“Quiet and Careful” Eugenics

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Over the last several years I have researched and presented a lot on the past, present, and future of eugenics and abortion (see here, here, and here). I have often stated that eugenics (which essentially means “well-born”) has become in the words of eugenics expert Edwin Black, “quiet and careful.”1 While it is an extremely dark topic, I think it is important for Christians to be informed and equipped to defend the sanctity of life based on the authority of God’s Word.

A recent news report claimed that a blood test has been developed that will make genetic screening of babies in the womb even easier.2 When a woman is pregnant, small pieces of DNA from the baby can cross the placenta and enter the mother’s bloodstream. A group of scientists was able to deduce the sequence of the genome (DNA) of a baby at 18 weeks of pregnancy by comparing the DNA in mom’s blood to mom’s DNA and a sample of DNA taken from the father. This is the equivalent of putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle! They successfully detected almost 90% of the mutations that were new in the baby (not found in mom or dad).

Although more than 3,000 genetic disorders can be screened for, some scientists are concerned about what people will do with the knowledge of every single DNA difference. Most geneticists would quickly acknowledge that many mutations are essentially neutral or nearly neutral, meaning they are not beneficial or detrimental and will have little to no effect on the individual. Dr. Robert Winston, professor of science and society and emeritus professor of fertility studies at Imperial College, London, stated the following:

The biggest ethical issue might be that we are going to cause a great deal of worry unnecessarily to a great deal of women who are pregnant. I am uneasy about it because I think it is unlikely to be absolutely accurate and we may raise more concerns in parents than are justified.

I am fundamentally uneasy about all screening tests. I think that most of the time we are diagnosing things that really are not there and screening like this is probably going to be something where we are going to harm more people than we can help. I am a bit sceptical that it is going to be of value.3

However, other scientists have been quick to extol the “virtue” of this type of genetic screening. Dr. John Harris, director of the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation at the University of Manchester, England stated as follows:
I believe one should be in favour of would-be parents getting the maximum information about the child that they might be having, either to prepare for eventualities they may face or to take the decision, if it is early enough, not to continue with the pregnancy.

No potential being has a right to become an actual being – abortion is not a “wrong” to the individual because the individual in question will never have existed.

We would be negligent and reckless if we paid no attention to the health care of future generations and future people. The ability to protect future generations from terrible conditions that will blight their lives seems to me to be an absolute moral responsibility and a duty that we should not shirk.3

Genetic screening in and of itself is not inherently evil. It can help prepare families and lead to early treatment and intervention. However, like in so many other areas, it is what people choose to do with the information gained from genetic screening that can lead to wrong actions such as abortion.

The authors of the paper on the new blood test stated, “The less tangible implication of incorporating this level of information into pre-natal decision-making raises many ethical questions that must be considered carefully within the scientific community and on a societal level.”4 This is very true. But if people don’t hold to an ultimate authority when it comes to the value of life, then it will be up to parents to decide whether or not a child should live or die. If government-controlled health care goes into effect, then the decision may be made at another level altogether.

Contrary to Dr. Harris’ belief, a baby in the womb (regardless of its stage of development) is an actual being and an individual, so abortion is murder. Dr. Harris is not wrong because I say so; he is wrong because God says so! We are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and God knew us before we were born and has a purpose and plan for our lives (Jeremiah 1:5). Isaiah 43:7 states that God has created everyone for His glory.

I couldn’t help thinking of these verses a few nights ago at VBS as I held on my lap my friend’s son who is differently-abled. What joy this little boy brings to my life when he gives me a hug, I see him laugh and smile, and think about how he has radically helped me understand what those verses practically mean in a fallen world.

Drs. Mitchell and Menton and I recently filmed a DVD series called the Sanctity of Life that will be available in the coming months. We focus on the issues of when life begins, development of life in the womb, stem cells, cloning, death and suffering, suicide, euthanasia, and eugenics and abortion. It’s not available yet, but you can pre-order through the AiG bookstore. We are very excited about this series and hope it will benefit many looking to equip themselves to give solid biblical answers to today’s hot topics.

Keep fighting the good fight of the faith!

[1] Edwin Black, War Against the Weak (New York, NY: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003), p. 421.

[2] Stephen Adams, “Unborn babies could be tested for 3500 genetic faults,” The Telegraph, June 6, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9315265/Unborn-babies-could-be-tested-for-3500-genetic-faults.html.

[3] Nick Collins, “Genetic screening of unborn babies ‘may be inaccurate,’” The Telegraph, June 7, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/science-news/9317638/Genetic-screening-of-unborn-babies-may-be-inaccurate.html.

[4] Jacob Kitzman, et al, “Noninvasive whole-genome sequencing of a human fetus,” Science Translational Medicine (2012) 4:137ra76.

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