Monday, June 19, 2006

New Test for Embryos.

BBC NEWS Health Embryo test 'offers parents hope'

Today in BBC World Service News, there is an article on an embryo test that “offers parents hope.” The embryo test deals only with embryos existing in the lab prior to implantation in the woman. The new test is called Pre-Implantation Genetic Haplotyping, or PGH for short. Scientists take an embryo that has been created outside a woman through in vitro fertilization and remove a cell from the embryo. They treat the cell in order to cause multiplication and then compare the DNA in the cultured cells to DNA of the parents and siblings of the embryo. According to the article, they “look for markers that show an embryo carries two copies of these faulty units, or haplotypes.” They believe that the new test will allow screening for more diseases than old pre-implantation embryo inspection tests. If an embryo is found wanting, parents will have the choice of killing the embryo before it is implanted.

In vitro fertilization is already morally problematic for several reasons. Embryos are people. Contrary to the attempts of people to re-explain nature, there is no point at which a human being is not alive until it is dead. There is no such thing as “potential life.” Living sperm and living egg join to create a living embryo. That living embryo is a tiny human being that continues to grow and develop until it is killed. In vitro fertilization is problematic because it frequently involves the creation of multiple embryos that are either accidentally damaged or destroyed or that end up being left over after embryos are implanted in the woman to develop. These left over embryos are usually frozen and die essentially of gradual deterioration. Hence, in vitro fertilization is problematic because it leads to the intentional or accidental death of tiny human beings. Intentionally killing additional embryos after inspecting them for diseases adds an entirely new level of ethical dilemma to the process.

Certainly there are many very unpleasant genetic diseases known to humankind. But we don’t normally kill people because they have them. Killing them while they’re very small is undoubtedly easier because we do not see the human being involved. This has certainly been found to be true in military situations. It is much easier to kill someone with a handgun than with a knife. It is easier still to kill someone from a distance with a rifle. And it is far easier to kill someone you cannot see by dropping a bomb on them than it is to shoot someone who you can see through a rifle scope. The more removed we are from experiencing the person, the easier it is to dehumanize them, and the easier it is to snuff out their life without an extra thought. Because embryos are so tiny, it is easy to kill them without thinking about it. In fact, sadly, it is easy to kill them by accident. Embryos, both well and defective, do sometimes die natural deaths. But it doesn’t make things better to undertake processes that are likely to lead to additional accidental or intentional deaths. Still this is bitter medicine for parents who are having difficulty having children. If parents really understood that they were going to be killing several people in order to have a child, it is unlikely that they would take that risk or incur that certainty.

Technology is a wonderful thing. If we had to return to the technologies of 200 or 1,000 years ago, it is undoubtedly true that millions of people in the world would perish from starvation and illness. Technology makes it possible for many more people to live upon the earth and to live healthier, longer lives. It also makes our lives far more comfortable. I do not believe that any of those things are inherently immoral or problematic. What is immoral or problematic is when we decide that because we can do something with technology, we should. Anytime we adapt a technology for use without moral consideration, we are beginning to skate on thin ice. Unless we apply morality and the rule of law to our uses of technology, it is the technology which is using us, not we who are using the technology. Technology must always be evaluated and restrained by the rule of law, morality, and God’s design for humans beings and the universe.

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