LONDON - Are highly civilized humans able to replace God, the sole creator of this universe? The answer to this question has become more worrying as the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the United Kingdom on July 21 relaxed the regulations on “designer babies” to allow more screening on genetic traits and selection of embryos.
Currently, the law allows fertility clinics to screen embryos for serious physical disorders, so that the parent can choose to abort the child before giving birth. For example, in the UK, over 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted.
After the new amendment, scientists will be allowed to take a cell sample from the embryo to identify whether the embryo is a genetic match for an ill elder child. Stem cells from the umbilical cord or bone marrow of the new baby, which can be developed into particular tissues, will be taken and implanted in the bone marrow of the sick child. The technology can heal a range of diseases, especially those which rely on specific donors as the only way of treatment like the blood disorder Diamond-Blackfan Anaemia (DBA).
The viewpoint taken by the HFEA, is that the highest priority is placed in saving the life of the sick child and considering the emotions of the parents. On the other hand, Christians and Catholics are highly concerned about the ethical dilemma in producing an embryo as a biological tool to save another life.
Roger Smith, Head of Public Policy at CARE, a UK Christian social concern charity, said, “This technique is fraught with ethical and clinical difficulties. It means that children will be created as biological commodities - a child as the means to another’s end. There is also a considerable risk of damaging embryos through the biopsy process. We are deeply disappointed by the HFEA’ s decision.”
David King, director of Human Genetics Alert pressure group, said, “It is wrong to create a child simply as a means to an end, however good that end might be... This violates the basic ethical principle that we should not use people as tools.”
In expressing his deep concern on the controversial decision of HFEA, the Roman Catholic Church Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow, Scotland, and a member of the Catholic Bishops’ Joint Bioethics Committee, issued a statement during his time away leading a pilgrimage:
“We do not, as a society, have the right to initiate human life either to destroy it, or for purposes, however nobly intended, which render that life a means to someone else’s ends,” Archbishop Conti commented.
Many have called for a basic respect and love to human life, even if it is just an embryo- a group of cells that may not have a physical conscience.
The General Secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF), Peter Saunders commented, “Embryos are human beings worthy of the utmost respect and should not be treated as a means to an end. It also cannot be in the best interests of any donor child, however much they are subsequently loved, to be created for the primary purpose of providing transplant material for somebody else.”
“One can understand the motives of those parents who request such a procedure, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that embryos are human beings, whether implanted in the womb and carried to term, or reproduced and then destroyed in the laboratory,” echoed in Archbishop Conti’s statement.
“Human life is not a commodity; a baby is not a product; an embryo is not a cluster of exploitable cells.” This declaration from Archbishop Conti seemed to echo many of the opposing voices from Christians and Human Right campaigners.
In addition, there is a worry about the relaxation of the regulation will provoke another move down the slippery slope. Further development of this trend may move to Eugenics, allowing parents to choose the sex, hair color and intelligence of their baby.
As CMF warned, “No parent would fail to understand the desire to do everything possible to help a sick child; but such a relaxation of the rules will take us down a slippery slope where designer embryos will be created and destroyed for increasingly trivial reasons.”
Representing the voice of Christians from the medical profession, CMF objectively suggested the presence of alternative ways to heal sick children without a designer baby.
CMF General Secretary stated, “There is no doubt that the blood disorder Diamond-Blackfan Anaemia (DBA) is a serious and potentially fatal condition. However, current treatment using steroids, transfusion and chelation has made possible a median survival of over 30 years for DBA sufferers and treatments are improving all the time. Bone marrow transplants are also not without significant risk. But this sort of information rarely finds its way into the media’s version of the story.”
Behind all the voice of opposition, now, a three-month consultation “Choosing the Future” run by the Human Genetics Commission (HGC) will be launched for the public to respond to a wide range of issues ranging from the screening of embryos and genetic research, to fertility treatments and the prospect of designer babies. Christians are strongly encouraged to participant in it to ensure a Christian viewpoint is loudly heard.