Herman C. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

In our last article we concluded a discussion of various medical means which have been employed to enable childless couples to have children. A few other scientific techniques, techniques which we have not yet discussed, are so closely connected with this subject that they should be at least briefly addressed in connection with our broader subject.

Four such subjects have often been treated by ethicists as they ponder the problems which advances in medical science have created. These four are: frozen embryos, sex selection, cloning, and genetic alterations to improve the quality of life. We shall deal with each separately.

As we mentioned in an earlier article, various techniques have now been developed whereby embryos can now be preserved through freezing. U.S. News & World Report in the issue of Nov. 11, 1985 writes:

Through cryopreservation, eggs are fertilized and cooled to minus-321 degrees Fahrenheit in liquid nitrogen. In that condition, embryos could remain safe for centuries—and a couple could have their own genetic offspring even if one or both became sterile. 

Yet frozen embryos present major ethical problems. “To whom do such embryos belong?” asks Michael Flower, a professor at the University of California at San Diego. “To living parents, to the estate of deceased parents, to the storage facility that maintains them, or to the state?”

I have read reports, whether they can be confirmed or not I cannot tell, which state that this practice has already been tried and living and healthy babies produced by such means. In fact some have even used the success of this program to prove that small embryos are not persons, but nothing more than globs of tissue, for, they say, if such an embryo were a person, it could not be frozen and put into a state of total hibernation.

Whether scientists have actually succeeded in accomplishing this we are not sure. We do know that God gives the wicked surprising room to develop their science and enables them to perform deeds which only fifty years or so ago would have seemed impossible. Who of us, e.g., who lived during World War II would have believed that rockets would be made which could land men on the moon for exploratory purposes? I well remember that when moon flights were first mentioned in the news media, the editor of The Banner confidently predicted that God would never allow men to do this. But they did, and space travel has become old hat. If God also allows men to freeze embryos for later thawing and development, God is able to do this. But it must be remembered that God allows such great sins to be committed by wicked men as they make the powers of creation subservient to their use in order that the full wickedness of men will be revealed. In this way the wicked become ripe for judgment and God is shown to be righteous in His punishment of them. One thinks of what God said at the time when men pondered the building of Babel’s tower: “And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (Genesis 11:6). The confusion of languages at Babel was God’s providential restraint upon the wickedness of men so that the Church could be born and saved. But as we near the end and God gives men over to the lusts of their flesh, nothing will be restrained from them so that they may fill the cup of iniquity.

That such processes, if possible, prove that embryos are not persons, we deny, because the Scriptures are unmistakably clear on this point—as we pointed out in an article on abortion.

There is something in this practice which, in its very nature, violates the moral sense of a person who is steeped in the Scriptures. He knows it is wrong, whether he can lay his fingers on the precise reason or not. But a little thought will quickly reveal to us why this practice is wrong.

We are not now immediately concerned about the legal problems which this practice involves—whichU.S. News & World Report refers to—although the magazine calls them “ethical problems.” Nor are we primarily concerned about the motives for doing this, although we cannot think of any good motives. Some have said, as we mentioned in an earlier article, that this will guarantee the future of the race if this world and its population should be destroyed by nuclear warfare. Others want to do this because they do not want any more children than they have, and take steps to make this impossible, but are concerned that in the future they might change their minds. All these points are worth considering, but are not the real reasons why this is so terribly wrong.

In our last article we spoke at some length of the implications of the covenant for various techniques which are now in use to give childless couples children. The same truth of the covenant applies here. Children are given to parents by God. These children belong to the parents who brought them into the world and to no one else. They are given to parents to love and nurture, to bring up in the fear of the Lord and to learn the covenant ways of God’s precepts. When a husband and a wife, with the children given them of the Lord, form a covenant family, then in that family is the earthly picture of the covenant-family life which God lives in Himself. The motivation for bringing forth children on the part of believers is always and only to bring forth the church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is not difficult to see that the freezing of embryos is in direct contradiction to this.

Various techniques have now also been developed which enable parents to determine the sex of a child before conception. We need not go into the scientific processes which are involved in this, although up to this point, such efforts have had only partial success. It is clear that some, even within the church, may consider this to be eminently desirable. Usually parents are content with whatever sex the Lord is pleased to give to parents, thankful when the Lord has made all things well for the mother and the new-born child. But sometimes parents are, for one reason or another, bitterly disappointed. How they desperately wanted a girl when they received a boy; or how they would have liked a boy when they already have four girls. To be able to determine the sex of a child seems desirable.

I personally have no doubt that science will perfect these techniques and will even make great use of them. It will, I fear, become very common for parents to select the sex of their child in every instance of conception and childbirth.

Is this so very wrong?

John Jefferson Davis in his book, Evangelical Ethics, gives his approval to this technique. He writes:

At the personal level, it would seem that such techniques are a legitimate extension of the moral argument for the proper use of contraception. Men and women as the image bearers of God have the responsibility to exercise their procreative powers for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom, and this includes exercising those powers in the light of rational planning and forethought. The right of dominion would extend to the choice of seeking a desired gender balance within the family.

He includes, however, some qualifications. In some instances, after a child is conceived, the sex is determined by various tests. If the child is not of the sex the parents want, abortion is considered. This type of sex selection Davis condemns. He also points out that, while at present various methods of sex selection have not been shown to produce a greater number of birth defects, this still remains a possibility, and it, ought to be considered. He addresses, too, the possibility of social problems which might arise because of sexual imbalances in the general population, but points out that no evidence of this exists.

In spite of his approval, there are, I think, two considerations which enter into the picture. The matter of sexual imbalance in the population is, in spite of Davis’ remarks, something that needs to be considered. I have read somewhere, although the article is long lost, that over the whole earth slightly more men are born than women. Although the number of baby boys just about equals the number of baby girls, a few more baby boys are born than girls. If this is true, then one can see the wisdom of God also in this. God sees to it that about an equal number of both are born so that the population of the world can remain in sexual balance. But a few more boys than girls are born because the life expectancy of the male sex is lower than that of the female. Imagine what could happen if a sizeable fraction of the babies born are now chosen as to sex by silly parents who operate in their choices only on the basis of personal whims.

But another point has to be made. And I can make this point best by way of personal experience. After three boys were born into our own family, our fourth child was also a boy. We cannot deny that there was just a bit of disappointment involved in this, although we were thankful that the Lord gave us another healthy child. I remember my father saying to us that we must be careful lest we question the wisdom of the Lord in this. He reminded us that when we try to determine the sex of an unborn child, what we are really doing is trying to determine the entire life of that child, for the life of a girl would quite obviously be altogether different from that of a boy. He warned us that this determination of the life of a child is God’s business, not our’s. And so indeed it is.

A consideration of the subjects of cloning and genetic manipulation will have to await a future article.