Friday, July 18, 2008

Do The Ends Justify The Means?

A London woman is carrying Great Britain's first baby guaranteed to be free of inherited breast cancer, but she had to eliminate several of her other embryonic offspring to do so.

Doctors used pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a controversial screening method, to determine which of the 11 embryos created by means of in vitro fertilization (IVF) had the gene that would have resulted in a female child having a 50 to 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer, according to The Times of London.

Six of the embryos tested positive for the gene and were rejected. Two embryos without the gene were implanted, producing a pregnancy of 14 weeks as of June 29. Two others were frozen, The Times reported.

The 27-year-old mother, who desires to remain anonymous, and her 28-year-old husband are fertile, but they chose IVF and PGD because of the prevalence of breast cancer on one side of the family. The husband had tested positive for the gene, known as BRCA-1.

You can read more here.

Some questions:
-Are embryos human?
-Morally is there anything wrong with what was done? Legally?
-What constitutes a human being?
-Should we be able to pick and choose our children?
-Is this justifiable in some scenarios but not others?
-If you were presented with this option (due to genetical tendencies) would you do it?
-Would you do this if no embroyos were harmed or killed?


Harlequin Heretic said...

Is an Embryo Human?

This is a hard question. It requires us to draw a timeline of when the combination of the egg and sperm take on a transformation that defines human life. Most people would agree that a sperm and egg alone couldn’t be human, but at what point after the zygote is formed do we consider this entity to be human? This is not an easy question. It requires both faith and reason to examine it. The most applicable field of science is is human embryology so I went to a credible site to look at diagrams of the embryo. Check it out:

Moral and Legal Issues

If you consider this to be a mass abortion then it is not illegal accept in one of the Dakotas (I forget which). Is it as immoral as abortion? Sort of, I mean it doesn’t have element of not accepting responsibility for your actions in terms of using abortion as birth control, i.e., sex without consequences. It does, however, have the element of humans dabbling in something sacred like life. That is contingent upon whether you define embryos as human beings. They are human in nature, but is that the same thing?

What Constitutes a Human Being?

As I mentioned earlier, this is not an easy question. However, look at some of those diagrams. Sure, the first three look more like a dinosaur, but I believe that is a characteristic that is true of all vertebrates: post anal tail, dorsal hollow nerve chord, notochord, etc. That aside, look at the eyes, and tell me that life is not there. It is a lot harder to dismiss something or someone when you have to look into their eyes.

Consider that we are made in the Divine Image. There is something about us that reflects G-d. Maybe because there is something in our make up, which is of G-d. We have a divine spark in our soul just as the Word of G-d has a divine spark that gives it life. That in and of itself should be enough to say that life is sacred. Shouldn’t it?

Should we be able to pick and choose our children?

This just seems unnatural, but so does stem cell research, and it can save lives. It (stem cell) is consistent with the Hippocratic oath. I also, wonder what the long term genetic effects are of playing with our own DNA. It may be harmless, but it could be bad. I just hope in a few hundred years humans can have normal children on their own. What if we evolve/adapt as a result of this for the worse, and our species were to become dependent procedures for having children? I am not postulating that I there is evidence to suggest this. It is just that we live in an age that churns out and disseminates new technologies well before we have exhausted ethical and scientific discussions of the long term ramifications.

Is this justifiable in some scenarios but not others?

Maybe, but only if the couple can’t have a healthy child without this procedure, but then it becomes a matter of fairness. I’m not sure I like that either. It seems that the more ethical thing would be to adopt a child that is already alive and needs a home.

If you were presented with this option (due to genetical tendencies) would you do it?

Without much more information, I couldn’t say for sure. As of now, I would lean against as a personal option. That said, I wouldn’t support denying others the right to choose it either.

Would you do this if no embroyos were harmed or killed?

If it ensured that my child was healthy it would be hard to pass up.

American Pluralism

It is hard in a pluralistic society to have the correct blend ethically, morally, and religiously inspired laws. If we, as Christians (I hope I make that assumption correctly here. If not, I apologize. No offense was intended.), want to have laws inspired by our scripture we don’t argue with it. If another belief system, say atheism, were try and do the same then we have a problem. It is usually the lack of religion and not religion that causes this issue. Judaism, Hinduism, and Bhuddism I believe all consider life to be sacred. I think Islam is that way as well, but I can’t quote any specific scripture. Beyond abortion this is an issue when the Islamic effort to have Shuriah (I may spell that wrong) courts comes into play. Even though our country is predominantly Christian, we are Americans, and that inherently means a certain amount of tolerance for others is necessary.

Do the Ends Justify the Means?

I have to cross over into abortion for a minute, because ethically it is a related topic that is more fleshed out. Some of the principles and arguments should be equally valid for this discussion. It is relevant to the extent that it involves the rights we have as far as what we can and cannot do with our own bodies, and how we define human life.

This is also a difficult question. It is easy to say that abortion is acceptable in instances of rape and incest but beyond that it is a bit more difficult. I have ethicists argue that the potential alone for human life necessitates a pro life stance. Others say that women’s rights should be the main point. This is where it becomes harder for men to get into the discussion. A baby for roughly nine months is a part of a women and it uses the resources of her body to survive. For this reason ethicists believe women alone should be able to make the decision.

Given that, this is about trying to bring life into the world and not destroy it, the argument needs tweaking. This actually may be worse. If you define an embryo as living human then this is like having several abortions simultaneously. Because of this you can’t even begin a discussion until a scientific definition of human life is decided upon. Furthermore, you can’t legally call it murder if we can’t answer that question as well. So far science has failed to answer it for us.

j razz said...

Is an Embryo human?

I think I would be hard pressed as a Christian to toss out the scriptures when it comes to discussing this issue. If scripture is indeed true and God did indeed know His children before the foundations of the world and knit us together in our mother's womb, there appears to be no contest when it comes to answering this question. If fertilized egg is left to itself in the womb, what becomes of it?

Of course, if I prescribe to a theology that holds the God as described in the Bible as being sovereign, then whatever happens was by His will, however we see time and time again in scripture that man is responsible for his actions while all the while God maintains His sovereignty. God used the Babylonians to crush Israel. Scripture states that the Babylonians were His hammer/weapon and in the very next section He prescribes judgement on Babylon for their actions- God is sovereign and we are responsible. So even though I prescribe to such a theology, it does not excuse our actions or thoughts such as "well, if it wasn't God's will, then He wouldn't let me have this abortion".

Should we be able to pick and choose our children?

It seems a little like playing God to me. I have heard stories from couples I know that were told their child would never live a normal life or would die within 3 weeks of birth. These prognoses were proven to be false- either by a miracle or by misinterpreting what was seen in ultrasounds and the like.

Don't hear me wrong, God allowed us to have medicines and doctors and surgery, but when we are willing to kill life "mercy killing" based on an opinion (however informed it may be) I think we are elevating ourselves to position of godhood that says we know better than the Lord who placed this child in the womb and new it before the foundations of the earth and has carefully knitted it together. Something just seems odd about that.

I think you bring up a good point concerning how we (world wide) jump into new technology, medicines, etc. without knowing fully the long term consequences of such actions. We still don't know the long term effects of mobile phones.

Thanks for the dialogue.

j razz

Harlequin Heretic said...

j razz,

I have to admit that if my own parents were to have this option that I could very well not be here either. I was born very prematurely. I weighed about 4.0lbs at birth and once the fluid was drained from my lungs and elsewhere I weighed about 2.5lbs. I have seen pictures from then, and i looked anything but healthy. May be some things are better left to G-d. David makes several references to the womb throughout Psalms. You make a good point in referencing it in Psalms 139. It makes me ask the question(s):

Are these references to the womb, an indication that the womb is a sacred place in our world?