Recently, I had a conversation with someone who explained their frustration at the amount of churches in America continuing to push a legalistic view of Christianity instead of applying theology to real life. She wasn’t against the need for discipleship, accountability and holding to biblical principles of morality, but rather the constant focus on enforcement of these principles through rule making. I couldn’t agree more. What came to mind was the phrase, “I don’t smoke and I don’t chew and I don’t go with girls that do.” It is a phrase which focuses on behavior, not the heart and fails to recognize the complexities involved in moral decision making within the modern society. If Christians are going to face the issues of today, a legalistic approach will simply not suffice.
Since the rise of Hollywood, we have witnessed our culture set their dreams on creating what has become known as the definition of a “perfect” family. For many years creating this ideal family involved factors which were largely outside of our control. But the post-modern world is enabling people to come closer to making this dream into a reality by overcoming former barriers through advances in medical research and the revolutionary shift in moral standards. What was once thought to be impossible is now becoming possible and more importantly, culturally acceptable.
For the past several decades an individual or family no longer needed to settle for the interruption of a new child at a time which is inconvenient, they can simply have an abortion. The professional career woman can remain committed to her career and couples can maintain their desired lifestyle, waiting for a more convenient time to have children. A recent article told the story of woman who decided, with her husband, that the cost associated with having a new child was not in the best interest of their family who would most certainly experience a decrease in their luxurious lifestyle; perhaps having to sell their vacation home or reduce the family vacation to only two weeks. In this particular case the married couple decided to actively take steps to prevent a pregnancy, but it demonstrates the reality of a cultural belief which prides itself in emphasizing the priority of personal autonomy and the supposed connection to individual happiness.
Additionally, the advances in medical technology allows families to determine the suitability of a new family member prior to the child’s birth; that is before they become “officially” part of the family. No longer must a couple be burdened with the high maintenance requirements of a physically disabled child or take the risk of having a child with a high probability of genetic disease. In essence, individuals are now free to choose the acceptance of this lifestyle based on an informed decision or make the decision to simply try again with the hope of better results next time. In other words, it increases the degree of personal autonomy when it comes to designing the family.
In a society where people are given the option to personalize nearly every available consumer product, this concept has not been lost even when it comes to having children. So it is not surprising to learn the latest development in the progress towards family design is gender selection. While the previously mentioned features of modern day family planning provide the ability to reject the undesirable they are incapable of allowing for the individualized selection of the preferred qualities in a child. Yet, the increasingly popular medical procedure of In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), originally designed for the purpose of assisting parents with infertility issues, has become the gateway for personalized, family design.
Unlike artificial insemination, which involves conception within the womb, IVF involves the conception of the baby in a laboratory environment, which eventually leads to the implantation of an embryo into the womb. While there is nothing inherently immoral or unbiblical with IVF, in a culture which is experiencing a rapidly changing moral revolution, it opens the door to an entirely new set of moral and ethical concerns. According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, it was reported that across the U.S. an increasing percentage of parents are paying the $15,000 to $20,000 fee for IVF, not due to infertility problems, but rather for gender selection¹. As the article explains, this process includes the creation of multiple embryos which are then tested for both genetic diseases and gender prior to being implanted in the womb. This allows parents the ability to select an embryo which has both the desired gender and also the least risk for contracting a genetic disease.
For the Christian worldview, which understands life beginning at conception, this presents a significant problem, not because of conception outside the womb, but rather the selection of an embryo. By definition the selection of an embryo means there are some embryos which will not be selected. This naturally leads to the question of what happens to those remaining embryos; a question of vital importance for the Christian who views this as a decision which affects the future of human lives. In most cases, couples with no desire for additional children are limited to the choosing between either having them destroyed, donated to medical research or donated to another couple for implantation. Sadly, the first two options are most commonly chosen because the third option creates an entirely new set of ethical considerations. As revealed in a different article by KJ Dell ‘Antonia, appearing in the New York Times, the latter option is challenging because it is difficult for parents to consider the existence of a child (their child) who carries their DNA, but belongs to someone else².
So what we are witnessing is the intentional creation of multiple human lives outside the womb, for the sole benefit of allowing parents to choose the gender of their next child at the expense of other human lives. For the Christian, the more disastrous realization is that these parents are, in essence, choosing the sanctity of one child’s life above the lives of his or her siblings. Yet, if an embryo is merely, in the words of the NYT article, “tiny little balls of cells that, with a lot more time and a whole bunch of luck, will someday become children,” then the moral implications are non-existent and it no longer matters what happens to the other embryos. For the family mentioned in the earlier cited WSJ article, what matters is that they “already had three boys, who had all been conceived naturally” and they “wanted to ensure their next child was a girl.¹” What matters is that we can now have a family of our own design. Yet it is also significant to note, at the same time these embryos are considered expendable, they are also being defined as male or female.
This topic not only causes us to consider the moral implications of these procedures, but it also reveals the yearning shared by every human being to be free. It is the desire to be my own person, to create my own world and ultimately define myself in order to experience happiness in life. If happiness is confined to my current circumstance or situation in life, then controlling my environment affords me the best chance at experiencing personal joy. If what I believe will bring me joy and satisfaction is a family with three sons and a daughter, then I want the ability to make this a reality. In a secular age, operating outside of the biblical worldview, this reaction should not come as a surprise. If this really is “your best life now” then it would be illogical for us to not be constantly pursuing increased personal autonomy, in order to fulfill personal happiness.
Fortunately for Christians, the biblical worldview teaches us that our happiness is not based upon our current circumstances, but in the knowledge of the eternal, sovereign God who “causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28). Ultimately, our joy resides in the knowledge of our condition as people who have been redeemed through the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross who will one day experience a perfect, everlasting joy made complete in the new heavens and the new earth. In a culture which is constantly seeking new methods of producing happiness, this is a joy which transcends any circumstance we could possibly experience in our fallen world.
When we consider the implications of the current moral revolution, our concern will not be whether the culture continues to pursue new methods of producing happiness, but rather how far they are willing to extend the moral boundaries in order to produce this happiness. A culture prepared to accept the killing of babies in the womb and the destruction of unwanted embryos in the name of personal happiness, is a culture which is on the path of accepting anything to achieve this end.
The recent release of the Planned Parenthood videos, created widespread knowledge about the selling of body parts from abortions for the purpose of medical testing. However, if this is considered morally acceptable, how long before medical technology makes it possible to use these same body parts to provide necessary transplants for babies still in the womb? If the heart of an aborted baby can be preserved for medical research what would prevent it from being used to replace the defective heart of a baby before it is born. The moral implications of such a notion are staggering. Imagine a consumer market created for the sale of healthy body parts from aborted babies; some of which may have been conceived merely for this purpose. This may sound unthinkable, but when the culture’s response to the Planned Parenthood videos is one which says “those body parts were going to be discarded anyway” it leaves the gate open to using them for any purpose. But again, when a culture embraces the position that human beings in the womb are merely a grouping of cells which do not yet form a human life, even what seems outrageous can be justified.
In the coming months and years we will see just how far the culture is willing to go in order to achieve their dream of the “perfect” family. Welcome to the age of the designer family.