Babies a la Carte

  Recently, Lisa and Jack Nash announced that their new baby, aptly named Adam, had been conceived solely to be a donor of cells for his older sister. The story of how and why Adam Nash came into the world is the story of how even the best of intentions can result in the worst of evils. The story begins when the Nash's oldest daughter, Molly, was diagnosed with Fanconi anemia -- a hereditary and always fatal form of the disease. Doctors determined that the best hope for Molly was a cell transplant, from a relative whose cells matched Molly's, but without anemia. Since they had no other children, the Nashes decided to have one to save Molly. But unlike the California couple who gave birth to a child to provide their daughter with a bone marrow transplant a few years ago, the Nashes weren't taking any chances. Any child conceived naturally would be unlikely to provide Molly with the cells she needed. So, by in-vitro fertilization, they produced fifteen embryos, which they sent to a genetic testing facility. Only one of the embryos had the right genetic material. It was implanted in Mrs. Nash, who, in August, gave birth to Adam. Two weeks ago, Adam's stem cells were taken from his umbilical cord and implanted in his sister. Naturally, the Nashes are pleased at the outcome of what they call an "awesome" and "monumental" experience. But thoughtful Christians should respond differently to what has happened here. Despite all the celebration and the medical justification, the fact remains that Adam was, in the words of columnist Ellen Goodman, "conceived . . . not just to be a son, but a medical treatment." Instead of being an end, with all the God-given dignity that implies, Adam was a means -- valuable only insofar as he carried the right genetic material. And if he hadn't, he would have been rejected -- like the other fourteen discarded embryos. What's more, the technology and the worldview that made Adam possible can't -- and won't -- be limited to noble purposes like preserving life. We're fast approaching a world where kids will be seen to exist merely to enhance their parents' sense of fulfillment. And even if they aren't conceived as merely a source of spare parts, they will still -- through genetic manipulation -- be made to embody their parents' ideas of an ideal child. Parents creating the personality of their kids fits our narcissistic culture, but it is dehumanizing in the extreme. Now, nobody should doubt that, as soon as technology permits, parents will be screening embryos for desirable and undesirable genetic traits. In this kind of world, as technology critic Jeremy Rifkin puts it, "children are the ultimate shopping experience." If our culture is to avoid sliding even further down the slippery slope of manipulating life, Christians will have to be knowledgeable and courageous. We need to be knowledgeable about where these technologies are leading and courageous enough to stand against the accusations that we're hopeless reactionaries. It's not easy to say "Not so fast!" when the subject is a sick child. But if the "cure" takes humanity to places like this, we've got to say "Stop!" If Christians don't deliver this message, who will? In the end, loving our neighbor means telling them that the pathway paved with good intentions also leads to hell. For further reading: Goodman, Ellen. "A Blessed Event -- At What Price?" The Boston Globe, 8 October 2000. Rifkin, Jeremy. "On The Biotech Century: Harnessing the Gene and Remaking the World." Mars Hill Audio Journal 34 (September/October 1998). Weiss, Rick. "Test-tube Baby Born to Save Ill Sister." The Washington Post, 3 October 2000.


Chuck Colson


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