type of treatment. The
efficacy of a treatment should always be weighed against its
beneficial effects. Again, medical ethicists give too little
attention to this area, especially since benefits of many (if
not most) medical treatments are overvalued while their
unintended effects are underestimated.3
Fifth, the greatest
difficulty is to draw the line between what is and is not a
defect. Even here, however, the problem is not new. Current
medical practice considers wrinkles, excess fat, sagging cheeks
and hips, large noses, and small breasts to be defects that can
be corrected by plastic surgery. The ethics of such procedures
have not (to my knowledge) been addressed from a biblical
perspective, so we will briefly review the subject here.
The Bible does not
place great value on oneís physical appearance, as God
strengthens a person through his "defects" (1 Sam. 15: God looks
at the heart; Is. 53: Christís figure was not appealing, 2 Cor.
12: Paulís weakness and appearance were not attractive). I am
not saying that cleft palates, esophageal atresias, severe
burns, skeletal contractures, and other anatomical defects that
cause disease and life-threatening disability should not be
corrected. Plastic surgery solely to enhance appearance,
however, would seem to have little biblical support.
Initial work in gene
surgery will not grapple with this issue because all current
proposals call for the correction of defects that are severely
debilitating and mean a shortened life span. It is a "nothing
could be worse" situation that is in view. If these attempts are
successful, however, the issue of enhancement will be upon us in
No definition of
"defect" will be adequate to cover all potential abuses of
genetic engineering, but one that is carefully constructed may
have some protective value. Eventually each defect must have
ethical review because of the many possible varieties.
I will attempt a moral
definition of what is and is not a defect. Likely, further
modification will be necessary, when and if these procedures
become a reality. Always, we must attempt to derive such
principles from the bible as consistently and thoroughly as
possible. A) The defect must have a genetic etiology, one or
more) that has been located at a specific site(s) on the human
chromosome. The correction of a defect that is caused by more
than one defective gene (polygenic) should be preceded by
considerable experience and success with defects that are caused
by a single gene (monogenic). B) The problem to be corrected
must be clearly a medical disease or deformity that would
otherwise require chronic medication or treatment. C) The
potential benefit must clearly outweigh any potential harmful
effects. D) The disorder must cause death prior to a "normal"
life span according to both biblical and natural occurrence.4
E) The disorder cause physical pain. Psychic pain would not
qualify because its criteria would be too vague to be practical.
F) The disorder must prevent the fulfillment of Godís
directives. Examples include the ability to work at some useful
task (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11), to contribute to the body of
Christ (1 Cor. 7:1-5). G) These criteria cannot override other
biblical principles. For example, one should not steal in order
to pay for the expense of genetic repair (which is likely to be
These criteria restrict
the use of genetic repair. We should not fool ourselves that,
just as with plastic surgery, what is done has a great deal to
do with the moral values and subjective interpretation of the
predominant medical or cultural worldview. We have seen Dr.
Andersonís category of enhancement of "normal" characteristics.
Elsewhere, I have discussed the relativity of "normality,"5
and Dr. Ramsey has accurately assessed how "repair" blurs into
"enhancement." Unless medical ethics takes a more conservative
direction, abuse of genetic engineering will surely occur. This
abuse may be no worse, however, than some current medical
abuses, such as abortion. The development of new technology
should not be prevented because of its potential for abuse. If
so, we would have to eliminate every procedure (medical and
otherwise) that we currently do, because a negative side to
every one exists!6
Seventh, the insertion
of the correct gene affects the total person. That is, genetic
insertion may correct the defect but cause some other adverse
condition because the whole is affected by the sum of its parts.
Currently, this point is only conjecture but who knows what
interaction among genes may occur when a substitute replaces a
gene to which the whole organism has already adjusted?
Eighth, grotesque human
deformities may be produced. Again, this problem has occurred in
medical practice. The most familiar examples are probably
thalidomide babies. With genetic engineering, as in nature,
severe genetic abnormalities are likely to be incompatible with
life. Thus, the "monsters" of science fiction are mostly
thatófiction. Still, if genetically treated babies did occur,
our standards against abortion and infanticide would still
prohibit their destruction: all the more reason to be quite
certain of what we are doing.
Cloning is the
reproduction of organisms with identical genes. Identical twins
or triplets (or more!) in humans is an example of cloning that
occurs naturally.7 Since every cell in a human body
contains all these genes of the individual, each cell has the
information to produce another identical body. As cells
differentiate into specialized tissues and organs, they lose
potential to produce all the other parts of the body, but a
mechanism mist be found to restore this ability and to produce
clones (whole organisms).
Another possible method
to make clones would be to extract the nucleus from the cell of
an adult and insert it into an enucleated egg that has been
found to have the capacity to grow into a whole organism.
Another method is to tap the potential in each embryonic cell
(up to the eight-cell stage) to develop into a complete
individual, each with the same genes. One of these cells could
be divided at the eight-cell stage, separated again, and the
whole process repeated ad infinitum. Dr. Duane Gish
discusses actual attempts at clone (that have not been
successful) and the inherent dangers in the process, including
the ridiculous claim by David Rorvik that a human being has been
cloned from a dead man.8
At first glance cloning
attractively offers a solution to many common problems.9
For example, individuals of great achievement in business, art,
science, law, and other disciplines could be duplicated, thus
offering more of their "greatness" to the world. Scientific
studies in humans could be simplified because the control of
most variable factors that are crucial to scientific endeavors
could be eliminated. Selection of desirable characteristics in
children by potential parents would be possible. Incompatibility
in organ transplantation would be eliminated because the genetic
structure of a donor and recipient could be identical. Teams of
people, such as astronauts, might work together more efficiently
with less friction in close environments.
These answers, however,
are not as simple as they first appear.10 Parents and
teachers of identical twins know how different they can be and
how they have conflicts with each other, as non-identical
brothers and sisters do. Before and after birth their exposure
to physical and psychological stimuli varies. Motivation and
discipline are also variables in a personís development and
It is really impossible
for two people to be raised entirely alike. Clones would have
their particular affect on each other, as identical twins and
triplets do. In his unique book Dr. George E. Vaillant describes
how people change markedly over a lifetime, some even to the
extent that their whole orientation to life is different.11
The greatest change
that can occur in a person is regeneration and sanctification.
By Godís power that person, an enemy of God (and therefore an
enemy to others and to himself), becomes a child of God whose
thinking and behavior begin to be conformed to the image of
Jesus Christ. Peter is one graphic example of this
transformation. Thus, the person from whom genes are taken one
point in his life may become quite a different person later
because of this re-birth. Who could tell which clones God might
pick for Himself?
limitations of cloning on the scientific level could be
described, but they do not seem necessary because the immorality
of cloning is clear. The argument is similar (that is, a cloned
argument!) to that against eugenics. Who determines value, that
is, the characteristics of the person to be cloned? Value is a
moral (spiritual) concept that has nothing to do with physical
attributes. Further, great power must be granted to those who
(think that they) know these values in order to manipulate
others according to their designs. A limited number of clones
would not be possible; these planners would have to be sure that
an entirely "balanced" world was programmed. Accidents or
failures to plan would be inexcusable according to their design.
Suppose a clone decided
to be a carpenter rather than the super-athlete that he was
programmed to be? What would be done with him? With the
difficulties that young people have choosing careers and the
dissatisfaction with oneís work that abounds, our world has a
wonderful balance that some have called a "division of labor."
In the traditional concept of vocation ("calling") God endows
each person with characteristics that differ sufficiently to
carry out his creation mandates. Surely no man (or men) has the
ability to plan vocations for the entire world! Only God can do
that. Science fails often in its prophetic role with nuclear
energy, population control, public education, and welfare. How
dare it attempt to master the hopes and dreams of the entire
existence of abortion makes cloning seem ludicrous. The fifty
million "workers" aborted each year could surely supply whatever
additional skills and services the world needs, given a free
society in which they may pursue their "callings."
Interface of Genetics and the Spiritual Realm
Most, and perhaps all,
variations in physical characteristics (phenotypes) can be
explained on the basis of current knowledge about genetics.
Still, we cannot ignore the biblical fact that man has both a
body and a soul from the moment of conception.12 In
fact, pro-life Christians fail to establish an adequate basis
for individual human life beginning at conception unless they
include the argument for the presence of the soul.13
Eve was not created in the sense that Adam was. In fact, God has
not created anything since the first week of Creation except for
the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and the regeneration of
believers (2 Cor. 5:17).14 Thus, the physical
characteristics of all subsequent people were present in Adamís
are difficult to explain unless one postulates Godís active
intervention in the genetic process. Perhaps the most difficult
to explain is racial distinctions. We have a clear account of
the origin of languages and the impetus for migration of peoples
all over the earth (Gen. 11:1-9). Were there racial distinctions
prior to that time or did God activate/de-activate certain genes
when He caused changes in their language? We do not know because
God has not revealed it. We must not, however, back off from
such difficulties. WE must strive to harmonize science with
Scripture, being careful always to give the priority to
Scripture. Concerning the origin of racial distinctions Dr.
Arthur Custance has given one explanation on the basis of known
That God does actively
intervene in genetic inheritance seems to have happened when
Jacob bred Labanís flocks (Gen. 30:31-43). Jacob knew that
even in a flock of
solid-colored animals there would be some that were what
modern geneticists called "heterozygous"óthat is, they had
within their genetic endowment the ability to produce a
small proportion of off-colored progeny. Many, of course,
were "homozygous" and when two homozygous animals mated,
they could produce only the dominant coloration in their
By random election many
more solid-colored progeny than off-colored should result. In
this case, however, many more of the off-colored were born.
Though Jacob could
not know which of the goats and sheep were heterozygous, God
knew, and He saw to it that only these mated with the
homozygous animals (or with each other) so that a much
greater proportion than normal turned out to be
ring-streaked, spotted, and speckled. God later revealed to
Jacob in a dream that this is exactly what had happened
Modern Humanists base
all inheritable characteristics on genetic influence because
they believe that physical reality is the only
reality. Christians, however, should consider it possible to
attribute some characteristics to the spiritual component of
man. There are only two options: either every personís spirit is
identical and only the physical component is different
(including the genes) or both the physical component and the
spirit are different. Id does not seem tenable to believe that
God used but one mold for our spiritual side while making all
If our spirits differ,
then at least some human characteristics must be attributable to
the influence of that spiritual component. As genetic research
continues, we must be careful to remember that each person is
affected by his spirit, as well as his genes, even though the
separation of the influence of each may not be clear. For
example, the differences in identical twins are not necessarily
due to the slight variation in their genes. It may also be due
to qualities in their spirits. Thus, in twins separated at
birth, all differences cannot be attributed solely to their
different environments, as is usually concluded.
God is continuously
active in His universe: "Öfor in Him (God) we live and move, and
have our beingÖ" (Acts 17:28a, KJV). "ÖHe (Christ) upholds all
things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3b). Theologically,
this activity is called Godís Preservation.17 By
inclusion, His continuing activity must be present in genetic
processes as well.
Dr. Lawrence Dillon, a
genetic scientist, seems to have more insight than most. He sees
the necessity to account for an ordering mechanism for the
complex events that occur within cells.18 Many who
are knowledgeable of the microscopic functions of the cell know
that all cellular processes cannot be explained on the basis of
genetic coding alone. Something instructs the genes themselves
when to "turn on and off." Like a light switch, they cannot do
it themselves. Dr. Dillon has called this ordering mechanism,
the "Supramolecular Genetic Mechanism." (This mechanism also has
been called "dauermodification."19) Many genetic
scientists do not agree with Dillonís analysis, but the
complexity of cellular processes and the Doctrine of
Preservation demands some explanation of this activity within
It would be an
overstatement to say that the Supramolecular Genetic Mechanism
is Godís Preservation within cells. It would be accurate,
however, to say that no matter what becomes known in the future,
it will always be necessary to reckon with Godís ordering of His
Creation. To say that we will eventually have all the answers to
all these unknown mechanisms, is to ignore the results of
scientific investigations. "New" knowledge always ends with more
questions than it answers, a trend characteristic of scientific
investigation since it began. There is no reason to believe that
we will now begin to answer more questions without
simultaneously increasing the number of questions.
Some Christians have
taken the position, as scientific knowledge has advanced, that
god accounts for the "gaps" in that knowledge. As this knowledge
has increased, God has been relegated to smaller and smaller
"gaps." The true biblical position is that God preserves His
creation and explains the "why" of all phenomena. For
example, why do two bodies in the universe attract each other?
To say their attraction is inherent in matter is to describe,
not to explain, it. The Christian rules out chance when he says
that, at creation, God declared that such an attraction should
exist. Further, God is continuously active in His universe. The
argument, here, is biblical and logical (neither is inconsistent
with the other when both are understood and applied properly20).
The biblical evidence has already been presented.
The logical argument
lies between the Deist and Theist positions. Deists hold that
God created the universe, set it in motion, and now passively
refuses to intervene in any way. Orthodox Christians have never
considered Deism valid. Theism is based upon the above truths,
logical conclusions of many verses, and miracles such as
the crossing of the Red Sea and the "signs and wonders" of the
Incarnate Jesus Christ that have occurred when God has
intervened in the course of history. Further, if God is
omnipotent, then He cannot "give up" His power at any time. That
is to say, any "effect," no matter how indirect or secondary,
has its ultimate "cause" I God Himself. Otherwise, He would be
conditioned by that very power that He had given up and would at
that point be less than omnipotent! While my comments about this
topic have been brief, you will find that Dr. Henry Morris has
discussed the relationship between the power (energy) in the
universe and Godís power.21
If God is everywhere
actively present, then He is also active in the process of all
living things. One manifestation of His presence is in animals
and in man as soul or spirit (different words for the same
entity22). Of course, a qualitative difference exists
between the soul/spirit of animals and that in man because man
is made in the image of God and descended from Adam (see
previous chapter). This difference is particularly applicable to
Godís preservation in genetic engineering.
The ultimate question
in genetic engineering is, "Can a man be constructed entirely
(both cytoplasm and chromosomes) from simple biochemicals?" If
he could, would he have a soul?23 One eminent
Christian scientist, Dr. A. E. Wilder-Smith, believes that this
"creation" would have a soul.24 It would seem
however, that his conclusion is highly unlikely because the
cellular processes are far more complex than have been thought.
contend that such a construction of either plant, animal, or man
from biochemicals alone is impossible.
Scientists have long
recognized that living things have a unique quality, lacking in
inorganic matter. Creation scientists (Christians who do not
believe that some evolutionary process must account for
"scientific" evidence of long periods of time, such as fossils
and radioactive dating), like scientists before the theory of
evolution was postulated, believe that this unique
characteristic is sufficient to say that life cannot arise
spontaneously from non-life.25 I carry their
principle one step further: animal and human life cannot be
constructed from simple biochemicals alone. Thus, the design
of man can be generated only be Godís special creation, natural
procreation from other life, or the manipulation of the nucleus
and cytoplasm of living cells that already exist. The
presence of life must have a quality imparted to it that only
God can give. For animals and man that explanation would seem to
be the soul/spirit.
For plants that quality
is not clear. Still, as Dillon has postulated, something must
control and coordinate the complex processes even within plant
cells. These complex actions seem to preclude the mere
assembling of these biochemicals together. Morris postulates
that plants are not alive in the "biblical sense."26
His argument is based upon the "silence" of Scripture. That is,
the Bible makes no explicit statement that plants have a soul,
as it does concerning men and animals. Such arguments from
silence are speculative. Even if plants do not have a soul in
the biblical sense, they still possess some quality that is not
present in inorganic materials and that was specially created
"in the beginning."27 Any assembly of plants by man
that had the same biochemical structure as a living cell would
still lack the quality that carries on its functional processes.
The next problem is how
this "life controlling function" becomes present in offspring.
In man this concept is the heart of the traducianism vs.
creationism debate. Creationism here refers to the
theological position that the soul of each person is specially
created by an act of God at the moment of conception and must be
distinguished from the creationism that is concerned with
origins (cosmology). Traducianism is the position that
the soul is propagated from the parents. It is my belief that
traducianism is by far the stronger of the two positions.28
There are several reasons, but I mention only two. First,
creationism requires that God create a sinful soul.
Orthodox Christians teach that manís guilt is two-fold:
federally in Adam as he represented the human race, and
personally within himself, as a sinful disposition leading to
sinful acts. Second, God completed His work in six days and
rested on the seventh (Gen. 2:2; Ex. 20:11). That is, He stopped
creating. (Jesus Christís body was specially created at His
incarnation, but His Incarnation was unique in history.29)
understanding of biological inheritance favors traducianism. All
the characteristics of the offspring are transmitted from the
parents either through cellular components (DNA and structures
in the cytoplasm). If, as we have proposed, the infused quality
that gives life to non-living matter is spirit (soul) in animals
and man, then this quality would also be transferred to the
offspring. In humans this quality could include a regenerate or
unregenerate soul. Traducianism is more consistent with the
As should be apparent,
these arguments are not "essentials" of the faith. Perhaps
creationists and truducianists will never convince each other.
Further, Dr. E. A. Wilder-Smith may be right that such a unity
has been created by God between a particular arrangement of
basic biochemicals and an associated life "energy," that upon
the creation of the former, the creation of the latter is
These are questions
for serious debate. Anyone who says that science will or
will not achieve a goal had better be prepared to be proven
wrong. Sometimes science requires a re-thinking of biblical
interpretations as the challenge of the Copernican theory did.
While science is not a source of truth found in the Bible, it
may expose conclusions wrongly derived there from. Most likely,
we will have to wait many years for science to identify all the
building blocks of life forms (if it ever does), and in
particular, those in man. But the question of how to treat these
"created" beings ought to be addressed beforehand by our
best theologians and laymen to help determine whether our
reasoning here is consistent with the most tenable biblical
references are continued from "Genetic Engineering - I."
See that article for complete bibliographic information that is
not recorded here.
1. Ramsey, "The Issues
Facing Mankind," 42.
Biblical/Medical Ethics, 44-5.
(fraternal) twins result from the fertilization of two eggs with
two sperm. Obviously, the chromosomes of each pair are going to
be considerably different.
Manipulating Life, 155-188.
9. Jones, Brave New
People, 100-101; Ramsey, Fabricating Man, 68-72;
Anderson, Genetic Engineering, 101-114.
Manipulating Life, 59-60.
Adaptation to Life.
Biblical/Medical Ethics, 144-152.
13. Randolph, God Is
15. Custance, "The
Widening Circle," 126-129.
16. Morris, The
Biblical Basis, 385-387.
Systematic Theology, 169-171.
18. Dillon, The
Inconstant Gene, v-vi, 433-446.
"Dauermodifications in Man," 219-249.
20. Clark, Logic,
21. Morris, The
Biblical Basis of Modern Science, 221-231 and Morris,
Studies in the Bible and Science, 45-57.
Biblical/Medical Ethics, 76-79.
Manipulating Life, 173.
24. He conveyed this
belief to me in a private conversation, but he may have said it
in print in one of his many books.
The Natural Sciences.
26. Morris, The
Biblical Basis of Modern Science, 90.
Alive: An Enquiry, 81-102. Verbrugge explains Herman
Dooyeweerdís theory of "functors." These entities are systems
(such as cells) that function according to their own "idionomy"
or laws that are unique to their system. The only explanation
for these functors is that God created them to function as they
do. When the system is broken (for example, a cell membrane is
punctured), the functor ceases to exist and becomes subject to
the random laws of non-living matter.
28. Clark, The
Biblical Doctrine of Man, 45.
29. Randolph, "God Is
Pro Life," 16-17.