Technological inroads into the beginnings of human life: Social, ethical and religious repercussions

Technological inroads into the beginnings of human life: Social, ethical and religious repercussions
Presented by Professor Gareth Jones at the ISCAST Vic Intensive 2010


Gareth Jones gained degrees from the Universities of London, Western Australia, and Otago, and is currently Professor of Anatomy and Structural Biology and Director of the Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago.


One Christian organization, committed to demonstrating the manner in which the Christian faith should be addressing questions of relevance for contemporary society, has as one of its fundamental tenets that ‘human life is sacred from conception.’ Consquences and repercusisons of this position.

ARTs in historical context
Developments since late 1980s:
Embryonic stem cells
Cloning (therapeutic/research)
Chimeras and hybrids
Prematurity – NICUs

Responses to the ARTs in the mid-1980s
Condemnation of ARTs by evangelical theologians and Vatican; alternative responses by church bodies.

Responses to the ARTs post-2000
Over past 20 years, science has moved on in dramatic fashion. To what extent, if any, have Christian perspectives been influenced by the scientific developments? The contemporary theological scene is remarkably similar to the theological scene of 1987. Those prepared to accommodate to the challenges presented by IVF are prepared to accommodate to the challenges of PGD, embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning. Those who saw IVF as entering illicit divine territory are appalled at subsequent developments that only serve to demonstrate that their initial repugnance was justified; biomedical interventions into reproduction are to be opposed and resisted as a theological imperative.

Roman Catholicism
2008 publication of Dignitas Personae on Certain Bioethical Questions. This was intended to bring up-to-date the earlier instruction Respect for Human Life (Donum Vitae), published in 1987, in which the Vatican had set out its objections to IVF primarily on the grounds of its use of artificial means to achieve conception without sexual intercourse. Dignitas Personae does not challenge the artificiality of the process, but seeks to protect human life on the grounds of its being personal from conception onwards.; aims to defend the dignity of the human embryo. All reproductive procedures condemned on variety of grounds.
Alternative Roman Catholic voices: Thomas Shannon and James Walter; Celia +Deane-Drummond; Ann Marie Mealey

Major differences of opinion: from very conservative eg Edwin Hui and range of evangelical pressure groups, to far more accepting of (and advocacy of) developments eg Ted Peters.
Pastoral issues as noted by Stephen Bellamy.
Peters: In his many writings Peters is curious as to why so many theologians, when confronted by the value of the human embryo, are drawn to the past, since this confines the debate to what he considers is a confused account of genetic origin. He contends that this is not required by Christian theology, since it leaves out of account God’s eschatological call to become who we are destined to be. This is closely allied with gifts given us by God, namely, our creativity as human beings, the glimpse we have been given of God’s promised future, and our ability to make decisions for the good. For Peters while human dignity is conferred by God, it is our duty to confer it on others.

Exploring the borderlands
The development of the ARTs is scientifically driven whereas their application is community driven. The former is largely dependent upon the ethos of science, whereas the latter depends upon the worldview and hence interpretive framework of the community. Using the reproductive technologies to create highly unusual and unstable family structures are dominant forces that stand in stark contrast to central Christian imperatives. In my view, it is at this point that theology should be making its presence felt rather than in endlessly reworking arguments as to when embryos acquire absolute moral value. In my view a Christian commitment should be directed at arguing for ways in which the technologies should be applied rather than in whether the technologies should or should not exist.

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