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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10.30 am Service, 2002-07-07

Text: Psalm 139:13-18

During our Church Bible Camp two weeks ago, we had a question and answer session in which our panel of pastors answered questions from the floor. And toward the end of that session, there was an interesting exchange of views on the subject of human cloning. The question asked was 'Do clones have souls?' I think that this question and many other related questions on bioethics and biomedical research will be asked more frequently, since the world is now waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the first cloned human in perhaps a few months' time. 

Just about two weeks ago the Bioethics Advisory Committee announced its recommendations after 10 months of consultation with various religious and professional groups, and the view they have arrived at is that only human embryos that are less than 14 days old should be used for stem cell experiments and research. They say that this would be acceptable to Muslims who believe that human life begins only at the 4th month of pregnancy, and to Buddhists, who believe that human life begins at the 7th week, and to most Jewish groups who think that it begins only on the 40th day of pregnancy. But the question is, 'When does human life really begin?' 

A few months ago plans were unveiled for the building of a huge multi-million dollar complex called Biopolis which will be situated in the future Science Park at Buona Vista. This will be a biomedical hub for biomedical science companies engaging in lab-based R & D activities. The objective of this is to build a thriving biomedical R&D hub here in Singapore. One of the objectives of this is to generate more new jobs in a relatively new field that promises great profits. The 2,000 biomedical researchers that will work there will need plenty of qualified assistants. Local students will probably be offered attractive scholarships to be trained in genetic engineering and the life sciences. The question that may be asked by those choosing a career is, 'Can a Christian be involved in this kind of research work?' 

Dearly beloved, we cannot ignore the momentous changes that are taking place in the world today and in our own nation. They will affect us. You may remember the message preached here last month on the Christian and Modern Technology. We learned that though we should not be opposed to modern technology, we should also be cautious not to accept every option that modern technology makes available to us, as some of the options are against God's laws. 

If we are not careful we may trespass into forbidden territory - To break God's commandments or to usurp prerogatives that belong to God alone. And nowhere is the danger of playing God or of violating God's laws more evident, than in the area of biomedical science. The problem today is that almost all the leading research scientists in the genetic field are eithers atheists or agnostics. They look only within themselves for ethical guidance. They reject the idea of a sovereign God who created us, and to Whom we are accountable. To them, humans are only a product of blind, mindless evolution, and they are helping man to make further and faster progress in evolution. 

For this reason, I think that it is needful for us to understand the Scriptures to find the principles that will help us to deal with these bioethical issues instead of being led blindly into a 'Brave New World' by these trends. The first foundational principle we need to know is that: 

I. Human Life is Designed and Made by God, not Man 

Human life was specially designed and made by God Himself. The Bible tells us that man is the highest of all God's creatures, being made on the 6th day of creation in His own image, as the grand climax of all creation! If you want to find real proof of God's great wisdom and power, all you have to do is to look at yourself! Your body, mind and soul constitute a powerful living testimony to God's power and wisdom. This is why King David dwelled on this particular aspect. He said in v.14 'will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are Thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.' God is the One who created us at the moment of conception. He created our souls and bodies, and made each of us so unique and different from others. Think of it. Out of the billions of people who live today and who have ever lived on the face of this earth there is none who is exactly like you! Even identical twins don't have the same fingerprints and personalities. 

Did you know that a miracle takes place in every mother's womb? If you could only see the millions of intricate little events that must happen in exact and precise co-ordination and in proper sequence when a new person is developing from a single cell into a newborn child, you would truly marvel at how awesome God's creative power is! I had the opportunity to study embryology when I was a medical student 20 years ago. I still remember my professor, Dr Frank Voon, telling the class that there are so many things that can go wrong in the formation of a new human being from the moment of conception right until delivery, and if just one small little detail fails, there would be disastrous results! 

About 12 years ago when I saw my first child, Stella for the first time and carried her in my arms when she was brought out of the delivery room, I could hardly believe that such a beautiful little creature could be formed in just 40 weeks. Here she was, with all parts of her body and mind functioning and co-ordinating together perfectly, and throbbing all over with life. Here was a greater wonder to me than the seven wonders of the world. Even the earthly Temple of God took many men 7 years to build, but this little Temple of the Holy Spirit took the Lord only 40 weeks to complete! As I marvelled at God's power in creating a new human life, this verse from Psalm 139 came immediately to my mind: 'I will praise thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works and that my soul knoweth right well.' 

Dearly beloved, if you ever want to know what God's awesome power is like, you do not have to look very far. Just look at the marvellous design and formation of your own mind and body. And when you do this, think of this: Can any man ever claim credit for the marvelous design and creation of a new human being? The answer is obviously no. And should any man ever attempt to design or to determine what a new individual will look like, and what attributes or personality he will have? Not at all, because these are prerogatives that belong to God alone, and He is greatly glorified in them. 

But today some are already talking about the day coming soon when man can design himself. Just listen to this statement written a few years ago by John Naisbitt - 'The consequences of genetic technologies will overwhelm the importance of information technology. IT has been hyped as a great revolution, but it merely helps us to what we want to do faster, better, more efficiently. Our understanding of DNA will put us in control of our own evolution. That knowledge and the technology it spawns are the real revolution.' On 26th June 2000 researchers moved a step closer to realising this goal when they announced to the world the completion of a 'working draft' reference DNA sequence of the human genome. This provides a valuable scaffold for generating a high-quality reference genome sequence which they hope to complete by next year. 

What does all this mean for us? It means that one day, in the not-too-distant future prospective parents may be able to walk into a medical store called 'Genes R Us' and choose whatever physical and mental features they would like their child to have, including the child's sex, the colour of the skin, hair, eyes, the height and level of intelligence they want.

Genetic technology may enable couples to have made-to-order children! If you think that this will be a nice thing to have, imagine what will happen when the child that is born through such technology grows up and asks his father, 'Daddy, why was I born with this brown hair and these blue eyes?' and the father replies 'Son, that's what your mummy and I decided for you before you were born! All that you are now has been planned and determined by us.' 

What will this poor child do when he reads Psalm 139:14 'I will praise Thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made' How will he praise God for what he is? What if he is not happy with the way that his parents designed him? What if there is a flaw in their design? Can he sue them in court for it? These are some of the ramifications that will result when man uses genetic technology to play God! 

Now, this does not mean that genetic technology itself is evil or sinful. Like all kinds of technology it is part of the mandate God gave to man to subdue nature and to have dominion over it. But like all kinds of technology, genetic technology should only be used for good, and not for evil. And the general guideline that determines whether one is playing God or not, is whether it is used to cure people or to further enhance their minds and bodies. Using genetic technology to heal the sick is fine. But using it to breed and evolve stronger, more intelligent kinds of human beings is definitely playing God. 

Actually the same guideline can be applied to any branch of medical science. The Scriptures are not against the use of medicine. In fact, the apostle Paul prescribed wine as medicine for Timothy's stomach illness and his frequent infimities (1 Timothy 5:23). And so, medicine is sanctioned by God when it is used for curing human life, and not for enhancing it. One striking example is the advent of plastic surgery. This is all right if the purpose is to correct deformities, like a cleft lip, or restoring an injured part of the body. But when a person who looks normal goes for plastic surgery just to make himself look better or to look like a famous person, then plastic surgery has crossed the line from curing to enhancing. 

History has shown that whenever some new development in technology opens up new possibilities for enhancing human life, there will always be a demand for it in this world. Whatever new innovation must be fully exploited for man's advantage. And this is due to the evolutionist mindset that most people have today - the idea that man has evolved from lower beings, and is still evolving and progressing into a higher being. 

This is actually the same sin as that of wanting to be as gods that Satan tempted Eve to commit (Genesis 3:5), and that Satan himself fell into, 'I will be like the most high'(Isaiah 14:14). The desire to be like God and to play God is part of the rebellious sinful nature that man has as a result of the Fall. 

And this is the same motivation behind the present race to produce the first human clone! Thus far, scientists have succeeded in cloning plants, frogs, sheep, cows, mice, monkeys and pigs. Cloning to improve agriculture and to improve the breed of domestic animals is valid. It is part of man's mandate to dominate and subdue the world. But the cloning of humans oversteps the boundaries set by God, and should be absolutely forbidden because man is created in God's image. And what is distrubing about the Biomedical Advisory Committee's recommendations is that though they do not condone the cloning of human beings, they allow for therapeutic cloning of human embryos. 

Why are scientists today trying so hard to clone human beings? Let us look at some of the reasons that have been given by various sources: Firstly it is believed that cloning is a great way to perpetuate genius. The promoters of cloning advocate selecting a few of the greatest men and women now living, for cloning. Secondly, some believe that cloning can provide soldier and servant classes of people. They can be treated as subhuman servants that have no rights. This will take us back to the days of slavery! Thirdly it is believed that clones can provide spare body parts. Today it is so hard to get a donor for a fresh organ, and even when a donor is found, his organ may be rejected because of a tissue type mismatch. According to cloning advocates, all these problems will be solved by cloning. 

But as you can see, these reasons are utterly utilitarian and man-centred. None of these or other reasons for cloning brings any glory to God! Man is now attempting to play God in making creatures in his own image. And in all these reasons you will notice that no consideration is made at all, of how the clones themselves will feel about being products of biomedical technology, made just to fulfill these utilitarian purposes - to be treated as mere objects, as laboratory animals, as slaves and as storehouses of genius or of spare body parts! Let us be very clear therefore that cloning of human beings is entirely wrong and an abomination to God. It reduces man, who is the highest of God's creatures to the level of the lowest plants and animals that reproduce asexually by budding, or binary fission. 

But while this method of reproduction is to be condemned, let us be careful not to put human clones (when they come into being) under the same condemnation and think of them as biological freaks or monsters. Being made from the cell of another human being does not deny personhood to anyone. Remember that Eve was made by God out of the rib of Adam (Genesis 2:22,23). Now, that of course, does not in any way make Eve a clone of Adam, for she was made by God's miraculous power. If she was a clone, she would be a man exactly like Adam. But the point here is that it is possible for life to originate from the cells of just one human parent, and still be considered as fully human life. 

By this analogy, a human clone should not be denied the rights of personhood just becaue he originates from one parent. He has a soul, having all the human characteristics of his parent - the ability to think, to speak, to feel and to make his own decisions. If within 15-20 years' time, a human clone should walk in here to attend our morning worship service, we should treat him as we would treat anyone else. No matter how the rest of society will treat him, we should regard him as a full human being, made in God's image like any of us, and as a sinner in need of salvation through Jesus Christ, and love him with the love God has given to us. 

Thus we have seen that the first foundational principle for dealing with the bioethical issues we face today is that Human Life is Designed and Made by God, not Man. Let us proceed to look at another foundational principle: 

II. Human Life Should Only Be Taken by God, Not Man 

Since God is the originator of human life, it follows that He is the only legitimate take of it. None but God has the right to decide when a person's life is to end. One of the moral issues that scientists handling human life have to deal with, is what to do with experiments that have gone wrong. For instance, it is known that Russian scientists at the Institute of Experimental Biology in Moscow are trying now to develop artificial wombs. These unbelieving scientists think that this will be real a breakthrough, because mothers will be free from having to go through nine months of pregnancy and through labour pains to give birth. But these experiments with artificial wombs have been going on very, very secretly. No interviews or pictures by journalists are allowed. Do you know why? Because out of the 250 human fetuses that are growing in these artificial wombs some have probably become deformed and were aborted. The sixth Commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' (Exodus 20:13) is being violated today by scientists who treat human fetuses as nothing more than a mass of tissue. 

Because of the public outcry against this by various groups, some have attempted to establish a limit within which experiments can be done on prenatal human life without violating the sixth commandment. As I mentioned earlier, the Bioethics Advisory Committee has recently set that limit at 14 days. This means that human embryos that are 1-13 days old can be treated as mere blobs of human tissues and used freely for experiments or for harvesting embryonic stem cells for medical purposes or research. The Biomedical Advisory Committee has even approved the creation of new embryos in the lab using donated sex cells, just for these purposes. This means that human embryos can be mass-produced and used, as long as they are all used and killed before the 14th day. 

Now, what criteria did they use to determine when human life actually begins? They say that it is only at the 14th day, that organised development in the embryo becomes visible. The primitive streak in the embryo that later becomes the nervous system appears only on the 14th day. So according to them, before this streak appears, the embryo has no sensation of pain, and is therefore not a person. All this is based purely on conjecture, not science. Scientists cannot prove conclusively, beyond any shadow of doubt that a newly fertilised egg or an embryo is not a person yet. And as long as there is the slightest doubt, they should not take liberties with human embryos. As someone has put it, no one can bury a person's body, unless he is absolutely sure that it is dead. If he is not sure, he better not bury it. In the same way no one should kill a human embryo if he is not sure whether it is a person or not.

There are others who say that even if we are not absolutely sure whether the young embryo is a person or not, it is still justified to do experiments with it, because of the greater good that such experiments will yield for mankind. As long as many people stand to benefit from the research at the end of the day, it does not matter if some human embryos have to be sacrificed. Let me say that those who take such liberties with human embryos are playing God. They claim to know when life begins and when it can be taken. 

The answers that these scientists are looking for cannot be found in science. They can only be found in the Word of God. And the scriptures are clear that Life begins at the moment of conception. 

1. Firstly, the Bible consistently refers to conception when speaking of the beginning of a person's history. Conception is mentioned 64 times in the Bible, and often as the beginning of a person's life. For instance, Job said in Job 3:3 'Let the day perish wherein I was born, and the night in which it was said, There is a man child conceived.' In Psalm 51:5 David said, 'Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.' Both Job and David regarded conception as the beginning of their personhood. 

2. There is an interesting account of fetal life recorded in Luke 1:42-44 'And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.' John the Baptist, then only a six-month old fetus (v.36) and already filled with the Holy Spirit (v.15), leaps for joy in his mother's womb at the arrival of his cousin Jesus in Mary's womb. How old was the unborn Jesus at this time? Probably only a zygote or an embryo, because this meeting took place shortly after Mary received the announcement from the angel that she was going to conceive Jesus soon (v.31). And in v.43 John's mother addressed Mary as 'the mother of my Lord'. This means that the embryo in Mary's womb was already the Lord Jesus Himself by that time. 

3. Coupled with this there are passages that show that God even calls some people into fulltime service even during their fetal life. Jeremiah 1:5 'Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.' And so we must take these as God's final word on this question, 'When does human life begin?' It begins right at the time of conception. And this means that no liberties should ever be taken with a human embryo, whether it is a day old or more than 14 days old. To take liberties with it is to play God or to violate the 6th commandent. 

The two foundational principles that we have seen this morning need to be known and applied by all Christians, especially those who are in the field of biomedical research or who are contemplating on being involved in it. 

Please remember that as Christians, we must abide by God's laws even in our career and occupation. And those of you who deciding or a career must choose your career with God's moral laws and principles as your guidelines. Don't get yourself into any career that will cause you to overstep the scriptural boundaries and to play God, no matter how good the prospects and earnings may be. 

Now there is nothing wrong with entering into a career of scientific research or even biomedical study. But please know your limits and keep to them. There is still a lot of research that can be done in the life sciences that do not violate biblical principles. E.g. with plants and animals. As I mentioned earlier, this is part and parcel of the man's mandate to exercise dominion over nature. 

Now, the Bioethics Advisory Committee made one good recommendation for those who are going to be involved in biomedical research: The consent of parties is needed. This means that no one can be compelled to take part in any research if he has strong views against it. Let us hope that this recommendation will be strictly implemented when the time comes. Let us in all things always strive to maintain a sense of reverence for what God has ordained - the miracle of human life, that God has specially made in His own image, in His own likeness. If things get out of hand, and society becomes numb and insensitive in the name of medical progress, let us not remain silent, but be bold to speak out. 

The Scriptures tell us that 'in the last days, perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good' (2 Timothy 3:1,2). Dearly beloved, we can already see this ungodly spirit of the age working in the world today. What we need to do is to keep on upholding the biblical view of life and morality, even if it means that we will have to suffer for it. May the Lord grant us all the faith and courage we need to stand squarely on His Word.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

December 3 & 10 - Holy Living

Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 2 Peter 3:11