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Shopping for Baby Features
by William E. Cripe, Sr.
Bill Cripe is senior pastor at Faith Evangelical Free Church in Waterville, Maine. He maintains ASCP certification as a registered medical technologist, and has been AIIA’s Resource Associate for Social and Ethical Issues since April, 2000.
If you’re a Sci-Fi buff you’ve probably seen the 1997 movie Gattaca. The futuristic plot line has Actor Ethan Hawke, having been born with less than perfect genetics, destined to janitorial work in a space program. Hawke, as Vincent Freeman, laments his fate, saying: “Whatever possessed my mother to put her faith in the hands of God rather than in the hands of geneticists? At the time of my birth, my death was precisely known.” The visual shows a scientist giving the percentages of likelihood for deficiencies from Attention Deficit Disorder to obesity to addiction.
Science Fiction? Now, a mere six years later, molecular biologist Mark Hughes (Newsweek, June 9, 2003) has perfected a technique for genetic screening right out of the movie. Hughes calls it “pre-implantation genetic diagnosis” (PGD), and it all began with the most honorable of intentions.
Molly Nash was born with Fanconi anemia. In order to save her life, her parents needed to have another child who was nearly an identical genetic match to Molly, from whom to obtain healthy marrow cells needed to help Molly fight infection. Through PGD, Hughes was able to help Molly’s parents give birth to a son with the right genetic makeup. Molly is now eight years old, the Nashes are one big happy family, and the children are doing well. Isn’t this a blessing from God?
Well, in order to obtain the “right” genetic structure of the child able to help Molly, her folks had to select the “right” embryo from all the other embryos they had created. For those who see life beginning at conception, those little embryos were little lives forfeited to obtain the one life that was allowed to progress on to birth.
QUESTION: But, so much good can be accomplished through PGD. Isn’t it a blessing to be able to avoid having a child with a major defect?
ANSWER: There may be some truth to this, but more problems are caused than solved. What constitutes a “major” birth defect? Does diabetes qualify as a major defect-or spina bifida? What about one leg being a bit shorter than the other? In the end, it’s not the out-come that is problematic; its the route to that outcome. Genetic research does not have to infringe on the sanctity of life. Research on cord blood stem cells, autologous stem cells (donated from the person themselves) and cadaveric stem cells (acquired from the deceased) have all shown promise in the area of genetic research.
QUESTION: But so much heartache could be avoided by knowing ahead of time that an embryo was “defective,” thus avoiding a problem. Shouldn’t the parents be able to decide?
ANSWER: Some parents become upset over the fact that they had a girl when they wanted a boy. Have we fallen so far from God that we are now actually willing to execute little image-bearers of God because they are not quite “right”? Just because we are able to do something doesn’t mean that we should do it!
I’ve prayed for each of my children and grandchildren to be born healthy and strong. But I have no right to demand certain characteristics of my children. That is a right reserved for the Creator alone.
One thing we are learning is that there is usually a down side to “benefits” derived from genetic research and engineering. Is it worth it just to select the color of our child’s eyes? Moreover, we have it wrong when we define life by the quality of our surroundings, our belongings, and our health. That is all very self-centered and humanistic. God sees this life quite differently. He is able to use heartaches for our good and His glory. It is only a sinful heart that demands a life of ease and pleasure as the intended ideal.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn captures the crux of the issue in these words from the heartache of the gulag in his book, Gulag Archipelago II: “The meaning of earthly existence is not, as we have grown used to thinking, in prosperity, but in the development of the soul.”
God desires to use all of the misfortunes and heartaches of life to do something supernatural. Anyone can rejoice when served a hot fudge sundae. It’s another thing to rejoice when you’re served eggplant.
“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
EDITOR’S NOTE: For further insight into such related technical issues as somatic gene therapy protocols and human germline gene modification, visit: