Selling Ourselves

More and more Americans are selling themselves—piecemeal. Tissue, semen, eggs, and even children are all part of a fast-growing market in human "products." So says Andrew Kimbrell in his book The Human Body Shop. And the trend could change the very definition of what it means to be human. Some of the most commonly sold body products are blood and semen. Infertility clinics buy sperm for about $50 a donation. Some sperm donors have "fathered" hundreds of children. Women who provide eggs for in vitro fertilization are also paid thousands of dollars. Surrogate mothers sign commercial contracts committing them to produce children for a fee. Are these practices moral? Should the human body be subject to commercial transactions? One of the most profitable body parts is fetal tissue. Though the sale of fetal organs is against the law, abortion clinics receive a so-called "service fee" for every fetus they hand over. And brokers in turn demand a sizable "handling fee" for every specimen they deliver to doctors and researchers. According to Kimbrell, unregulated brokers in the U.S. reap close to a million dollars a year in fetal tissue sales. But the big money may soon come from transplants into animals. Human fetal tissue has been implanted into mouse organs—creating so-called "humanized mice"—which are used to test certain drugs. What do we think about implanting human tissues into animals? Is this okay? Then there's genetic engineering, which has developed a way to use human cells as miniature "factories" to produce profitable medical products. In 1980 the Supreme Court decided these human cell lines could be patented—just like a new toaster or lawnmower. Should the law treat the body like a patented invention? What does that mean for human dignity? Biotechnology is raising severe challenges to our traditional respect for the human body. The body is no longer treated as God's creation, deserving special respect. Instead, it's just another commodity in the medical marketplace. And the result may be a complete dissolution of ethical considerations. The director of the American Parkinson Association once remarked that most people "couldn't care less about the ethical questions" connected with fetal tissue research; "they just want something that works"—as though we were talking about a machine. What we're seeing is the triumph of a completely mechanistic philosophy. The human body is regarded as a purely physical object to be taken apart, sold, and used—just like any other physical object. Read on for more discussions of some of the dramatic new challenges raised by biotechnology—challenges you and I must be prepared to face. Please use this special BreakPoint series in your Bible studies and church groups. The Bible teaches that we are made in the image of God, but the mechanistic view portrays humans in the image of the machine. This is nothing but idolatry—people bowing down to the work of their own hands. And like every form of idolatry, it dehumanizes all who worship at its shrine.


Chuck Colson


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