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

Genetic Engineering! What high hopes this holds for the future of man! It has the potential to create heaven on earth and loose man once and for all from the chains of ignorance and poverty which hold him in his dark prison!

We have discussed in our last article what men have already accomplished through genetic engineering and what they hope to accomplish in the future as the genetic code is broken and the secrets of it are learned.

We have to discuss one other aspect of genetic engineering before we move on with our discussion. This has to do with what is called “cloning.” A description of this is found in an article by Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic moralist, entitled, “Moral Theology and Genetics.” It is published in a book edited by Stephen E. Lammers & Allen Verhey, “On Moral Medicine: Theological Perspectives in Medical Ethics.” He writes:

Science can now remove the nucleus from a fertilized frog’s egg and replace it with a nucleus from one of the cells of a developing embryo (part of the problem is that the genes must not be already differentiated, as is the case in most cells). The fertilized cell thus develops into a frog which is the genetic twin of the frog from which the nucleus of the cell was taken.

By means of cloning is it theoretically possible to make as many of one kind of creature as one wishes, each creature being exactly identical to all the others. It has been suggested that such procedures could be used to develop people who are half apes and half men with extra long arms to pick fruit in orchards, to develop whole castes of people with sub-level intelligence to do menial labor which none of us likes to do, to perfect in this way human robots who will do all the drudgery in life while men of greater intelligence can enjoy life’s pleasures. Genetic engineering holds out all sorts of prospects for a better life. It sounds like Huxley’s prophecy come true: humans and sub-humans produced on laboratory assembly lines for specific tasks in life—the sub-mental for drudgery, the super-intelligent for the enjoyable parts of life.

In this article we propose to discuss the moral aspects of this technique and look at them from the perspective of Scripture. Before we do this, two things must be said.

One is that some may argue that this is hardly worth discussing because the hopes of scientists are still future and they may never be able to realize the dreams of which they speak. Genetic engineering, while holding out great hope, is a thing of the future. So why worry about it? Why ought the Christian to concern himself with it? He will never need to face the moral issues which are brought up by it.

Two things have to be said in this connection. One is that I have learned over the course of the years not to underestimate what science is able to do. Forty years ago I would have insisted that any man who claimed that man would land on the moon was stark, raving mad. But men have landed on the moon. Thirty years ago I would have laughed at any one who said that someday we would have to face the problems of surrogate motherhood. But today these problems are being fought in the courts. Twenty years ago the idea of conception in a test tube seemed preposterous. But today it is being commonly done in this land and other countries.

When God prevented men from building the tower of Babel, he 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.” God stopped them then, for many centuries had to elapse for the church to be gathered and Christ had not yet come. But now we live near the end and the restraints of sin are being taken away so that God allows man to do whatever he imagines. We have to face this horrible fact, for it is necessary before the Lord returns so that the full horror of the sin of man may be revealed and God be shown righteous in all His judgments.

The second thing that needs saying is this. Even though science has not yet succeeded in doing what it hopes to do in the whole field of genetic engineering, now is the time to consider the moral implications of these things. If we foolishly wait until these things are upon us, we will find it very much more difficult to come to conclusions on these matters in the light of Scripture, for we will become caught up in the stream of them and swept along without having the time or opportunity to weigh their moral worth. When we take upon ourselves the responsibility to drive a car we ought, at the outset, determine that we are going to abide by the laws of the land; we ought to have a clear conception of what we will do if the brakes on the car fail at any given time; we ought to have an idea ahead of time what actions we can take under various emergencies. The time to do this is not while we are hurtling down a mountain road with useless brakes. The precipice will be the end of the ride.

We ought, I think, to have a clear understanding of what scientists have in mind. I found such a description in an article by Joseph Fletcher included in the recently published book edited by Stephen E. Lammers & Allen Verhey which I mentioned above. The article of Fletcher is written under the title: “The Ethics of Genetic Control: Some Answers.”

One must understand that Joseph Fletcher is a proponent of the new morality; i.e., of a morality which holds that anything is right as long as it seeks the greatest good of the greatest number—”good,” of course, being defined by Fletcher himself. He is in favor of adultery, artificial germination, birth control, incest, genetic engineering and every conceivable vice which has been considered or committed under the sun—although, of course, with various restrictions. He has nothing but scathing words for those who hold to a morality rooted in the law of God. Concerning cloning he says:

There is no ethical objection to cloning when it is morally [that is, humanely) employed. Artificial virgin births and cloned “multiplets” promise real benefits not only to human beings but to the “green revolution” also. Whole orange groves are sometimes copied ,tree by tree, from a single high yield tree. Herds of meat and coat animals cloned from a champion Kenya or Kazakhstan sheep could increase our meat supply two or three times in just a couple of years. Fish farming in controlled waters is another option; we need not rely altogether on delicate ecobalances. What men can do by cloning with their plants and animals they could and sometimes should do for themselves. There is no moral reason why we must follow biological heterogeneity in all human beings, whenever homogeneity can serve a constructive purpose.

Speaking concerning genetic engineering for disease control, he writes:

Producing our children by “sexual roulette” without preconceptive and uterine control, simply taking “pot luck” from random sexual combinations, is irresponsible—now that we can be genetically selective and know how to monitor against congenital infirmities. As we learn to direct mutations medically we should do so. Not to control when we can is immoral. This way it will be much easier to assure our children that they really are here because they are wanted, that they were born “on purpose.”

What is particularly frightening about a man like Fletcher is his insistence that genetic engineering be made a matter of coercion, He writes:

A worrisome side to the practice of control is whether it should ever be imposed or must always be voluntary. If people could be relied upon to be compassionate we would have no reason to even consider mandatory controls. But there are too many who do not control their lives out of moral concern; they are self-centered about what they do or neglect to do, even though they may be “cagey” about it. Large families and a pious disregard of genetic counseling, like refusing to undergo vaccinations until it is made a matter of police enforcement, show how the common welfare often has to be safeguarded by compulsory control or what Garret Hardin calls “mutual coercion mutually agreed upon.” 

Coercion is a dirty word to liberals, but all social controls—e.g., the government’s tax powers—are really what the majority agree upon, however reluctantly, out of enlightened self-interest and aquid pro quo willingness to give up something to get something better. It might be protection of overpopulation, for instance. Ideally it is better to do the moral things freely, but sometimes it is more compassionate to force it to be done than to sacrifice the well-being of the many to the egocentric “rights” of the few. This obviously is the ethics of a sane society. Compulsory controls on reproduction would not, of course, fit present interpretations of due process in the fifth and fourteenth amendments to the Constitution. Here, as in so many other ways, the law lags behind the ethics of modern medicine and public health knowledge.

Not only is this frightening in the extreme, but we can well believe that the day is not too far distant when these “laws” will be put into effect. Anyone who does not have children in the way the state prescribes (all according to high ethics and true morality) will be severely punished by legal penalties.