One famous little boy, Charlie Gard, was denied experimental medical interventions because a British court determined it was not in his best interest. Much more quietly, in an American laboratory in the past year, “many tens” of tiny humans were destroyed once their bodies were no longer useful to the more powerful humans who created them.
Last week, MIT Technology Review broke a story of an Oregon scientist who had successfully manipulated the genetic makeup of embryos. These embryos were intentionally conceived through IVF with the potential for a disease of the heart muscle called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Using the gene-editing technique called CRISPR, Dr. Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team were able “to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.” It was a breathtaking development.
And then the embryos were discarded.
By order of Congress, Dr. Mitalipov could not let those “edited” children live. Scientists could, apparently, conceive and then manipulate the genetic makeup of these children without fear of government response. But those children could not be allowed to be born. Incredible.
Bias Against Disability
The layers of evil in the above paragraphs deserve to be unpacked, but I will focus on just one: using disability and disease to justify research on human subjects that is otherwise unacceptable. As Christians, we must recognize and stand against the strong abusing vulnerable members, no matter the rationale for such actions.
The desire to alleviate pain and suffering is, of course, laudable. My family (and yours) has experienced the common graces found through medicine, surgeries, and therapy. For centuries, curious doctors and scientists, many of them Christians motivated by a desire to help people, have explored the causes of disease while searching for cures. Ultimately, human subjects must be part of these experiments.
But there are rules for such experiments, such as informed consent.
Clearly, embryos cannot provide informed consent. Parents can provide consent for some experiments on children, within limitations. It is unclear if the men and women (or, more accurately, the fathers and mothers) who donated their sperm and eggs for Dr. Mitalipov’s research knew or understood how the children created from their donations would be treated.
This would, of course, be true for any experiments on unborn life, not just those with genetic potential toward disease or disability. But please notice that to date, no experiments are being publicly applauded for genetic manipulation of eye color or intelligence. Mere mention of “designer babies” opens up a chorus of denunciations from around the world. Only research that addresses disease and disability, like this study and earlier ones done in China, with the full knowledge that the subjects will be destroyed, is found to be acceptable.
It is part of a cultural bias toward those with disabilities and significant diseases:
- Late-term abortion is argued as acceptable and preferable in cases of disabilities like microcephaly.
- “Right to die” laws have as their written objectives the desire to alleviate pain and suffering. Practically, however, pain is not the reason people kill themselves, but loss of independence and autonomy due to disability.
- Violent victimization of people with disabilities is two to three times higher than those without disabilities.
Nor should we consider these embryos as just little clumps of cells, not really human because they lack consciousness and independence and thus open to experiments that may someday help other people. Those are human embryos, with all the material necessary for life outside the womb if given the time and the right environment to grow.
Ultimately, it is about the strong dominating the weak, using and discarding them like chattel. Even worse, specifically conceiving them with certain “negative” characteristics solely for the sake of research. Doing it in the name of science, and for the purpose of preventing disease, does not make it less wicked or abusive.
God Makes Alive
In Christ, we have a better way. We acknowledge that we weren’t just a helpless cluster of cells needing nourishment and a safe environment to grow; we were dead and without any hope (Ephesians 2:1). Being discarded like trash would be a kindness given the seriousness of our sin.
But God made us alive (Ephesians 2:4–5) and introduced us to the incalculable treasure of his glory and grace!
We did not earn it, deserve it, or even want it. But our good Father provided out of the abundance of his love, goodness, and grace the rescue only he could accomplish. And we add nothing to his greatness or his glory.
So, we do not treat any human being like chattel because God himself declares his sovereignty over unborn children (Psalm 139:13–16), over disease and disability (Exodus 4:11; John 9:1–3), and over everything that is made (John 1:1–3).
Let us call this research what it really is: child sacrifice. Our young are being sacrificed on the altar of scientific knowledge, academic reputation, and potential human benefit. Child sacrifice has always been an abomination to God (Jeremiah 32:35), and it should still be to us today. Their circumstances of conception, their tiny size, and the genetic potential for disease and disability in their bodies does not change this fact: they are image-bearers of the living God and possessors of inherent dignity.
We may not have the political power to stop such experiments in an era where the documented, horrendous abuses of Planned Parenthood toward unborn children and their mothers result in few consequences. But we can ask people to think more deeply about what this research is really about and how it is achieving its ends.
And we can evidence in our churches and communities that we treasure Christ over convenience by embracing those who, in other circumstances, are being destroyed because of their disabilities and diseases. Let us shout to the world, “No chattel here, only family we love!” and extend that regard all the way to the tiniest of human beings.