When does life begin?
Sure, it’s not one of your more pressing questions in life, but sooner or later, you’re likely to need an answer. The answer to this question will decide many other questions that for some people are crucial. Like…
Is it OK to have an abortion?
If we’re infertile, is it OK to use IVF (test tube babies)?
Should we allow stem cell research?
And there are many more. These may sound like matters far removed from our daily lives, but in fact, like climate change, they threaten to creep up on us slowly and change the whole nature of our existence. A bit far fetched, you say? Consider the following scenario (by the way, I have nothing at all against Bill Gates – he just springs to mind so easily as the prototypical rich person).
The year is 2030. At an isolated ranch in the desert of California, a man in a white coat unlocks a heavily armoured door. Balancing a tray stacked with basic foods, he pushes his way into the sparse room and nudges the door closed again behind him. Not that it really matters, for the six inhabitants of this room have never left it in their whole lives. They came here as soon as they were able to walk, and here they have stayed for the last 15 years. Their skin is very pale, in spite of the special lamps designed to mimic the radiation of natural sunlight. Apart from that, you wouldn’t think twice if you passed them on the street. They look perfectly normal as they sit / lie on the ground / stand around the room. But the moment they spot the man in the white coat with the tray, they spring into action. There is no aggression in their behaviour, just hunger. Like so many pigs shoving each other to the trough, they descend upon the man until the tray is empty, then they retire with satisfied grunts to their corners to enjoy thier meal. They do not talk. They do not acknowledge the man. They do not thank him, or cry out to him to save them from their prison. To them, this room is the world – all the world they have ever known. And now finally, it suddenly dawns upon you what’s really wrong with this scene. All six of these boys look exactly the same. Not just similar … exactly the same. Exactly the same, in fact, as a young Bill Gates…
It is now possible to clone human beings. In the near future, a wealthy person may be able to clone himself, produce half dozen replicas, and just keep them alive. No education, no affection, no life – just keep them alive. Why? So that when he grows old and sick, he has a sure supply of compatible donor organs and blood at his service. The sort of health insurance you can’t buy – until now.
It’s a horrific scenario, but the scary thing is that it is possible, today. Scientists have already cloned a variety of creatures, starting with the celebrity Dolly the sheep. So far the only publicly announced clones, such as those claimed by South Korean Hwang Woo-Suk, have truned out to be frauds. But the day is near when the real thing will stare us in the face.
And our lives will change. For example, would it be wrong to clone a person in order to save their life by thus producing an essential organ? What if we clone a person and let the zygote grow to only three weeks old when it is just a bundle of cells, and then we skim off some cells for research every week so that the zygote never grows beyond the three week stage? Would that be alright?
These technical advances need a response, for they are changing the way we think about what it means to be a human being. In our rationalistic society, already many see a human being as nothing more than an advanced animal, merely a complicated biological machine. The soul, they say, is an illusion, it does not exist. Our ‘personhood’ is nothing more than the result of brain cells firing in a certain pattern. With this attitude, there’s nothing wrong with the scenarios I described above. What we do to animals we have the right ot do to human animals.
It is already among us. People who are pro-abortion by and large do not consider a human foetus as being a human being. That’s why they claim the right of the mother to kill it. What can we say about a society that pulls so many of its children apart, ripping them from their mothers’ wombs in little pieces?
This is disturbing stuff, but sooner or later, we are going to have make up our minds. And we as Christians will need to be ready to speak up.