THE NEW EUGENICS
By Dave Stevens, MD
“It wasn’t a planned pregnancy,” your church elder confesses as he pulls you aside in the hallway. He and his wife need your advice. Their other two children are 11 and 13, so it was a shock to find his wife was pregnant at age forty. Earlier in the week, at her first prenatal visit, her obstetrician recommended blood tests and an ultrasound at eleven weeks gestation to assure that the pregnancy is going to “turn out okay.” The risk that they will have a baby with Down’s or some other genetic syndrome sharply increases after age 35. He even reminded her that their little “surprise” is going to markedly change their life enough without the overwhelming burden of having a “defective” child.
Oh, and this was the easy question. Your next hallway consult wants to know your views on preimplantation genetic diagnosis!
Your secretary has two girls and she and her husband want a boy, so they want your opinion on “family balancing,” a new technique they heard about on the evening news that can increase their chance of having a son.
How do you respond? First, don’t refer them to a genetic counselor; many would heartily endorse each of these scenarios because their view of personhood is based on capabilities and abilities. They see embryos and fetuses as only potential persons since they can’t reason, don’t have self-awareness and can’t interact in a meaningful way. They fail to mention that newborns don’t have many of these capabilities either, and this sort of ethical reasoning inevitable leads to infanticide and euthanasia for the elderly, mentally ill or cognitively disabled.
At the same time you don’t need a bioethics or a medical degree to guide these couples. The Bible teaches that humanness and personhood are inseparable. Human life is sacred because we are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, 9:5-6). The continuity of personhood begins at conception (Psalm 51:5, 139:13-16). Man is not to unjustly take human life (Deut. 5:17). God condemns child sacrifice. (Deut. 18:10) God became an embryo through an immaculate conception and sanctified every stage of human development.
So what is the next step? Arrange a counseling session with each couple to apply these and other principles. Tell the first couple that prenatal diagnosis should only be done to benefit the child, not to harm it. Destroying the child by abortion is not an option, even if the child is found to have Down’s syndrome, so why do the test? Deciding who lives or dies based on whether they are “defective” or not is the new eugenics. Morally, it is no different than sending Jews or gypsies to the ovens because they had the wrong racial genes.
For some couples, prenatal testing may help them prepare for the care of an unhealthy child, but what if the genetic defect will result in death soon after birth? There is an enormous moral difference between dying a natural death and the parents killing their child. Neonatal hospice is a wonderful option in such a tragic situation where bonding, comfort, care and goodbyes can take place.
For the second hallway consult, preimplantation genetic diagnosis involves removing a cell or two from embryos created by artificial insemination. Each cell is genetically tested and only those tiny human beings without identifiable abnormalities are implanted. The rest are discarded. It is also sometimes used for sex selection. It is eugenics done to avoid the emotional messiness of an abortion later on.
Sex selection, euphemistically called “family balancing,” is now being done commercially through sperm sorting to increase the probability of either a “X” or “Y” gene-carrying sperm fertilizing the egg. It is not a life and death procedure, but the Bible teaches that children are a gift from the Lord. Sex selection is not done to benefit the child, but to meet the selfish emotional needs of the parents. It views children as commodities and ultimately could cause profound social imbalances if it became widely practiced. Eighty percent of parents want a boy first, and almost as many would pick a boy if they only could have one child. Worldwide it is estimated there are 100 million fewer girls due to sex selective abortion and female infanticide. Sex selection ultimately reinforces gender bias and it is being pushed for commercial gain. It costs $2,300 a couple and advocates estimate a $400 million annual market. If we don’t oppose sex selection based on parental desires, how do you say no to embryo selection or genetic manipulation to get the height, IQ or athletic prowess that a couple may desire?
Science without moral boundaries is dangerous, especially for the powerless. The church, through the guidance of the Bible, must be a righteous voice in our society and pastoral staff need to educate and advise their members. To not do so just moves today’s holocaust behind closed doors.