In the last half-century or so we have experienced what might well be called a revolution in reproduction. We are likely to describe it as a technological revolution, and it surely is that. But it is also—and perhaps more importantly—a revolution in our way of thinking about the relation between parents and children.
Although RT no longer garners many headlines, this does not mean that it is free of controversial ethical issues, many of which challenge religious beliefs regarding marriage, family, and more broadly what it means to be human. Consequently, it is incumbent upon Christians to evaluate RT in light of their most deeply held theological and moral convictions, especially those considering using RT and those providing pastoral care and guidance in the discernment process.
In 2015, while serving as President of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS), I took the opportunity in the annual presidential address to raise what I think are some of the most pressing issues facing the church today in medicine, particularly at the edges of life. What follows are thoughts adapted from my presentation. In my experience, churches are undereducated when it comes to ethical issues raised by advances in medicine and technology, a neglect that is critical because these issues are not just academic ones but touch people’s lives in very tangible and deep ways.
The estimated number of frozen embryos in the United States in 2013 was approximately 800,000. These people exist and their lives are in grave danger. Not all of them are available for adoption, but hundreds, if not thousands, might be. I would argue not only is it morally permissible to adopt an embryo; it is praiseworthy. We should condemn the process that results in this conundrum, but that does nothing to help the human beings that already exist.
The desire to have a child of one’s own is a compelling force for many women. This desire drives many of the technological advances in reproductive medicine of which uterine transplantation is a prime example. Its recent development highlights the quagmire of ethical issues arising from technological advancement. When perfected, this procedure would appear to be a promising achievement, providing women who would have had no possibility of reproducing with the hope of having a child of their own. But are there other ethical implications to consider, particularly in the context of church life and practices?
Throughout various points of the church calendar we are reminded of how God establishes the value of human life, namely, by the incarnation of God the Son—Christ. No doubt, this divine affirmation is needed now more than ever in a context where discussions on the value of all human life are a part of everyday conversation. But this post isn’t a typical bioethical argument, although it has implications for it given the importance of the subject, namely the human embryo. While other issues could be discussed, for our purposes here we offer some suggestions for thinking through one important issue concerning the embryo, the problem of so-called embryo glut (i.e., excess), which, we think, affords Christians an opportunity for redemptive action, i.e., the rescue of a human life frozen in a perpetual state of inactivity.
Now, an increasing amount of information can be derived through various tests, screenings, and monitoring of the child through its earliest days. For example, genetic tests have become a standard aspect of pregnancy care in medically advanced countries such as the United States. Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) is one such test, and it continues to grow in popularity. Much as going to college is often the assumed next step following high school graduation, prenatal testing is generally accepted as “what you do” when a woman is expecting. It might be prudent, therefore, for Christians to honestly grapple with some of the ethical considerations these tests raise.