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Man has been trying to improve himself by his own power since the beginning. The results speak for themselves.
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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stem Cells and Creating Life

Two stories collected from the web by bioethics.com caught my attention today. The first one pertains to stem cell research and the other to genetic engineering.

The stem cell story comes from the Chicago Tribune. Researchers are using a patient's own stem cells to improve heart function in people with heart failure. They have used stem cells derived from the patient's bone marrow and fat tissue and have found that both kinds of cells offer benefit, but the cells from fat tissue work especially well. And no embryos were created or destroyed in the process. Any supporters for embryonic stem cell research reading this? Please post links to therapeutic successes using embryonic cells in the combox. Thanks.

The genetic engineering story comes from the BBC. Researchers are crafting new DNA sequences to modify existing organisms for particular purposes. On the one hand, this only represents an advancement of technique, not intent. The Bible relates the efforts of Jacob to breed sheep with a particular trait. Jacob used breeding to modify the DNA. Modern science simply modifies the DNA itself. I say "simply" in a relative sense, since the process is not really simple at all.

On the other hand, the potential for misuse and mistake is exceedingly high. Many of the organisms are bacteria. A nefarious person could easily create DNA for a highly infections germ that is also resistant to all antibiotics and which the human body cannot fight. Or a germ that transforms organic material into oil and somehow propagates on, say, vegetation and destroys all life as we know it. If you can dream it, you can make it. Such things can be weaponized or made by accident, and they can be unleashed by intent or by accident. It's not limited to bacteria, either. We already see in the news controversy over genetically modified foods and express horror over human and animal hybrids and so forth. And just as breeding techniques, which include preventing undesirable specimens from breeding, can be used to "improve" the human race, so can genetic engineering be used to create some sort of super-human or trans-human being. Think super-strong soldier or super-smart elitist politician.

I am not afraid of breeders doing things to come up with a meatier cow or a beta-carotene-rich form of rice for some reason. I guess because human breeding is left up to individuals. It is really hard to breed a special race of humans. But it would be easy to build one.

The thing about humans, though, is this. The way humans really improve themselves is spiritually, not physically. A new, genetically engineered body with a super-duper brain will still be a person who will be either good or evil, and if evil, that body will be just a bigger impediment than it would be for the rest of us. Harder to control, harder to restrain for the good.

Authentic bioethics has to keep in mind that human beings are spiritual. Whatever choices researchers make, they affect themselves as persons. Not bodily, but in their attitudes and inclinations. Choices reveal and reinforce a person. This happens spiritually. Bioethics is not only about what we do to others, but what we do to ourselves in our choices that affect others. Our ultimate good is God. Take God out of the equation, and there is nothing left to say but that man is god. And not man as a whole, but the individual "I" is god. Anarchy or totalitarianism of the powerful. Chaos or oppression. Only if there be a GOD is there any freedom and order. Bioethics has to include that perspective or it fails to be a system to guide or assess human action.

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