2004 Beginning-of-Life Issues in Biological Technologies

Presented by the Commission on Christian Action, adopted by the delegates to the 119th Covenant Annual Meeting.

Biblical Basis

Scripture teaches that human life is precious. Human beings are created in the image of God and have been given life by the Spirit (breath) of God (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7).1 As with creation, so Christ’s incarnation—when God became human—gives dignity to human, bodily life (Psalm 8:4-5) from its beginning. Even before birth, human life is a mystery precious in God’s sight (Psalm 139:13-16). It is not to be objectified or treated as a commodity or as a means to an end. When asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus refused to place a boundary on the expression of our concern (Luke 10:29-37). We have no right to judge the lives of others as less precious than our own (Luke 10:27).

At both the beginning and the end of life, we belong to God (Deuteronomy 32:39; Psalm 139; Romans 14:7-8). It is in him that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). We are his offspring through both natural and new birth (1 Peter 1:3). Furthermore, through baptism, we are members of Christ’s body. Therefore, we are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Biblical faith understands autonomy as freedom in a context of accountability, flowing from our relationships with God and others. It thus resists any drift toward unlimited autonomy. Discussions of biological technology often use the language of autonomy. However, when autonomy is understood as self-ownership, it becomes misguided and dangerous (Genesis 3:5).

Scripture has much to say about procreation. The center of biblical teaching on procreation is that a man and a woman, joined in the union of marriage—a relationship of mutual interdependence and commitment—cooperate to bring a child into the world (Matthew 19:5-6). Technology presents us with a variety of possibilities, some of which serve that vision and some of which distort it. Our task as Christians—and sometimes it is a difficult one—is to ask whether technology is being used in ways that honor, or depart from, the spirit of biblical teaching.

Scripture affirms that joy and fulfillment, as well as suffering and disappointment, have legitimate roles to play in God’s care for his people (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 42; Ephesians 1:3; Hebrews 2:10; 1 Peter 1:6-7). We express our great gratitude to physicians, researchers, and other medical professionals who commit themselves to the healing arts and the alleviation of human suffering. The alleviation of suffering is good. Bringing children into the world is good. Scientific knowledge is good. None of these goals, however, is to be pursued at the cost of setting aside the value that God accords to human beings.

Declaration

Scientists are developing, at a breathtaking pace, biological technologies having to do with the beginnings of human life. These include, but are not limited to, assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs), stem cell research, genetic engineering, and human cloning. We strongly encourage deep discussion of the complexities that flow from the development of these technologies. While such discussion is beyond our scope and purpose here, we do aim to call Covenanters to action by bringing a perspective of biblical faith to bear on these issues, looking toward living as the people we understand God has called us to be.

Biological technologies pose moral and spiritual issues for which God’s people will need information, insight, and guidance. For all the great promise these technological tools may hold, we believe they need be regarded with caution. It is easy to find ourselves doing something simply because we can, being attracted by the apparent benefits of a technology without understanding the implications of the decisions we make. Instead, we hope our people and churches will approach God’s gifts of the body and of life with reverence, humility, gratitude, and respect.

We affirm the wide range of biological research that is consonant with the biblical perspectives outlined above. We encourage ethically appropriate research efforts which pursue the worthy goals of protecting health and relieving suffering, while honoring God as the Author of life and recognizing that all human lives are precious and unique in God’s sight.

Response

1) We call Covenant people and congregations to cultivate an ongoing awareness of biological technologies, in the light of Scripture, diligent study and dialogue, and with prayerful discernment.

2) We encourage Covenanters to support legislation and regulations that protect the health and dignity of all human research subjects, including the earliest stages of human life. We, therefore, oppose the research or therapeutic use of human embryos, or cell lines derived from the destruction of human embryos. We strongly encourage biomedical research (such as that involving adult stem cells for therapeutic use) that does not result in destruction of human life.

3) We call Covenanters to extend compassion and loving care to individuals and families with health or infertility problems, and to promote counseling in the light of Scripture and prayerful discernment. We are mindful of the anguish that many persons undergo as they endeavor to make decisions that are consistent with their faith.

4) We urge Covenanters to remember the sanctity and mystery of the marriage union, and the dignity and worth of human life as God’s gift.

5) We call on Covenanters as well as Covenant institutions and their boards to screen their financial investments and participation in biotechnology according to the moral meaning and impact those technologies have.

6) We encourage Christian Action Commissions in the future to revisit these challenging questions as further ethical and spiritual concerns arise with the ongoing development of biological technologies. We ask them to consider producing materials that may be studied and discussed at several levels of congregational life. We further encourage North Park University, North Park Theological Seminary, Swedish Covenant Hospital, and Emanuel Medical Center to continue grappling with these issues so that graduating pastors and healthcare professionals can assist in the education of those they serve.

1. This sentence is taken directly from, and other portions of this document mirror the thinking in, “Life and Death in Relation to God and Others: A Resolution on Assisted Suicide,” adopted by the Covenant Annual Meeting of 1997. Also of related concern is the Resolution on Abortion, adopted by the Annual Meeting of 1994. We express our gratitude to those who composed and approved these statements.