Controllers and Conditioners

    Congress is coming back to Washington this week, and high on their agenda is the battle over federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. Senate majority leader Tom Daschle has vowed to scuttle the President's limited approach and wants unlimited funding. Republicans, meanwhile, are digging in their heels. Well, if they're smart, they'll heed the warning of the pipe-smoking Oxford don who saw it all more than fifty years ago, and warned what was ahead if genetic manipulation was ever allowed. C. S. Lewis wrote, prophetically, "If any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendents what it pleases, all men who live after are the patients of that power," slaves to the "dead hand of the great planners and conditioners." Just as Lewis saw, the biotech revolution is moving like a steamroller, crushing everything in its path - - including ethical questions. We glibly toss about the term bioethics, but, sadly, the "bio" -- the technology -- has overpowered the "ethics." The reason is that secular ethics have been drained of moral content. In the political debate, the utilitarians - that is, the greatest good for the greatest number -- have seized the high ground, offering dazzling predictions of cures for deadly diseases. You'll hear congressmen in coming days talk about unused embryos that will be destroyed anyway -- so using them to help the desperately sick is the "pro- life" position. Not so. And Christians have to be prepared to challenge the case. For example, predictions of what embryo stem-cell research may accomplish have been grossly overstated. Experiments to date have led to some grotesque results. Proponents claim that only embryonic stem cells can meet their research needs; yet, promising results have been achieved from placental and adult stem cells -- the use of which presents no ethical dilemmas. And what about those "leftover" embryos which are just going to be destroyed? Couples who have adopted and given birth to them ought to show off their beautiful "post-embryos" -- now healthy children. Missing in the discussion so far is the fact that the scientists involved in embryonic stem cell research are poised to make huge profits from these deadly studies. But as Christians, it's our duty to raise even bigger moral questions. The worst atrocities are performed in the name of humanitarian causes. And sacrificing one to benefit all soon makes all vulnerable. Christians must also raise Lewis's question, in "The Abolition of Man": What does it really mean if we set ourselves up as the master of the future destiny of the human race? His answer is chilling: If man with his technology makes the ultimate conquest over nature, he will soon find that nature has conquered him. "If man chooses to treat himself as raw material," Lewis wrote, "raw material he will be," manipulated by dehumanized conditioners. In our lifetimes, democracy has triumphed over tyranny. But what an irony it would be if, by exchanging moral truth for the cold calculus of utilitarianism, our generation should usher in a new and even more terrifying form of tyranny. God forbid!


Chuck Colson



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