Becker, Daniel C. (2012) “Personhood: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement in the 21st Century,” Liberty University Law Review: Vol. 6 : Iss. 2 , Article 2. Original article.
Personhood: Today’s Debate . . . Tomorrow’s Future
Our nation is unique in that it was founded upon the Judeo-Christian belief that every human being “was endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and that “among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The right to life is a person’s most basic right. Without its protection all other rights become moot.
Seldom will you find disagreement with this premise; the arguments arise when we as a nation attempt to answer the questions of “when” our rights attach and “who” qualifies as a person under the law. Dred Scott v. Sandford answered these questions in one way—and Nazi Germany in another. In the United States our U.S. Supreme Court wrongly limits the right to life to “born persons.”
Over the past 37 years the debate over this complex question has usually centered around traditional pro-life issues, more particularly abortion. But with the emergence of new biotechnologies, the debate must widen from the ethics of life and death to the ethics of human nature and what it means to be created in “the image of God.” This is another question altogether: the why of human dignity and the right to life. It is this question that serves as the foundation for a pro-life ethic. The pro-life movement must mature beyond the singular goal of “saving babies” and engage our current “culture of death” with a return to the foundational premise that each and every innocent human being must be respected and protected—from its earliest biological beginning until its natural death. Personhood is the means.
The Making, Taking, and Faking of Human Life
The century of the 1800’s has come to be known as the Industrial Age, while the 20th century has been dubbed the Nuclear Age. The 21st century, in contrast, seems destined to be remembered as the Biotech Age. Modern secularist prophet Ray Kurtzwiel has proven empirically that there is an exponential curve in our current growth of biomedical knowledge. His sage prediction is that the amount of biomedical knowledge acquired since the dawn of history will double within the next decade, and he goes on to make the unbelievable assertion that it will double again in the following decade.94
Professor Michael Sleasman, managing director and research scholar for The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity, explains that, “while many of the ethical questions of the late 20th Century dealt with bio-ethical concerns over the beginning and end of life issues (the making, and taking of human life), the questions raised by these new, these emerging technologies threaten to change the nature of the human species and the very essence of what it means to be human.”95
“Germ-line intervention” is a term that describes the ability of our current state of bio-science to alter the human genome in ways that will be transmissible through normal sexual reproduction. This new technology has to do with the use of genetically altered eggs or sperm to correct or improve the genetic makeup of a resulting child. On its surface this technology promises a generational cure for diseases like Tay-Sachs, which afflicts Eastern European Jews, and Sickle Cell Anemia, afflicting primarily the Black race. This is a needed objective. The problem is that once a genetic change is made to the human genome and is allowed to propagate within the human gene pool, it cannot be undone. Put in another way, once the genie is out of the bottle there is no way of putting it back in. This raises the sinister specter of irreversible harm. From selling the “therapeutic” objective of germ-line intervention to our culture it would be only a short logical hop before we would be presented with the darker side of human enhancement known as eugenics.
A culture that rejects the absolute truth that God created humanity in his own image will naturally evolve to demand that humans create humans in the image of man. Trans-human enhancement, designer babies, cyborgs (human-machine cybrids), and chimeras (human-animal hybrids) suddenly come into focus as desirable objectives. The advancement of the human species by human means is in fact the goal of a new philosophy that is being presented in our nation’s colleges and universities. No longer, so the trans-human philosophers enthuse, will we be called Homo sapiens—humankind will now be designated Homo perfectus! In contrast, Personhood as a public policy not only protects pre-born children, but as the basic embodiment of Imago Dei, assures the protection of what it means to be human by establishing a benchmark for human dignity.
Western civilization is at a critical juncture. According to U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman, a member of the United States House Science Committee, the unprecedented capabilities of emerging biotechnologies have set the stage for a technological revolution which he has referenced as analogous only to the development of nuclear technology. That our culture has indeed reached an ethical crossroads is evidenced by the following statements made by American congressmen at a “nano-policy roundtable” held in 2006: “Now, like my colleagues, I do not have any answers. Rather, I hope to identify some of the questions. I know that the right time to start thinking about these questions is now. . . . What is the definition of a human?” (U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman).96 And “We are talking about a suite of technologies that are going to revolutionize the way we do things and how we live. And the questions are ‘How will that happen?’ and ‘What will we do as this unfolds?’ (Marty Spritzer, speaking on behalf of Representative Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee).97
What are the policy implications of the emerging medical technologies? The courts are demanding both definitions and laws. Christian bioethicist, Nigel Cameron, the president and cofounder of the Institute on Biotechnology & the Human Future, has stated, “The problem is brought into ready focus by the manner in which bioethics has essentially emerged as the conjoined twin of bio-policy.” He goes on to predict that two terms will dominate public policy in the 21st century—trans-humanism and eugenics.
Who lives and who dies? Who benefits from our finite medical resources? Whose lives may be sacrificed in order that others may live? If only “persons” benefit, who qualifies as a “person”? The questions have been posed, but their answers require a deeper look into the nature of ethics, policy, ideas, and actions.
In the 20th century it was sufficient for Right to Life advocates to focus on being anti-abortion. But this single focus will not be sufficient in light of the new “killing fields” of the 21st century. Our role in advocating Personhood is to facilitate, educate, and disseminate a biblical worldview within the Church, leading to a response within the larger grassroots pro-life movement, one that will place our policy and strategy soundly on the biblical foundation of the whole range of issues embodied in the phrase “sanctity of life,” one that will stand the tests of time and fickle public opinion and defend human dignity beyond our present age. It is no longer just about abortion.
Because we bear the image of God, all humankind—by extension every human life—possesses a “special-ness,” a unique value and worth that demands respect and legal protection. Each human life, from its earliest stage of development, is a unique Person who bears God’s likeness and deserves the same protection under law that is afforded all other “persons” in our society. For this reason all human life must be respected and protected in law.
This respect is due regardless of the manner of conception, whether through the marital act or through a heinous act of rape or incest; whether the egg is fertilized “in vitro” (IVF) or through the “ex utero” process of somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), otherwise know as cloning. Regardless of the manner, age, or degree of disability or dependency, a human life has immeasurable worth in the eyes of God—an inestimable, intrinsic value that must be acknowledged by the culture and protected in its code of law.
94 Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity is Near (Penguin Books, 2005), p. 11.
95 Michael J. Sleasman, ”The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity,” n.d., http://cbhd.org/content/thinking-through-technology-part-i (accessed 11 March 2010).
96 Nanoscale: Issues and Perspectives for the Nano Century,edited by Nigel M. de S. Cameron and M. Ellen Mitchell (John Wiley & Sons, 2007), p. 9.
97 Ibid., p. 4.