Jesus entered our world as an embryo. God Himself came among us microscopically. In every moments-old zygote, we behold our Lord and Savior (Matthew 25:40). The Word became flesh and dwelt among us just like this. We see ourselves as well alongside each newly conceived human being. Apart from Christ Jesus, we can do nothing more than they. And the devil perceives the same thing. Satan still rages over the One that got away. So he takes aim at whatever little ones are left. As precious and treasured as they are, so are the rest of us. Whatever threatens them puts all humankind at risk, too.
Genetic editing presents one such potential weapon. It began with the discovery of CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) sequences in the DNA (biological blueprints) of bacteria. Researchers then identified the sequence associated with the Cas9 protein as the simplest form of this system. Now scientists have adapted it into a very precise, efficient, and inexpensive technique for removing and replacing specific genes. They have succeeded at introducing engineered bacteria into another creature’s body to interact with its cells and modify their programming. This alters the whole being, especially if it takes place while the being goes through its embryonic stages, and then even affects all the being’s future descendants (known as germline manipulation).
CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing could cure certain hereditary disorders. Much study should be done to ascertain unforeseen consequences and side effects before applying it to human beings. It could also fundamentally change a person’s makeup. Certain physical or personality characteristics may become “selectable” and “preferred.” Our culture may reduce children to products and commodities even more than it already does.
That’s why it causes serious concern that a team from Oregon has already used the CRISPR/Cas9 process to mutate a large number of one-cell embryos, which the team then destroyed. These least of the Lord’s (and our own!) brothers and sisters are neither experiments nor expendable. Human worth does not depend on a person’s size, as if bigger individuals matter more than others. Rather, “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29).
Three-parent embryos provide the devil another opportunity to degrade humanity. A procedure called mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) intends to correct a category of genetic diseases. These ailments (including some types of diabetes, blindness, and epilepsy) derive from defects in the mother’s mitochondria, which are important structures in the operation of cells. MRT involves in vitro fertilization and adds in unimpaired mitochondria from another mother (the “third parent”) to prevent passing on the condition to the child. These mitochondria and their DNA then multiply into the child’s cells as the embryo grows.
Does the third parent have rights and responsibilities to the child? What unknown dangers does MRT impose on embryos (in addition to those dangers which are already known, such as damage, abnormalities, and death)? For these reasons, U. S. law does not permit MRT. One American doctor has established a fertility clinic in Mexico and is advertising MRT as a remedy for age-related infertility (some physicians believe mitochondrial deficiencies disrupt cell function as we get older). He claims to have produced the first live birth utilizing MRT, and he charges $80,000 for his efforts. Yet these least of our Lord’s (and our own!) brothers and sisters are neither property nor projects. Human life’s value does not rise or fall with the level of one’s development (who decides how much development is enough, since human development embraces a decades-long spectrum), as if more cells means more sanctity. Instead, “children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
The evil one can even exploit otherwise helpful measures. Twice this year technicians have successfully gestated fetal lambs in synthetic wombs. They transplanted the unborn animals from their mothers’ wombs at a point equivalent to about 22 weeks in human pregnancy. They chose sheep because their lungs mature similarly to human babies, and inadequate respiratory ability often causes death for premature infants. During the one-week observation, the lambs not only survived but developed in the ex-vivo uterine environment (EVE)—essentially a sterile, chemically-balanced, climate-controlled pouch.
Artificial wombs might save the lives of early or aborted children. But would they contribute to the manufacture of offspring entirely outside a mother’s body? What of the first embryos selected for study? How long will they be allowed to advance? What if they acquire abnormalities along the way? How many will be destroyed? These least of the Lord’s (and our own!) brothers and sisters are neither mistakes nor merchandise. Human life’s significance does not differ with environment, as though persons of one origin or location take priority over persons of another. In fact, “upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother’s womb” (Psalm 71:6).
Embryonic Stem Cells
Satan also still employs his original swindle. He ruins humankind’s God-ordained community with competition and wrecks our God-given sharing with selfishness. He positions one life in opposition to another. Reports have promised that embryonic stem cells (ESCs) can treat almost any condition and save lives once thought terminal. These cells arise right after fertilization as the zygote begins to divide and multiply, and they will eventually differentiate into all of the body’s organ and tissue types. However, isolating and obtaining them requires dismembering the embryo to death.
Furthermore, no clinical trial to date using ESCs has demonstrated therapeutic success. In animal experiments, ESCs transformed into cancerous tumors. Nevertheless, a Chinese institute will soon start testing ESCs as a remedy for Parkinson’s disease and macular degeneration. This stands in stark contrast to recent research that found induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) relieved Parkinson’s symptoms in monkeys (without degenerating into tumors). IPSCs have the same abilities as ESCs but have been cultivated from adult skin cells. This eliminates the need for obliterating embryos. It also has the advantage of coming from the patient’s own body (decreasing rejection).
Opposition must continue to denounce harvesting ESCs as unsafe, unethical, and unnecessary. These least of the Lord’s (and our own!) brothers and sisters are neither spare parts nor lab samples. Human life’s respect and protection do not rest upon degree of dependency (aren’t we all dependent to one extent or another?), as if certain needs nullify human nature. Indeed …
“[T]hey were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them … Jesus called them to him, saying, ‘Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:15-16).