Genetic Engineering, Human Identity and the Body of - Colloquium

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GENETIC ENGINEERING, HUMAN IDENTITY,
AND THE BODY OF CHRIST1
John A. Henley
Master of Queen?s College
University of Melbourne
Introduction
Since Dolly the sheep made her appearance in Edinburgh a few years ago cloning hasbecome one of the more contentious bioethical issues. The replication of an individualcell or entity that cloning involves, however, is just one form of medical technology
made possible by advances in the science of genetics in recent decades. Anotherwhich arouses concern is the use of in vitro fertilization to determine the sex or other
characteristics of a child. In the space of one week near the beginning of October1999, for example, ?The Age? newspaper in Melbourne considered it necessary todevote two editorials to these issues and the day after the second of these it publishedan article by Rachel Gibson under the slightly alarming heading, ?Choosing the sexof your baby is just the beginning.?
It is my contention that Christians are ill equipped to respond appropriately to
developments such as cloning and sex selection until they have addressed somedeeper issues raised by genetic technology. In particular, I think that the manipulative
capabilities of this technology require Christians to reconsider who we believe weare and who or what we are called to become. In support of this contention it is worthnoting at the outset that the developments under scrutiny provoke somethingapproaching revulsion on the part of many people. Both the editor of ?The Age? andRachel Gibson give expression to this. On 30 September the former wrote as follows:
The kind of cloning that has as its intention the creation of a person identical toanother is intuitively repugnant to most people. But many people would also be
1
This article seeks to develop some thoughts I first expressed in ?Hard copy or good news?Genetic engineering and the Gospel?. In Beyond Mere Health: Theology and Health Care
in a Secular Society edited by Hilary D. Regan, Rodney B. Horsfield, Gabrielle L. McMullen
(Melbourne: Australian Theological Forum, 1996) 127-144. Some of the material in theearlier article is replicated in this one.
GENETIC ENGINEERING, HUMAN IDENTITY,
AND THE BODY OF CHRIST1
John A. Henley
Master of Queen?s College
University of Melbourne
Introduction
Since Dolly the sheep made her appearance in Edinburgh a few years ago cloning hasbecome one of the more contentious bioethical issues. The replication of an individualcell or entity that cloning involves, however, is just one form of medical technology
made possible by advances in the science of genetics in recent decades. Anotherwhich arouses concern is the use of in vitro fertilization to determine the sex or other
characteristics of a child. In the space of one week near the beginning of October1999, for example, ?The Age? newspaper in Melbourne considered it necessary todevote two editorials to these issues and the day after the second of these it publishedan article by Rachel Gibson under the slightly alarming heading, ?Choosing the sexof your baby is just the beginning.?
It is my contention that Christians are ill equipped to respond appropriately to
developments such as cloning and sex selection until they have addressed somedeeper issues raised by genetic technology. In particular, I think that the manipulative
capabilities of this technology require Christians to reconsider who we believe weare and who or what we are called to become. In support of this contention it is worthnoting at the outset that the developments under scrutiny provoke somethingapproaching revulsion on the part of many people. Both the editor of ?The Age? andRachel Gibson give expression to this. On 30 September the former wrote as follows:
The kind of cloning that has as its intention the creation of a person identical toanother is intuitively repugnant to most people. But many people would also be
1
This article seeks to develop some thoughts I first expressed in ?Hard copy or good news?Genetic engineering and the Gospel?. In Beyond Mere Health: Theology and Health Care
in a Secular Society edited by Hilary D. Regan, Rodney B. Horsfield, Gabrielle L. McMullen
(Melbourne: Australian Theological Forum, 1996) 127-144. Some of the material in theearlier article is replicated in this one.
126COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)126COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
disturbed by the creation of embryos for the purpose of experimentation or to createcomponent human body parts.
With regard to sex selection Rachel Gibson finds: ?
There is something faintly obscene about the idea of wealthy fertile couples paying$10,000 a pop for IVF treatment to produce a designer baby of the sex of their choice.Perhaps it is because we find the use of valuable resources for such seeminglyinsignificant causes contemptible. Or maybe it is because we cannot stomach thenotion that human life can be considered so inherently worthless that a perfectlyhealthy embryo can be discarded simply because it is the wrong sex.
Genetic engineering
Before going any further the different kinds of procedure rendered possible by genetictechnology should be identified. Drawing on articles published six years ago by aChristian medical scientist, Gareth Jones2, these appear to consist of:
.
germ line gene therapy, the manipulation of embryonic cells around the time of
fertilisation, which Jones considered to be more of a future possibility than a presentreality;
.genetic screening, which may lead to counselling couples about their reproductive
options or to selective abortion;
.somatic cell gene therapy, which aims to neutralise the effects of defective genes or
to replace them with healthy ones; and..the genome project, which seeks to ?map? the genetic constitution of human
beings in the sense both of identifying each and every gene and of showing what itleads to and how it interacts with others to develop the characteristics of the
human person; and which is nearing completion in 2001 some two yearsahead of schedule.
2
D. Gareth Jones, ?Gene Therapy?, Faith and Freedom 3:1 (March 1994) 4-8 and
?Manipulating Human Life?, Colloquium 26:1 (May 1994) 17-31. Much of the material
in the former is included in the latter and it is the latter to which I shall refer by means ofpage numbers indicated in parentheses in the main text.
disturbed by the creation of embryos for the purpose of experimentation or to createcomponent human body parts.
With regard to sex selection Rachel Gibson finds: ?
There is something faintly obscene about the idea of wealthy fertile couples paying$10,000 a pop for IVF treatment to produce a designer baby of the sex of their choice.Perhaps it is because we find the use of valuable resources for such seeminglyinsignificant causes contemptible. Or maybe it is because we cannot stomach thenotion that human life can be considered so inherently worthless that a perfectlyhealthy embryo can be discarded simply because it is the wrong sex.
Genetic engineering
Before going any further the different kinds of procedure rendered possible by genetictechnology should be identified. Drawing on articles published six years ago by aChristian medical scientist, Gareth Jones2, these appear to consist of:
.
germ line gene therapy, the manipulation of embryonic cells around the time of
fertilisation, which Jones considered to be more of a future possibility than a presentreality;
.genetic screening, which may lead to counselling couples about their reproductive
options or to selective abortion;
.somatic cell gene therapy, which aims to neutralise the effects of defective genes or
to replace them with healthy ones; and..the genome project, which seeks to ?map? the genetic constitution of human
beings in the sense both of identifying each and every gene and of showing what itleads to and how it interacts with others to develop the characteristics of the
human person; and which is nearing completion in 2001 some two yearsahead of schedule.
2
D. Gareth Jones, ?Gene Therapy?, Faith and Freedom 3:1 (March 1994) 4-8 and
?Manipulating Human Life?, Colloquium 26:1 (May 1994) 17-31. Much of the material
in the former is included in the latter and it is the latter to which I shall refer by means ofpage numbers indicated in parentheses in the main text.
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING127
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING127
Now, in what follows, I do not propose to talk in detail about any of these
developments but rather, as Jones does in his two articles, to make some general
remarks about a Christian approach to dealing with them. The first thing to note, ofcourse, is just how wrong Jones was, only six years ago, in suggesting that themanipulation of embryonic cells was more or less remote. Although more is currentlybeing done with animal than with human embryos, the possibility of cloning thelatter, especially for the therapeutic sake of a relative, is certainly attracting both
scientific and ethical attention.
Expressions of concern
While there is reason to be alarmed at the rapidity of these developments, some alsofeel horrified at their very nature. Jones seems to think that this sense of revulsioncan be readily dismissed because the ways in which it tends to find expression ? intalk about humans ?playing God? or interfering with nature - are fully susceptible torational refutation.
He takes the suggestion that use of the new technology amounts to ?playing
God? to mean that humans are usurping powers beyond what is appropriate to us,trespassing on what he calls ?forbidden territory?. In rebuttal, he only considers itnecessary to point out that from a Christian point of view we humans are made inGod?s image and likeness so that, despite our sinfulness, it is appropriate for us to
?demonstrate a great deal of his creativity and inquisitiveness. We are to exercise
control over the created order, and this is to be done in a responsible fashion. Humans
as scientists are humans as God?s images, probing and thrusting into the creation,
attempting to understand it and make it accountable to God?s stewards. Within the
medical sphere, the desire is to exercise at least limited control over evil in the form ofdisease, disease that would ravish and destroy all that is beautiful and worthy inGod?s world.? As has just been mentioned, he does not ignore the Christian conviction
that human sinfulness renders us less than perfect images of our creator ? ?tarnishedimages? as he put it. So scientists may be ?arrogant and unworthy? and display littlepersonal concern for human welfare but these failings, he claims, cannot ?negate theoverall thrust of much of scientific advance, genetic advance in this instance? (pp.26-27).
His argument is hardly convincing, especially when one notes with James
Gustafson that there are several ways in which it may be considered appropriate forhuman beings to exercise responsibility to a transcendent God for ?the world ofnature?. These range from what Gustafson describes as a kind of despotism at oneextreme through dominion and stewardship to a quiescent submission at the
Now, in what follows, I do not propose to talk in detail about any of these
developments but rather, as Jones does in his two articles, to make some general
remarks about a Christian approach to dealing with them. The first thing to note, ofcourse, is just how wrong Jones was, only six years ago, in suggesting that themanipulation of embryonic cells was more or less remote. Although more is currentlybeing done with animal than with human embryos, the possibility of cloning thelatter, especially for the therapeutic sake of a relative, is certainly attracting both
scientific and ethical attention.
Expressions of concern
While there is reason to be alarmed at the rapidity of these developments, some alsofeel horrified at their very nature. Jones seems to think that this sense of revulsioncan be readily dismissed because the ways in which it tends to find expression ? intalk about humans ?playing God? or interfering with nature - are fully susceptible torational refutation.
He takes the suggestion that use of the new technology amounts to ?playing
God? to mean that humans are usurping powers beyond what is appropriate to us,trespassing on what he calls ?forbidden territory?. In rebuttal, he only considers itnecessary to point out that from a Christian point of view we humans are made inGod?s image and likeness so that, despite our sinfulness, it is appropriate for us to
?demonstrate a great deal of his creativity and inquisitiveness. We are to exercise
control over the created order, and this is to be done in a responsible fashion. Humans
as scientists are humans as God?s images, probing and thrusting into the creation,
attempting to understand it and make it accountable to God?s stewards. Within the
medical sphere, the desire is to exercise at least limited control over evil in the form ofdisease, disease that would ravish and destroy all that is beautiful and worthy inGod?s world.? As has just been mentioned, he does not ignore the Christian conviction
that human sinfulness renders us less than perfect images of our creator ? ?tarnishedimages? as he put it. So scientists may be ?arrogant and unworthy? and display littlepersonal concern for human welfare but these failings, he claims, cannot ?negate theoverall thrust of much of scientific advance, genetic advance in this instance? (pp.26-27).
His argument is hardly convincing, especially when one notes with James
Gustafson that there are several ways in which it may be considered appropriate forhuman beings to exercise responsibility to a transcendent God for ?the world ofnature?. These range from what Gustafson describes as a kind of despotism at oneextreme through dominion and stewardship to a quiescent submission at the
128COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
128COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
other.3However extreme the control advocated by Jones, it is simply the assertion of
the project of medical science.
A similar criticism can be made of his dismissal of those who object to genetic
technology for?interfering with nature?. He suggests that humans have ?intrudedinto nature throughout recorded history so that the crucial ethical and spiritualquestions must be whether these intrusions ?enhance or diminish the humancondition? and ?whether they enhance or diminish our ability to respond to God andto appreciate the world? he has created and sustains. Given that medicine hastraditionally sought to relieve genetically based human disabilities, he thinks itsuffices to indicate that recent and current developments in this field only enhanceour ability to do so (pp. 27-28).
This kind of argument misses the mark. Jones would have been well advised to
reflect on a point made some years ago by Richard McCormick SJ in relation toartificial insemination as well as ?more drastic reproductive interventions?. McCormickwarned his readers that expressions of concern such as those dismissed by Jones aremisunderstood if they are simply taken at face-value. They are rather to be treated asindications of a deeply felt unease which, in the case of new reproductive technology,
suggests that separating love making (or at least sexual intercourse) from baby-making is an unwarranted disturbance of the appropriate order of things4.
Appreciation of the point made by McCormick should not be taken as an
endorsement of his interpretation of natural law. For a sense of disturbance is no
proof of right or wrong unless one can be sure that what is being upset is an orderwhich is unambiguously good. The capacity of historical beings to deliver suchcertainty is greatly to be doubted and the theory of natural law remains significant,not because it confirms the universal truth of catholic teaching, but because it canalert us to concerns of cultural depth, if not width, which we ignore at our peril.
In the remainder of this article I want to explore the concern about genetic
engineering in four ways, or at four levels, by looking at:-(i)the distinction between good and bad uses of the new knowledge andtechnology i.e. between use and abuse,
(ii)the value to be placed on knowledge and the power(s) it confers on ?us?(albeit only on some of us),
other.3However extreme the control advocated by Jones, it is simply the assertion of
the project of medical science.
A similar criticism can be made of his dismissal of those who object to genetic
technology for?interfering with nature?. He suggests that humans have ?intrudedinto nature throughout recorded history so that the crucial ethical and spiritualquestions must be whether these intrusions ?enhance or diminish the humancondition? and ?whether they enhance or diminish our ability to respond to God andto appreciate the world? he has created and sustains. Given that medicine hastraditionally sought to relieve genetically based human disabilities, he thinks itsuffices to indicate that recent and current developments in this field only enhanceour ability to do so (pp. 27-28).
This kind of argument misses the mark. Jones would have been well advised to
reflect on a point made some years ago by Richard McCormick SJ in relation toartificial insemination as well as ?more drastic reproductive interventions?. McCormickwarned his readers that expressions of concern such as those dismissed by Jones aremisunderstood if they are simply taken at face-value. They are rather to be treated asindications of a deeply felt unease which, in the case of new reproductive technology,
suggests that separating love making (or at least sexual intercourse) from baby-making is an unwarranted disturbance of the appropriate order of things4.
Appreciation of the point made by McCormick should not be taken as an
endorsement of his interpretation of natural law. For a sense of disturbance is no
proof of right or wrong unless one can be sure that what is being upset is an orderwhich is unambiguously good. The capacity of historical beings to deliver suchcertainty is greatly to be doubted and the theory of natural law remains significant,not because it confirms the universal truth of catholic teaching, but because it canalert us to concerns of cultural depth, if not width, which we ignore at our peril.
In the remainder of this article I want to explore the concern about genetic
engineering in four ways, or at four levels, by looking at:-(i)the distinction between good and bad uses of the new knowledge andtechnology i.e. between use and abuse,
(ii)the value to be placed on knowledge and the power(s) it confers on ?us?(albeit only on some of us),
3
James M Gustafson, A Sense Of The Divine: The natural environment from a theocentric
perspective (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994) 78.
4
Richard A McCormick, SJ How Brave A New World? Dilemmas In Bioethics (London:
SCM, 1981) 320-321; cf. 327-328.
3
James M Gustafson, A Sense Of The Divine: The natural environment from a theocentric
perspective (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1994) 78.
4
Richard A McCormick, SJ How Brave A New World? Dilemmas In Bioethics (London:
SCM, 1981) 320-321; cf. 327-328.
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING129
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING129
(iii)the issue of planning or control, i.e. the extent to which the new powerscan and should be used to determine our future or seal our fate, and
(iv)the importance of knowing oneself or of belonging in and to a body.
The uses of technology
The distinction between use and misuse of the new technology seems quite clear tosome people. Jones states, for example, that ?there is a considerable moral chasmbetween gene therapy to treat disease (such as cancer or heart disease) and genemanipulation to alter behaviour or morality?, ie. between ?therapy and the alleviationof disease on the one hand, and eugenics and enhancement on the other (p. 28). Inthis connection, however, it must be pointed out that one of the justifications he
gives for human interference with nature is precisely the enhancement of humanpowers it confers (p. 27). If we are going to put matters this way, it will prove very
difficult to maintain the kind of moral distinction between therapy and eugenics thathe advocates. In other words, we may well find ourselves on a slippery slope wheretherapeutic enhancement of the human condition leads almost inevitably to eugenicenhancement.
The other editorial I have mentioned in ?The Age? begins by making precisely
this observation.
In vitro fertilisation technology has been a blessing for thousands of previously childlesscouples. But its increasing sophistication carries with it many dangers in an age ofuntrammelled consumerism. In the United States, couples with no reproductiveproblems are opting for ?designer babies?. They scan catalogues of commercial spermand egg donors and pick their baby?s biological inheritance on the basis of the seller?s
looks, intelligence, sporting ability or other desired traits. Soon, geneticists say, it will
be possible to detect and eliminate foetuses that have unattractive features such astheir family?s tendency towards big noses. In the Unites States, a poll found that 11
per cent of Americans would abort a foetus that they knew was predisposed towardsobesity.
The basic reason for such risks, of course, is the flawed condition of human
beings, which Jones himself acknowledges but which he considers to be quite limitedin its effects and certainly no threat to the positive thrust of scientific development.This judgment is, at best, disarmingly superficial, at worst it is dangerously na?ve.Closer to the mark is the judgment of those theologians in the Reformed traditionespecially who point out the evil or harm that attaches itself to even the best of
(iii)the issue of planning or control, i.e. the extent to which the new powerscan and should be used to determine our future or seal our fate, and
(iv)the importance of knowing oneself or of belonging in and to a body.
The uses of technology
The distinction between use and misuse of the new technology seems quite clear tosome people. Jones states, for example, that ?there is a considerable moral chasmbetween gene therapy to treat disease (such as cancer or heart disease) and genemanipulation to alter behaviour or morality?, ie. between ?therapy and the alleviationof disease on the one hand, and eugenics and enhancement on the other (p. 28). Inthis connection, however, it must be pointed out that one of the justifications he
gives for human interference with nature is precisely the enhancement of humanpowers it confers (p. 27). If we are going to put matters this way, it will prove very
difficult to maintain the kind of moral distinction between therapy and eugenics thathe advocates. In other words, we may well find ourselves on a slippery slope wheretherapeutic enhancement of the human condition leads almost inevitably to eugenicenhancement.
The other editorial I have mentioned in ?The Age? begins by making precisely
this observation.
In vitro fertilisation technology has been a blessing for thousands of previously childlesscouples. But its increasing sophistication carries with it many dangers in an age ofuntrammelled consumerism. In the United States, couples with no reproductiveproblems are opting for ?designer babies?. They scan catalogues of commercial spermand egg donors and pick their baby?s biological inheritance on the basis of the seller?s
looks, intelligence, sporting ability or other desired traits. Soon, geneticists say, it will
be possible to detect and eliminate foetuses that have unattractive features such astheir family?s tendency towards big noses. In the Unites States, a poll found that 11
per cent of Americans would abort a foetus that they knew was predisposed towardsobesity.
The basic reason for such risks, of course, is the flawed condition of human
beings, which Jones himself acknowledges but which he considers to be quite limitedin its effects and certainly no threat to the positive thrust of scientific development.This judgment is, at best, disarmingly superficial, at worst it is dangerously na?ve.Closer to the mark is the judgment of those theologians in the Reformed traditionespecially who point out the evil or harm that attaches itself to even the best of
130COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
130COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
human actions5, a judgment that can be based on the teaching of Jesus to the effect
that none is unambiguously good but God alone (Mark 10:18).
In the light of such teaching we may not only doubt the faith of a Jones in science
but also recognize the force of arguments about a ?slippery slope?. Liberals mayprotest as much as they like that humans are free to decide at every step whether ornot to proceed but, as Sir Gustav Nossal is reputed to have said in the early days ofin vitro fertilization, once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back.
Cloning of a human being is bound to occur and probably sooner than later. More
certainly, though, like other technological developments, it will prove beneficial to
some and harmful to others.
The value of knowledge
Behind the issues related to the use we may make of genetic technology lie questionsabout the knowledge on which the new technology is based. We live in a society
which, since the so-called Enlightenment, has placed an almost unquestioning faithin knowledge as the means of gaining mastery over our human fate and improvingthe lot of humanity. To question the pursuit of knowledge, then, became a virtual
heresy ? doubting the necessary condition of human progress. The media aids andabets the scientific community in raising the ghost of Galileo whenever religiousleaders, especially, express concern about where scientific developments might be
leading us, even though it is now more generally accepted than it was a generationago that knowledge is not neutral or value free but reflects the values and prioritiesdeeply embedded in the culture in which it is sought, such that the ambiguities of theculture are reflected in what it counts as knowledge.
Jones recognises much of the ambiguity inherent in genetic knowledge but
struggles to put his finger on it, talking for the most part about possible consequencessuch as a loss of control over our lives, on the one hand, and the temptation to strivefor a perfection which would only be self-defeating, on the other, i.e. he still tends to
find the ambiguity in the uses to which our new knowledge might be put rather thanin the knowledge itself (pp. 29-30).
His concern about the issue of controlling lives ? whether those of other people
or our own ? does seem to point towards the heart of the issue, however. For behind
any attempts to exercise control lies power, the power to do so. Knowledge, then, is
a form of power and, given the flawed character of human beings, any power gained
5
One who exemplified this approach was Reinhold Niebuhr. See, for example, his classic
Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1932).
human actions
5
, a judgment that can be based on the teaching of Jesus to the effect
that none is unambiguously good but God alone (Mark 10:18).
In the light of such teaching we may not only doubt the faith of a Jones in science
but also recognize the force of arguments about a ?slippery slope?. Liberals mayprotest as much as they like that humans are free to decide at every step whether ornot to proceed but, as Sir Gustav Nossal is reputed to have said in the early days ofin vitro fertilization, once the genie is out of the bottle, there is no putting it back.
Cloning of a human being is bound to occur and probably sooner than later. More
certainly, though, like other technological developments, it will prove beneficial to
some and harmful to others.
The value of knowledge
Behind the issues related to the use we may make of genetic technology lie questionsabout the knowledge on which the new technology is based. We live in a society
which, since the so-called Enlightenment, has placed an almost unquestioning faithin knowledge as the means of gaining mastery over our human fate and improvingthe lot of humanity. To question the pursuit of knowledge, then, became a virtual
heresy ? doubting the necessary condition of human progress. The media aids andabets the scientific community in raising the ghost of Galileo whenever religiousleaders, especially, express concern about where scientific developments might be
leading us, even though it is now more generally accepted than it was a generationago that knowledge is not neutral or value free but reflects the values and prioritiesdeeply embedded in the culture in which it is sought, such that the ambiguities of theculture are reflected in what it counts as knowledge.
Jones recognises much of the ambiguity inherent in genetic knowledge but
struggles to put his finger on it, talking for the most part about possible consequencessuch as a loss of control over our lives, on the one hand, and the temptation to strivefor a perfection which would only be self-defeating, on the other, i.e. he still tends to
find the ambiguity in the uses to which our new knowledge might be put rather thanin the knowledge itself (pp. 29-30).
His concern about the issue of controlling lives ? whether those of other people
or our own ? does seem to point towards the heart of the issue, however. For behind
any attempts to exercise control lies power, the power to do so. Knowledge, then, is
a form of power and, given the flawed character of human beings, any power gained
5
One who exemplified this approach was Reinhold Niebuhr. See, for example, his classic
Moral Man and Immoral Society (New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1932).
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING131
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING131
by them, including that which an increase in knowledge confers, is bound to beambiguous. The power to do good always goes together with the power to do evil.
This means, of course, that human knowledge can never be value-free but is
always to be assessed in the light of the reasons for which it is sought, the manner inwhich it is sought, and the uses to which it is likely to be put. The knowledge that hascome to be prized in Western culture, of course, is that which is determined by
science and which serves the purposes of an instrumental reason which, in its effortsto secure the human future, is radically disruptive of human lives in the present. Thementality involved in this process was nicely illustrated by Sandy Gifford in a talkgiven at the University of Melbourne some years ago. She directed attention to therise of theories of probability as a means of determining what is normal and what isdeviant, so opening the door for specialists to devise ways of controlling the deviancyi.e. to eliminate the risk. Provided those with economic and political power can beconvinced of the need to make resources available, then, the same or other expertscan implement strategies of risk prevention and, as she points out, a notable strategycurrent in the medical field is screening. The example she took for her own studies fora PhD in California was the use of screening for breast cancer and of radical mastectomyas a prophylactic for any women found to have lumps in their breast. These womenwere considered at risk, she points out, because for the medical profession riskamounts to unmeasured uncertainty, which I would say was akin to that anxiety
about tomorrow which Jesus criticised in the Sermon on the Mount, that sense of notbeing in control which, without faith in God, may drive us to do such mad things asremove any and every lumpy breast we can find.
The dominance of this mentality throughout Western culture ensures that the
problems to which it gives rise are not confined to the practices of the medicalprofession. There is, however, more than a little plausibility to Stanley Hauerwas?
contention that sections of this profession are peculiarly susceptible to what is,ultimately, a Promethean mentality6.
Planning the future
The expansion of knowledge about the genetics of the human condition and thetechnological application of this knowledge to improve or enhance the humancondition, even if it is not to eliminate all risk but only to serve humans in need, allinvolve planning. In most discussions of the ethics of genetic technology, including
6
See especially Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the silences: God, medicine, and the problem of
suffering (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
by them, including that which an increase in knowledge confers, is bound to beambiguous. The power to do good always goes together with the power to do evil.
This means, of course, that human knowledge can never be value-free but is
always to be assessed in the light of the reasons for which it is sought, the manner inwhich it is sought, and the uses to which it is likely to be put. The knowledge that hascome to be prized in Western culture, of course, is that which is determined by
science and which serves the purposes of an instrumental reason which, in its effortsto secure the human future, is radically disruptive of human lives in the present. Thementality involved in this process was nicely illustrated by Sandy Gifford in a talkgiven at the University of Melbourne some years ago. She directed attention to therise of theories of probability as a means of determining what is normal and what isdeviant, so opening the door for specialists to devise ways of controlling the deviancyi.e. to eliminate the risk. Provided those with economic and political power can beconvinced of the need to make resources available, then, the same or other expertscan implement strategies of risk prevention and, as she points out, a notable strategycurrent in the medical field is screening. The example she took for her own studies fora PhD in California was the use of screening for breast cancer and of radical mastectomyas a prophylactic for any women found to have lumps in their breast. These womenwere considered at risk, she points out, because for the medical profession riskamounts to unmeasured uncertainty, which I would say was akin to that anxiety
about tomorrow which Jesus criticised in the Sermon on the Mount, that sense of notbeing in control which, without faith in God, may drive us to do such mad things asremove any and every lumpy breast we can find.
The dominance of this mentality throughout Western culture ensures that the
problems to which it gives rise are not confined to the practices of the medicalprofession. There is, however, more than a little plausibility to Stanley Hauerwas?
contention that sections of this profession are peculiarly susceptible to what is,ultimately, a Promethean mentality6.
Planning the future
The expansion of knowledge about the genetics of the human condition and thetechnological application of this knowledge to improve or enhance the humancondition, even if it is not to eliminate all risk but only to serve humans in need, allinvolve planning. In most discussions of the ethics of genetic technology, including
6
See especially Stanley Hauerwas, Naming the silences: God, medicine, and the problem of
suffering (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).
132COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)132COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
those of Jones and some things I myself have written, the problem in relation to thisis envisaged as lying wholly in the future ? if and when we go beyond planning toalleviate human need and suffering and begin planning the kinds of human being tobe born in the next and succeeding human generations.
Thus, in a discussion of family planning my book, Accepting Life, I suggest that
acquisition of the power to fashion children according to our own image wouldamount to something qualitatively different from what we have hitherto been able toachieve and I went on to say that it would be repugnant because it would amount toan attempt to pre-determine their future7. In view of my dismissal of Jones? claim that
there is a moral chasm between therapeutic and idealistic enhancement of the humancondition, however, I must now ask myself whether there is so much difference
between planning the genetic future of our children and planning to eradicate ormodify the genetic deficiencies of the present generation.
In raising this question the theological thought that first occurs to me is how little
value the Biblical witness to Judeo Christian faith places on planning. Indeed, itseems reasonable to assert that almost nothing separates the world of the Bible morenoticeably from our own than the different estimates each makes of human planning.In the New Testament planning is, to all intents and purposes a futile exercise. The
spirit of the New Testament may be summed up in Jesus? advice not to ?be anxious
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself? (Matt 6:34). Some
commentators might put this attitude down largely, if not entirely, to the belief of
many early Christians that the end of the age was near and would come upon them?like a thief in the night? (1 Thess 5:2) so that the only thing to prepare or plan for wasthis, as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins taught (Matt.25:1-13). Yet this is
not the only nor, I submit, the most important reason. The birds of the air and the lilies
of the field to which Jesus refers in his teaching about anxiety have little to do withthe eschaton, the end of this age, and consider his teaching about something thedisciples might well have planned for, however soon they expected that end to come,
viz. what to say when they were dragged before the rulers of this world on account oftheir new faith ? ?do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; forwhat you are to say will be given to you in that hour by the Spirit: (Matt 10:17-18). No,it is not a matter primarily of time but of faith, of conviction that in a world that isaccident prone and in which human beings are not in control, nevertheless Godworks through all things ?for good with those who love him, who are called accordingto his purpose? (Rom:8:28; my italics).
7
John A. Henley, Accepting Life: The ethics of living in families (Melbourne: Joint Board of
Christian Education, 1994) 51.
those of Jones and some things I myself have written, the problem in relation to thisis envisaged as lying wholly in the future ? if and when we go beyond planning toalleviate human need and suffering and begin planning the kinds of human being tobe born in the next and succeeding human generations.
Thus, in a discussion of family planning my book, Accepting Life, I suggest that
acquisition of the power to fashion children according to our own image wouldamount to something qualitatively different from what we have hitherto been able toachieve and I went on to say that it would be repugnant because it would amount toan attempt to pre-determine their future7. In view of my dismissal of Jones? claim that
there is a moral chasm between therapeutic and idealistic enhancement of the humancondition, however, I must now ask myself whether there is so much difference
between planning the genetic future of our children and planning to eradicate ormodify the genetic deficiencies of the present generation.
In raising this question the theological thought that first occurs to me is how little
value the Biblical witness to Judeo Christian faith places on planning. Indeed, itseems reasonable to assert that almost nothing separates the world of the Bible morenoticeably from our own than the different estimates each makes of human planning.In the New Testament planning is, to all intents and purposes a futile exercise. The
spirit of the New Testament may be summed up in Jesus? advice not to ?be anxious
about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself? (Matt 6:34). Some
commentators might put this attitude down largely, if not entirely, to the belief of
many early Christians that the end of the age was near and would come upon them?like a thief in the night? (1 Thess 5:2) so that the only thing to prepare or plan for wasthis, as the parable of the wise and foolish virgins taught (Matt.25:1-13). Yet this is
not the only nor, I submit, the most important reason. The birds of the air and the lilies
of the field to which Jesus refers in his teaching about anxiety have little to do withthe eschaton, the end of this age, and consider his teaching about something thedisciples might well have planned for, however soon they expected that end to come,
viz. what to say when they were dragged before the rulers of this world on account oftheir new faith ? ?do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; forwhat you are to say will be given to you in that hour by the Spirit: (Matt 10:17-18). No,it is not a matter primarily of time but of faith, of conviction that in a world that isaccident prone and in which human beings are not in control, nevertheless Godworks through all things ?for good with those who love him, who are called accordingto his purpose? (Rom:8:28; my italics).
7
John A. Henley, Accepting Life: The ethics of living in families (Melbourne: Joint Board of
Christian Education, 1994) 51.
There is, of course, more in the way of human planning in the Old Testament but
the point of virtually every story about it is that the Lord of Israel brings it to nought,if not in the present generation, then in a succeeding one. The Tower of Babel stands
as a symbolic warning to all who would set out to ?make a name? for themselves bybringing to pass whatever they propose for themselves (Gen 11:1-9).
In the Gifford Lectures which he gave more than 40 years ago John Macmurray
pointed out that there is a sense in which it may be said that Kant had warned theGerman people in advance about the dangers of utopian planning8. It is therefore
instructive, if not alarming, to find ?The Age? editorial of 6 October 1999 concludingon the following note: ?If a baby?s sex comes to be regarded as an acceptable area of
choice, it will be hard to argue against a range of other potential preferences: blondehair, blue eyes, IQ or musicality, for example. We do not want to goose-step into a
eugenic future?.
In the short term, however, it is those who suffer from genetic defects and their
parents who have most cause for worry . The threat of social ostracism which thedisabled have always had to face is likely to be compounded in the future as insurancecompanies raise premium for or refuse to cover the genetically defective andgovernments or other public bodies, including perhaps the medical profession, seekto curtail their reproductive options.
To recapitulate the argument thus far: the use of genetic engineering is inherently
ambiguous and this reflects the dubious value of knowledge that is sought for thepurpose of intervening in the lives of others, even if the immediate intention of suchintervention is to improve them.The uncertain outcome of such intervention, in turn,indicates that the capacity of human beings to plan the future is quite limited. In viewof all this, I now want finally to suggest, there must be and is something fundamentallywrong with the kind of human being who engages in the engineering.What mannerof being do we meet here?
Self-knowledge and living body
The one coming to meet us is the dualistic self of Descartes with a mind (ego) thatoperates on matter (body). It is a self that, by taking thought, seeks to understanditself and secure its future.In other words, this is a self which would save itself and socannot be the imago dei which we may see in the new Adam. For he put up with the
8
John Macmurray, The Self As Agent (London: Faber And Faber, 1969, first published
1957) 55-56.
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING133
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING133
There is, of course, more in the way of human planning in the Old Testament but
the point of virtually every story about it is that the Lord of Israel brings it to nought,if not in the present generation, then in a succeeding one. The Tower of Babel stands
as a symbolic warning to all who would set out to ?make a name? for themselves bybringing to pass whatever they propose for themselves (Gen 11:1-9).
In the Gifford Lectures which he gave more than 40 years ago John Macmurray
pointed out that there is a sense in which it may be said that Kant had warned theGerman people in advance about the dangers of utopian planning8. It is therefore
instructive, if not alarming, to find ?The Age? editorial of 6 October 1999 concludingon the following note: ?If a baby?s sex comes to be regarded as an acceptable area of
choice, it will be hard to argue against a range of other potential preferences: blondehair, blue eyes, IQ or musicality, for example. We do not want to goose-step into a
eugenic future?.
In the short term, however, it is those who suffer from genetic defects and their
parents who have most cause for worry . The threat of social ostracism which thedisabled have always had to face is likely to be compounded in the future as insurancecompanies raise premium for or refuse to cover the genetically defective andgovernments or other public bodies, including perhaps the medical profession, seekto curtail their reproductive options.
To recapitulate the argument thus far: the use of genetic engineering is inherently
ambiguous and this reflects the dubious value of knowledge that is sought for thepurpose of intervening in the lives of others, even if the immediate intention of suchintervention is to improve them.The uncertain outcome of such intervention, in turn,indicates that the capacity of human beings to plan the future is quite limited. In viewof all this, I now want finally to suggest, there must be and is something fundamentallywrong with the kind of human being who engages in the engineering.What mannerof being do we meet here?
Self-knowledge and living body
The one coming to meet us is the dualistic self of Descartes with a mind (ego) thatoperates on matter (body). It is a self that, by taking thought, seeks to understanditself and secure its future.In other words, this is a self which would save itself and socannot be the imago dei which we may see in the new Adam. For he put up with the
8
John Macmurray, The Self As Agent (London: Faber And Faber, 1969, first published
1957) 55-56.
taunts of those who, seeing him on the cross, called out, ?He saved others; hecannot save himself? (Mark 15:31).
By contrast with the injunction to ?know thyself? (which, of course goes back
well before Descartes to the Greeks) we do well to recall some elements in the witnessof the New Testament the first of which again comes from the apostle Paul who set
what might be called an eschatological limit on the pursuit of knowledge aboutourselves i.e. in the light of Christian hope for the fulfilment of all things in Christ hewas impressed by the fact that now we only see things in a dim or distorted way, as
in a reflection, whereas in the consummation we shall know them as clearly as Godalready knows us (1 Cor 13:12). On one possible interpretation, of course, this needonly mean we should not exaggerate the depth or clarity of self-knowledge likely tobecome available to us through the genome or any other human project. It will stillonly be partial and somewhat obscure. That is of course an interpretation calculatedto appeal to the culture of the Enlightenment. It is also, I now want to suggest, aninterpretation which, in view of other things that he and fellow New Testament writers
had to say, misses part of the point.
For the Gospel, the story which is paramount for Christians, ie. that by which they
seek to live, makes it quite clear that following him whom they name their Lord is nota quest for self-knowledge, still less for self-realisation and self-fulfilment. On thecontrary, as more than one writer reports Jesus as saying, the one who seeks his or
her own life will lose it whereas the one prepared to lose it for his sake and for theGospel, i.e. for the true story, will find it. The symbol of this way of life is the cross,
which stands at the centre of the story of Jesus and what Christians believe God tohave done in and through him.
On the cross we do not see a self that is in charge of its own destiny and neither
do we in the resurrection. What we see in the latter especially is a body ? that ofChrist ? which can change form and be transfigured in a way that can only bebewildering to any secularist who is committed to the ?presence? of a self that Derridaand other deconstructionists point out is forever elusive. Such selves therefore haveto be wilful. They must assert themselves but,as Michael Hanby explains in a recentarticle on Augustine?s treatment of the human subject, it is precisely ?when the will
most clearly resembles ? Cartesian self-assertion? that Augustine finds himselfclose to the abyss of nothingness. Only the mediation of God can rescue him from hisfailure ?substantially to establish and possess himself?9.
134COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
134COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
taunts of those who, seeing him on the cross, called out, ?He saved others; hecannot save himself? (Mark 15:31).
By contrast with the injunction to ?know thyself? (which, of course goes back
well before Descartes to the Greeks) we do well to recall some elements in the witnessof the New Testament the first of which again comes from the apostle Paul who set
what might be called an eschatological limit on the pursuit of knowledge aboutourselves i.e. in the light of Christian hope for the fulfilment of all things in Christ hewas impressed by the fact that now we only see things in a dim or distorted way, as
in a reflection, whereas in the consummation we shall know them as clearly as Godalready knows us (1 Cor 13:12). On one possible interpretation, of course, this needonly mean we should not exaggerate the depth or clarity of self-knowledge likely tobecome available to us through the genome or any other human project. It will stillonly be partial and somewhat obscure. That is of course an interpretation calculatedto appeal to the culture of the Enlightenment. It is also, I now want to suggest, aninterpretation which, in view of other things that he and fellow New Testament writers
had to say, misses part of the point.
For the Gospel, the story which is paramount for Christians, ie. that by which they
seek to live, makes it quite clear that following him whom they name their Lord is nota quest for self-knowledge, still less for self-realisation and self-fulfilment. On thecontrary, as more than one writer reports Jesus as saying, the one who seeks his or
her own life will lose it whereas the one prepared to lose it for his sake and for theGospel, i.e. for the true story, will find it. The symbol of this way of life is the cross,
which stands at the centre of the story of Jesus and what Christians believe God tohave done in and through him.
On the cross we do not see a self that is in charge of its own destiny and neither
do we in the resurrection. What we see in the latter especially is a body ? that ofChrist ? which can change form and be transfigured in a way that can only bebewildering to any secularist who is committed to the ?presence? of a self that Derridaand other deconstructionists point out is forever elusive. Such selves therefore haveto be wilful. They must assert themselves but,as Michael Hanby explains in a recentarticle on Augustine?s treatment of the human subject, it is precisely ?when the will
most clearly resembles ? Cartesian self-assertion? that Augustine finds himselfclose to the abyss of nothingness. Only the mediation of God can rescue him from hisfailure ?substantially to establish and possess himself?9.
9
Michael Hanby, ?Desire. Augustine beyond Western subjectivity?. In eds., Radical
Orthodoxy. A new theology edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham
Ward (London and New York: Routledge, 1999) 112. Cf. Stanley Hauerwas, ?Going
Forward by Looking Back?. In his Sanctify Them in the Truth. Holiness Exemplified
9
Michael Hanby, ?Desire. Augustine beyond Western subjectivity?. In eds., Radical
Orthodoxy. A new theology edited by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham
Ward (London and New York: Routledge, 1999) 112. Cf. Stanley Hauerwas, ?Going
Forward by Looking Back?. In his Sanctify Them in the Truth. Holiness Exemplified
Through our membership in the body of Christ we Christians may come to
?understand ourselves? as bodies which are mutually dependent and ultimatelydependent upon the head, bodies which are vulnerable, liable to be broken, subjectto the cross yet with him bound for glory. So these bodies are also dynamic, although
not in control of themselves, but they are certainly not the lifeless matter on whichCartesian selves work their will.
The crucial questions for us Christians, then, are not who we are but whose and
how we are to practise that love by which the Spirit animates the body of Christ andenables it to work together in harmony. What might this lead us to say and do about
genetic technology? Some might consider it so antithetical to a Christianunderstanding of persons in relation that we should reject it entirely but I am yet tobe persuaded that this is the case. We need to remember that Christians have been
perturbed about aspects of medical practice from the earliest days when the sorcererswho were possibly procurers of abortion were called in question (eg. Gal.5:20) butthere is also much in the tradition of Western medicine that accords with a Christian
understanding of human being, not least of which is a pre-modern readiness toaccept mortality.
The main thing for Christians to avoid, I would suggest, is ?playing the game? on
secular or liberal grounds, i.e on the same terms as somebody like Jones with his talkof ?enhancement? of human powers.For the time being at least we should prefer totalk in more traditional terms about serving our neighbours by the art of medicine,
offering help and comfort to the sick by healing where possible and by seeking to
relieve their suffering at all times.
Not that this will completely protect us, of course. For one thing I have learned
very clearly during my time as a member of various committees dealing withreproductive technology is this - no matter how extreme or ?far off? a procedure might
currently seem, one can always conjure up a scenario in which it might make sense touse it!
Might this apply even to cloning? To which a rhetorical response might be, why
not in cases of marriage where one spouse is the carrier of a significant geneticdefect? From some points of view this would be less adulterous than using donormaterial.
Like the reproductive technology with which it is often closely connected, genetic
technology raises many questions which do not invite ready or straight-forwardanswers and it is deeply disturbing in many of its implications. So much so that I
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING135
HENLEY: GENETIC ENGINEERING135
Through our membership in the body of Christ we Christians may come to
?understand ourselves? as bodies which are mutually dependent and ultimatelydependent upon the head, bodies which are vulnerable, liable to be broken, subjectto the cross yet with him bound for glory. So these bodies are also dynamic, although
not in control of themselves, but they are certainly not the lifeless matter on whichCartesian selves work their will.
The crucial questions for us Christians, then, are not who we are but whose and
how we are to practise that love by which the Spirit animates the body of Christ andenables it to work together in harmony. What might this lead us to say and do about
genetic technology? Some might consider it so antithetical to a Christianunderstanding of persons in relation that we should reject it entirely but I am yet tobe persuaded that this is the case. We need to remember that Christians have been
perturbed about aspects of medical practice from the earliest days when the sorcererswho were possibly procurers of abortion were called in question (eg. Gal.5:20) butthere is also much in the tradition of Western medicine that accords with a Christian
understanding of human being, not least of which is a pre-modern readiness toaccept mortality.
The main thing for Christians to avoid, I would suggest, is ?playing the game? on
secular or liberal grounds, i.e on the same terms as somebody like Jones with his talkof ?enhancement? of human powers.For the time being at least we should prefer totalk in more traditional terms about serving our neighbours by the art of medicine,
offering help and comfort to the sick by healing where possible and by seeking to
relieve their suffering at all times.
Not that this will completely protect us, of course. For one thing I have learned
very clearly during my time as a member of various committees dealing withreproductive technology is this - no matter how extreme or ?far off? a procedure might
currently seem, one can always conjure up a scenario in which it might make sense touse it!
Might this apply even to cloning? To which a rhetorical response might be, why
not in cases of marriage where one spouse is the carrier of a significant geneticdefect? From some points of view this would be less adulterous than using donormaterial.
Like the reproductive technology with which it is often closely connected, genetic
technology raises many questions which do not invite ready or straight-forwardanswers and it is deeply disturbing in many of its implications. So much so that I
Scottish Journal of Theology Current Issues in Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998)96-100.
Scottish Journal of Theology Current Issues in Theology (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998)96-100.
suspect we are not far from a time when many Christian bodies will be forced in thesense of having no choice but to disassociate themselves from certain developments.
Of course one such body, one indeed that is inclined to regard itself as the such
body, has already found it necessary to bear witness in this way with regard to
aspects of reproductive technology. I refer of course to the Roman Catholic Church
which not only speaks out on such matters in terms that differ from those of secularliberalism and humanism but which also gives practical effect to its teaching throughits extensive hospital system.
Members of this body know something of what it means for the apostle Paul to
tell the Corinthians about the treasure Christians have in earthen vessels, witnessingto a power that belongs to God and not to us by ?always carrying in the body thedeath of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies? (2 Cor4:7-10).
136COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
136COLLOQUIUM 32/2 (2000)
suspect we are not far from a time when many Christian bodies will be forced in thesense of having no choice but to disassociate themselves from certain developments.
Of course one such body, one indeed that is inclined to regard itself as the such
body, has already found it necessary to bear witness in this way with regard to
aspects of reproductive technology. I refer of course to the Roman Catholic Church
which not only speaks out on such matters in terms that differ from those of secularliberalism and humanism but which also gives practical effect to its teaching throughits extensive hospital system.
Members of this body know something of what it means for the apostle Paul to
tell the Corinthians about the treasure Christians have in earthen vessels, witnessingto a power that belongs to God and not to us by ?always carrying in the body thedeath of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies? (2 Cor4: 7-10).