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Ethics

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Subtle Verbal Splicing


Did you see the July 4, 2016 issue of Time magazine? In her lead story on the potentials and pitfalls of CRISPR (the process for DNA splicing) Alice Park overlooks the first ethical problem with her own splice of illogic:

Sometime soon, [Kathy] Niakan will place a human embryo on the platform of her microscope. With one hand, she will steady the embryo – an egg that has been fertilized by a sperm but hasn’t yet begun the cell division that eventually leads to a person.

Did you catch it? “That eventually leads to a person.” When would that be?

Park does what others easily do – they ignore the biological fact that life begins at fertilization. What is going on here is the “slight of hand” that we see more and more of these days. No one wants to talk about life. That would be too revealing. Rather, the emphasis is on some nebulous concept of personhood which, by Park’s reasoning, must come at some point down the line.

Life is defined objectively. It is the biological joining of sperm and egg and a maturing process that continues from the point of fertilization to death. Ascribing “personhood” is the smoke-and-mirrors attempt to disguise the reality that with each dissection, slicing and dicing scientists terminate a life in its embryonic stage.

This degradation of human life is permeating society. Advocates for abortion finally admit that in an abortion a life is ended. They simply qualify it a life subordinate to the mother’s life and therefore expendable. Newborn life that is unwanted because of physical and/or mental challenges is increasingly becoming expendable (read up on the Groningen Protocol). With increased interest in assisted-suicide laws any life can fall under the precarious definition of “unwanted” or “useless” and therefore expendable (read up on what is happening in the Netherlands and Belgium).

There is a lot of concern that CRISPR technology is one step closer towards building a new hybrid of humans with unknown and potentially horrific repercussions down the genetic line. I suggest we deal with this first ethical problem – a life is lost in each experiment. That callousness does not bode well for the ethical decision-making anticipate down the line. When one ignores “life” and focuses rather on “personhood” the door is open to easily transition from healing maladies, to improving the species, to eliminating the unwanted.

I share in the excitement about all of the potential cures that may come from CRISPR technology. Unfortunately, Park does her own linguistic gene splicing of the first ethical quandary that is faced right now – sacrificing life in the hopes of bettering life. To dissect out “life” and to replace it with “person” in the ethical debate is bad science and bad ethics. It further opens the Pandora’s box of cheapening God’s gift of life.


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