Professor Jonathan M. W. Slack, Ph.D., F.Med.Sci., the Director of the Stem Cell Institute, at the University of Minnesota and the other scientists there are at the forefront of reprogramming adult stem cells. By mapping and understanding the nature of DNA, it is becoming more and more promising that we can reprogram a bone marrow cell, for example, to become a heart tissue cell, brain cell, or spinal chord cell. Professor Slack announces, “Stem cell research, and regenerative medicine generally, will have as much impact on our lives in the 21st century as did motor cars, antibiotics, and computers in the 20th.” He and others at the institute “seek the treatments that will make a difference in quality of life for patients suffering from such diseases as Parkinson’s, diabetes, heart disease, muscular dystrophy, and more.”[1]

I recently emailed Professor Slack to get his opinion regarding guiding principles in medicine. In his response, he stresses a “non-religious ethic,” noting that we ought to honor the “Golden Rule” principle and that “public consensus must be respected.” He writes, “Science works by means of evidence and experimentation . . . Religion depends on accepting assertions on authority from some other person who claims divine inspiration or status . . . Religion-based ethics seems to me just to be someone’s opinion (claiming divine sanction). The problems faced by Muslims wishing to introduce Sharia law show that [it] is a mistake to base your ethical code on the word of god.”[2]

Human reason is a potential guiding principle for medicine, but is it enough? It makes sense that we should not kill one person in order to harvest their organs for another person. Therefore, the “golden rule” or the rule that one life deserves equality with other lives could guide the ethics in medicine. Unfortunately, as we have learned from the stem cell debate, we cannot agree as to when a group of cells is a person. When does the cytoplast “deserve” to live, and when does it not? Should we vote on it?

Democratic majority can be a guiding principle, but does it suffice? We can put the issue of genetic cloning to a vote. If there is an overwhelming majority who agree that reproductive cloning is unethical, we can legislate it as such. Unfortunately, ethics are not the consideration today. Reproductive cloning is illegal because it is unsafe, not because there is a democratic consensus that it is wrong. Secondly, we would likely pass legislation that is unethical and flat out dangerous if it were merely left up to a vote. Regardless of whether or not one is a Christian theist, it seems obvious that the guiding principles in medicine should not be constantly shifting, but fixed or transcendent-especially when dealing with the definition of and protection of life itself.

From the standpoint of a Christian theist, an easy case can me made that medical science requires transcendent values. We do not do medicine in an ethical vacuum. As Dr. Frame points out, we are wise to recognize values that are beyond the opinion of man. To the theist, he must recognize contingency under the Creator and His intent for His creation when we approach the matter of reproductive cloning and stem cell research-especially if reproductive cloning becomes safe. Our imaginations run wild with the prospect of safe cloning: to harvest organs, to make a new body for ourselves or a loved one who is dying or sick, or to be selective about the genetic traits of our children. Even if we could copy a fully developed human being, and we could do so safely, does this mean that we should? Do we then necessarily have license to clone a human being-regardless of our reasons for doing so?

Lastly, so long as we recognize that we are not doing science in an ethical vacuum, we would recognize that we are contingent as God’s creatures to handle other creatures with much reverence and responsibility. There is then an obvious ethical aspect to all areas of medical science. The way of wisdom in all forms of medical science, especially genetic manipulation, is to protect and improve life while remaining reverent and submissive to the Giver of life. Our ambition as healers must never attempt to short-circuit life-the way that Jehovah Raffa designed it.

If we look to theologians to put a cap on the ethical discussion surrounding stem cell research, we would see ourselves not as autonomous rational creatures, but as God-breathed dirt. We are contingent dirt whose only ability to be understood as a living being is the direct result of the breath of God Himself (Genesis 2:7). Apart from this contingency, we are simply playing God in willful defiance. “Cloning, in the best case, is ‘playing God’ only in the sense that we should always play God: imaging his creativity by taking dominion of natural processes for His glory.[3]

[1] Slack, Jonathan Stem Cell Institute at the University of Minnesota. Retrieved November 23, 2008, from Stem Cell Institute Web site: http://www.stemcell.umn.edu/

[2] Professor Jonathan Slack, email to Stephen C. Allen, November 22, 2008.

[3] Frame, John (June 30, 2001). Cloning. Third Millennium Ministries, Retrieved November 20, 2008, from http://www.thirdmill.org/newfiles/joh_frame/Frame.Ethics2005.Cloning.pdf


To read the entire argument for a God-honoring, contingency between biochemistry and worship, click here.

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