March 4, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, March 4, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Moral red flags abound in technology where parents can choose sex of their baby
Should parents be allowed to choose the sex of their baby? That question takes the form of the headline recently at CNN. Carina Storrs, writing for CNN, tells us that,
“Many couples trying to conceive a child have at least some inkling of whether they want a girl or a boy.”Show Full Transcript
She then shifts the scene to IVF that is, in vitro fertilization, and she writes,
“But with the growing popularity of in vitro fertilization, more and more parents-to-be are gaining the ability to determine, with almost 100% certainty, the gender of their baby.”
She goes on to say,
“This week, model Chrissy Teigen and her husband, singer John Legend, announced they not only wanted a girl but chose the gender of their baby, a daughter, due this spring.”
That’s one of those stories that tells us that something has leapt off of the pages of science fiction into contemporary fact, and not only that, into the arena of popular culture. We’re talking here about a model and a singer who have decided that they’re going to have a baby and the baby is going to be a girl, and they have used advanced medical technologies to ensure that the only baby they will have is a baby that is a girl. But Carina Storrs recognizes that there is at least a question here and she puts it this way,
“But decisions over whether couples should be given this choice, and what the consequences of it could be, are anything but certain.”
This is where the article gets really, really interesting. As Storrs tells us,
“Doctors have been grappling with these questions for years.”
She documents that,
“In 1999, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a professional organization, held the opinion that using IVF for sex selection should ‘not be encouraged.’ But last year, the group eased its stance and urged clinicians to develop their own policies as to whether or not to offer the service in their practice.”
Now before going any further, let’s look at the actual vocabulary being used here. First of all, we have the use of advanced medical technologies that will determine what gender, what sex a baby will be, as described here as a service, a service that might be offered, to use the language. And then we are told that the group “eased” its stance. Now to “ease” their stance is actually a euphemism, it is an indication that what the group has done is to shift from saying that this procedure should not be used for sex selection purposes, but is now not saying that at all. It instead says that clinicians, local practices, should decide their own policies on the issue.
We’ve seen a very similar thing on the issue of physician-assisted suicide, where, for example, the California Medical Association had long-standingly held that active participation by doctors in assisted suicide was unethical and contrary to right medical practice. But what we now saw recently was that in light of pending legislation it has now become law in California, the California Medical Association, the largest association of physicians in the nation’s largest state also, well, to use the language of the CNN piece eased its stance and indeed it allowed for physician participation in doctor assisted suicide. Interestingly, there’s a statement here from Dr. Mark Sauer who is identified as chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Columbia University Medical Center. He is quoted as saying,
“From my own personal perspective, I don’t think there’s anything unethical about any of it, however it’s ethically controversial.”
Now before we look at his statement, let’s consider why this might be ethically controversial. Well, in the first place, we’re talking about—one way or another—designer babies. There’s no way around it. Here are parents saying that they want to order a particular baby that, in this case, has a particular gender, in the case of this couple, a girl. Here we have the ethical issue, which raises the question in the first place: Should parents demand that a baby be of one gender or another? A specific gender? The second issue is how in the world—even if that were allowable, even if that were considered by a biblical worldview to be ethical—how in the world would you get there? Well, to answer the first question, it would not be ethical to demand a child that would have any particular set of attributes, including sex or gender. If we acknowledge that every single human being is made in God’s image, if we acknowledge that every single human life is God’s gift, if we acknowledge that God is sovereign over the entire process, then it’s God who gets to determine the gender of our children, and it’s God who gets to determine every single attribute about them. That doesn’t mean by any means that parents would sin to hope for a child of a certain gender. That’s simply a part of being human and a part of family life. But to receive every single child, regardless of gender, regardless of any particular attribute, that’s a part of our Christian responsibility that is made clear in the biblical worldview.
Then there looms large a second issue. That is, even if you were to concede hypothetically that will be allowable for parents to want a child of one gender, and to want that child very intently, the question is, how would you get there? And that’s where we have to take a closer look at the actual technology that is involved here. We’re talking about in vitro fertilization, IVF. We’re talking about what had been called a generation ago, test tube babies. This is a technique in which the actual bringing together of the male and the female cells takes place outside of the woman’s body in the context of a laboratory. A couple of other things we need to note—that then requires, in most cases, that there are multiple human embryos that are produced through the process, whether or not the parents intend or are committed to transfer all of those embryos into the woman’s womb. The second issue is this: Not only do you have multiple embryos that are created, there are also now technologies that will allow a genetic profile to be done of the embryos that are created in order to determine not only if they are boys or girls—that is male or female—but any number of other attributes as well. This pre-implantation genetic diagnosis as it’s known is now allowing parents to determine which of the embryos might be more akin to their liking, more of what they want in a child. Now notice again, we have now abstracted the entire process of human reproduction into a laboratory, and we have created a laboratory that allows for a consumer approach to the baby.
We need to note something else. We also have a situation in which there are human embryos that are created by this process that are never actually transferred into the woman’s womb, which means there are human beings at the embryo level that are created and are eventually destroyed, and that itself is a huge ethical problem.
So here we have multiple levels of ethical problems piling one upon the other. We have parents that are beginning to treat children as consumer products. They are beginning to want designer babies. In this case it’s about gender, but tomorrow it can be about something else that is also identified genetically. And then we have a technology that separates human reproduction from the context that we find in Scripture into a laboratory, which then allows search-and-destroy missions of certain embryos in which parents get to say, “We want those, but not the others.” The others will eventually be frozen and then ultimately destroyed.
And then of course, we have the question that arises, as Dr. Mark Sauer quoted in this article says,
“From my own personal perspective, I don’t think there’s anything unethical about any of it, however it’s ethically controversial.”
That’s the statement we saw earlier, now it takes on an entirely new context. Number one, he says,
“…from my own personal perspective.”
Well, that’s interesting, but it’s not particularly morally informing. Here you have one doctor saying, “Well, as far as my personal ethical code is concerned, I don’t see a problem with it.” He went on to say,
“I don’t think there’s anything unethical about any of it.”
Well, that then raises the question: would there be any ethical boundaries to the search for a designer baby whatsoever? We as Christians need to recognize the fact that, increasingly, a large number of clinicians, a large number of researchers, and an increasing percentage of parents or prospective parents really from their own personal perspective, like Dr. Sauer, see nothing particularly unethical about any of it. Explicit in this picture is a growing moral relativism that we see spreading in our society, but we also note that that moral relativism takes on a different kind of authority when it is cited in an article like this and the authority of someone like the chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at a University like Columbia University and its medical center. This is something we need to watch very, very carefully.
Storrs does acknowledge there are two sides to this argument. She points to the fact that many Americans seem to be uncomfortable with the fact that model Chrissy Teigen bragged about the fact that she and her husband had specifically chosen a female embryo in order to be transferred. Storrs also acknowledges the actual technology that is employed in these cases, and she raises the fact that at least some doctors believe that the manipulation of the embryos in the laboratory, even in terms of trying to determine their genetic profile, might actually damage the embryo, which means damaging the human being after birth as well. Storrs also cites the fact that at least some Americans are uncomfortable with the idea of gender selection when it comes to IVF and other reproductive issues because of the possibility of bias against one gender or the other.
Now the background to that is very obvious. We’re looking at the fact that throughout much of Asia, especially in the nations of China and India, there are about 300 million missing girls and women because they were either aborted or they were the victims of infanticide after it was discovered that they were girls. There is the practice in much of Asia of using ultrasound technology in order to determine the gender of the child in order for the mother to decide whether or not she will carry it to birth. The preference for boys and for sons in so much of Asia is so strong that, again, demographers say there are about 300 million missing girls there.
No one is saying that numbers like that are found here in the United States, and indeed some of the people in this article were suggesting that there probably is no gender imbalance in this country, because there be something like an equal number of parents who would want boys as would want girls. But how in the world would we know that? And furthermore, that doesn’t evade the question of the morality of the practice in the first place. We should note from a Christian biblical perspective that it’s really interesting that CNN leads the headline with a question, “Is it ethical for a couple to choose the gender of their child?”
Back in the 1960s when the pill changed everything and became a technological assist to the sexual revolution, the Supreme Court, in a famous ruling entitled Griswold we have cited before, ruled that the state of Connecticut could not forbid a married woman access to birth control, and yet just a couple of years later, that same court came back and decided the very same for women without reference to marriage. In other words, the technology became so disruptive that the pill itself became a major instrument for marginalizing and subverting marriage in the United States. Now we see how the same thing is happening with IVF technology. IVF technology was promised as a way for couples that were struggling with infertility to be able to have a child. It redefined what it meant to have a child, but it also brought about a host of ethical issues, including the fact that many of the human embryos that were created were never transferred into a mother and were otherwise destroyed. As a matter of fact, right now it is estimated that there might be over 1 million human embryos basically in limbo, frozen somewhere in an IVF laboratory. They will not be frozen indefinitely, eventually they will be destroyed.
But now we see that that very technology is now moving to the point that parents, even those who are popular in terms of the culture around us, are beginning to state that they have used this technology and with the kind of genetic testing now available to determine whether or not they would have a boy or a girl. And what we see our medical authorities that had said as recently as less than a decade ago that it was ethically wrong to use the technology in this way, now we have seen that the professional society is coming back to say, “Well, let’s leave it in the hands of the individual doctor, the individual medical practice.” And we also see people saying, “We’re not sure it’s right that the parents should be able to choose the child by gender, but how will we tell them no?” And then the question arises: Well, what then when the parents say they have a right to choose a child on the basis of athletic ability or relative intelligence or any other aptitude? How long before parents say they want a child that has a specific color of hair, or color of eyes, or will reach a specific height, or will have a specific weight? How long will it be? Well, all of this tells us probably not very long. And then we need to note something else. We began by noticing that the CNN headline was a question mark. Is it ethical for couples to choose the gender of their child? The thing we need to note is that it will not be long until that headline no longer raises the question.
Canadian Anglicans not to affirm same-sex marriage in canon law, at least for now
Next, shifting the scene to Canada, sometimes the story is not what did happen, but what didn’t, or in this case, what is not now likely to happen. Ruth Gledhill, reporting for Christian Today tells us that,
“The Anglican Church of Canada is not now expected to change its law this summer to allow gay marriage, the bishops have admitted”
—that according to several bishops of the church speaking to the media. Gledhill goes on to write,
“Canada’s bishops are unlikely to give the two-thirds majority needed to agree changes to the marriage canon [that is the law of the church on the issue of marriage] at the Church’s General Synod in July.
“The realization that the change to marriage doctrine does not have enough support in the leadership has led to some bishops being “mortified and devastated”.
So what’s going on here? This news comes on the other side recently of the Primates of the Anglican Communion—that’s the heads of the various national Anglican churches—to call upon the Episcopal Church in the United States to reverse many of the decisions it has made normalizing homosexuality, electing an openly gay bishop, and endorsing same-sex marriage—actually approving it, not only in the canon law of the church, but eventually now in the rite of worship. And what we are seeing is that there is a response to what took place in the meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion. As we saw, the British media reported this as the Anglican primates putting the American Episcopal Church effectively in timeout, giving it a limited amount of time to repent and to correct its false teachings. But that is not what is going to happen. The presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church made very clear that there is no intention and no will to reverse those decisions made by his church that put the Episcopal Church at odds with the Anglican Communion.
But then the scene shifts to Canada, where there had been expected movement amongst the bishops towards a two thirds majority that this coming summer would also legalize and authorize same-sex marriage within the Anglican Church in Canada. So the headline is now not what did happen or what was expected to happen, but what is now expected not to happen.
Now we do need to look at this issue even more carefully. This does not mean that the Anglican Church in Canada is taking a strongly defined stance for the biblical definition of marriage. It means that there is not at present a majority of two thirds amongst the Church’s bishops to move forward with the change in the Church’s law. But that in itself is headline news. It’s news precisely because the church was expected to move in a parallel with the American Episcopal Church until that meeting of the Anglican Primates in which, at the very least, some kind of break has been put on in the Canadian Anglican Church. But you’ll notice that a significant number of bishops are very upset about this and, as a matter of fact, they released a statement in which they did say that they were “mortified and devastated,” to use their words, about the slowdown in terms of the affirmation of same-sex marriage within their church.
The Anglican bishops are not alone in having authority over this question in the Anglican Church in Canada, but that church cannot change its law without the participation of at least two thirds of the bishops. As the statement coming from the Church said,
“In our exploration of these differences it became clear to us that the draft resolution to change the Marriage Canon to accommodate the marriage of same-sex partners is not likely to pass in the Order of Bishops by the canonical requirement of a two-thirds majority in each Order. Some of us talked of being mortified and devastated by this realization.”
But the bishops then said that they felt obligated to announce the fact that they were not moving as expected towards the affirmation of same-sex marriage this summer. The statement from the Church also announced an attempt to try to hold the Church together in unity even as they were considering this question.
But at this point we need to note something very carefully. There is nothing in this announcement, nothing in the statement, nothing in the context that would suggest that the Anglican Church in Canada is not actually moving towards the normalization of same-sex marriage. As a matter of fact, the Church has been moving that way over a series of years. But it does show us that, at the very least, the meeting of the Anglican Primates did have an effect on the timing in the Church of Canada. If on nothing else, there is at least a raised sensitivity.
But then we need to note from a biblical worldview something else, and this is profoundly important. If you have a church or a communion of churches, a denomination, whatever you might call it, and within that communion of churches you allow not only the affirmation, the clear affirmation of a biblical definition of marriage and a biblical understanding of sexuality, but you also allow those who are for same-sex marriage and those who are for the larger moral revolution when it comes to human sexuality, inevitably it is the same-sex marriage side that will win; inevitably those who are pushing the moral revolution will gain the upper hand.
Eventually, if you accept that both of these positions can be found in the church that will not last for long. And those who are pushing the moral revolution will not only gain the majority, they will eventually push out all those who will not join them in the revolution. The issue becomes one of timing and strategy, not so much a question certainly of if, but only a question of when. But in this case, the “when” is interesting, and that’s why this particular announcement has made news not only in Canada, but elsewhere. And if nothing else at this point, it draws a contrast between a rather cautious stand now undertaken by the Canadians as over against the radical revolutionary views of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
Hitler first appeared in the New York Times as a pandering, racist, yet harmless, politician
Finally, last night I was struck by something cited by Jon Ostrower of the Wall Street Journal as he wrote,
“Out of curiosity, I found the first NYT reference to Adolf Hitler. Nov. 21, 1922.”
In thinking about the realities of politics, American Christians would do well to consider how Hitler was misread and, in this case, how that misreading is cited within the pages of the New York Times. Again, this is the very first time that the name Adolf Hitler has appeared in the New York Times, November 21, 1922. The Times said that,
“Several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.
“A sophisticated politician,” says the New York Times, “credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and overemphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: ‘You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your finer real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”
So what should we note here? We should note that when the New York Times first mentions Adolf Hitler, it notes his horrifying anti-Semitism, but then tries to explain it away by saying it probably isn’t real; he’s probably merely using this anti-Semitism in order to build popular appeal. But of course history records that not only did Adolf Hitler mean what he said and say what he meant, he eventually did gain power in Germany, and that led to the extermination in the Holocaust of millions of people, most of them Jews. At the very least, this should remind us that it could be a horrifying mistake not to believe that someone means exactly what they say.