Advances in technology are changing almost everything about our lives. But it must not change how we understand, and value, human life.
Over the past few weeks on BreakPoint and our BreakPoint podcast, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about medical technologies and the ethical dilemmas we all face now because of them.
On the surface, the issue seems simple: Having babies is a good thing, so any technology that helps us have babies must be good, too.
But technologies—like in vitro fertilization, surrogacy, egg donation—raise enormously important questions: Where is the line between fulfilling God’s command to be fruitful and actually playing God in ways that trivialize human dignity? Is it ever okay to treat life in the womb or the test tube as a commodity? Are today’s reproductive technologies safeguarding life or redefining it? What, in the end, does it mean to be human? To bear God’s image?
Big questions, made bigger and even more urgent as medical technology advances by leaps and bounds, with both its good and bad news. We should celebrate the fact, for example, that German doctors used ultrasound and genetic testing to identify a rare disease in two twin boys while they were still in the womb—a disease that would affect their ability to perspire and form teeth. After identifying the problem, the doctors were able to develop a therapy and the toddlers are now developing normally.
Yet the same technologies that allow us to save and improve human life, even in utero, can be used to destroy human life: like that announcement last summer from Iceland that they’ve “almost eliminated Down syndrome.” Or more accurately, by using the same ultrasound and genetic testing Iceland has eliminated almost all babies in utero with Down syndrome.
And this is just the ethical issues at the beginning of life. Technologies have also complicated things at the end of life. The cases of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans in England were agonizing in all kinds of ways, and yet every day millions face the ethical challenge of when it’s time to die. Not to mention whether it’s ethically or morally permissible to withhold treatment from a critically ill or dying patient.
And we now have to wrestle with whether, now that it’s legal, is it ever ethical and morally permissible to help someone kill himself? When the medical call to care becomes the medical call to kill, how will those with disabilities be affected? (Look to the Netherlands and Canada for the answer to that one).
And speaking of those with disabilities, are technologies improving their lives or making them even more vulnerable? What kind of assistance—governmental, insurance, church care—ought they receive?
Well, lots of questions. And they’re no longer theoretical ones for specialists. Every single one of us will face them at some point in our lives.
That’s why the Colson Center is hosting another of our great short courses. Come to BreakPoint.org to register. This one: “Christian Ethics in the Brave New World,” will be each Tuesday evening for four weeks, beginning June 5 at 8 Eastern. Don’t worry if you have to miss an evening, because if you can’t make a session, a recording is available to all registered students.
Here’s the lineup: Scott Klusendorf, pro-life apologist with the Life Training Institute, will instruct on beginning of life issues. Bioethicist Ben Mitchell will instruct on end of life issues, as well as how evolving technologies affect our human dignity every day. Emily Colson, author of “Dancing with Max,” will instruct on disability and the vulnerable among us.
This will be a challenging four nights, but if we don’t equip ourselves to think clearly about these issues, we will find ourselves morally compromised, especially when we’re in the heat of the moment having to make decisions about those we love the most.