Russell and Duenes

Archive for April 2016

In-Vitro Fertilization, Designer Babies and Humans as Commodities

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Daniel Kuebler has a new post over at The Public Discourse entitled: “IVF, Designer Babies, and Commodifying Human Life.” He has much to say, particularly about the connection between IVF and the possible mainstreaming of human genetic modification. But this excerpt caught my attention.

While not downplaying the emotional difficulties associated with infertility or questioning the intrinsic human dignity of those created via the IVF process, it is important to be honest regarding the myriad problems the IVF “solution” has created. The process itself involves the production of excess numbers of human embryos, only a small fraction of which will ever be implanted into a uterus. These excess embryos have been the subject of litigation between parents, between oocyte donors and IVF clinics, and between sperm donors and biological mothers.

But the issues don’t stop there. Couples have sued because of sperm mix-ups that have led to biracial babies. Surrogate mothers carrying IVF embryos have been involved in litigation regarding everything from custody, to demands for selective abortions, to compensation issues. The entire IVF practice has facilitated a mindset of seeing babies as commodities to be acquired, contracted for, litigated, and purchased through whatever means necessary. They become commodities to be tailored to the desires of the parents either through selective reduction of multiples, through choosing the appropriate characteristics of the sperm donor, or through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which can be used to screen for everything from disease susceptibility to the gender of the child. . . Viewed in this manner, the leftover embryos become just one more commodity to be manipulated.

In my experience, In-vitro Fertilization (IVF) is one of those topics that gets little, if any, treatment from evangelical pastors/leaders, and I sometimes wonder why. I have heard it suggested that IVF may find biblical sanction where only one human embryo is implanted in the mother, so as to foreclose the possibility of any “leftover embryos” which might later be experimented on and killed. However, this suggestion seems to ignore the general way in which IVF is conducted, as described by Kuebler above.

Another possibility for ignoring IVF is simply “battle fatigue.” There may be a good number of evangelicals who agree with the IVF problems Kuebler raises, but who are simply tired of having to “care about” yet another “issue.” Wearied, they just want to get back to “the gospel.” They don’t want to have to ostensibly “condemn” yet another category of people, IVFers, particularly IVFers who have agonized over being childless. With this sentiment I have great sympathy.

However, this makes me wonder about the way in which we evangelicals tend to approach “issues.” In other words, it seems to me that if we saw the interconnected nature of all reality/realities within “the gospel,” and we had pastors who could unpack and lay bare this interconnectedness to us in a winsome and routine way, we might not suffer from this “fatigue.” We might not see IVF, and many other moral/spiritual questions, as “just another issue.” We might see them all as fitting under our obligation from Romans 12:2 to “be not conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” We might see them as opportunities to articulate the varied way in which Jesus connects with our lives.

Worth considering, I think. Read the whole article here.



Written by Michael Duenes

April 30, 2016 at 1:49 pm

From Big City California to Topeka . . . and Loving It

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My family and I moved to Topeka about five years ago, but it’s where we came from and the fact that we’d rather be in Topeka, that throws people off. To the bewilderment of some, we willfully migrated here from the sunny climes and stunning scenery of the San Francisco Bay Area. From our apartment in Northern California, we could walk out on almost any day of the year and enjoy browsing around the local open-air marketplace or taking a stroll along a bayside boulevard with a view of the San Francisco skyline. Besides the great weather, California offers many culinary and entertainment options. So isn’t the move supposed to happen the other way? Leaving the Midwest for the “cool” of California? A move to Kansas City might have been understandable to our friends, but Topeka?

The fact is, when we considered moving, Topeka wasn’t anywhere on our radar either. I was leaving teaching after ten years to pursue a law degree, and we were hoping to live closer to some of my wife’s family in the Kansas City area. Somehow we stumbled across Washburn Law School, which I had never heard of, and I remember looking at Topeka on the map and thinking to myself “Oh, it’s not that far from Kansas City.” Things started to fall into place and the draw of being in a capital city seemed right. However, my wife also recalls a neighbor remarking to us, “You’ll probably move once you’re done.”

Cancel that move. We truly enjoy living in Topeka, even more than California. Here are a few reasons why.

 We actually see our friends. Life in the Bay Area always seemed so harried and overbooked. Although we had, and still have, many friends there, it was hard to actually get together with them. Some of this had to do with the fact that it often took a half hour or more just to get to a friend’s house two suburbs away, and we could not always summon the motivation for the trip through traffic. But also, our friends were often just as busy and scheduled as we were. Yet in Topeka, we have had many people warmly befriend us. Not only that, they’re often home and available. It’s not a major planning event to get together with them, and it regularly happens on the spur of the moment. This has been a great blessing to us.

We haven’t sat in traffic in five years. In urban California, one takes sitting in traffic as a badge of honor, but it’s a badge whose luster had worn off. Some folks may think Wanamaker has “bad traffic,” but it’s a dream compared to getting past the Bay Bridge on a weekday afternoon. Traffic in Topeka means you’re sitting 4th or 5th at a red light. So it sure takes the stress out of driving when one knows that getting most any place in the city will take no more than 20 minutes or so. Not only that, but we never drive around searching for parking because Topeka’s shopping areas have parking in spades. A quick run to the store? No problem.

We visit the Parks. I don’t know about other cities in Kansas, but the parks and open spaces in Topeka are wonderful. The Ted Ensley Gardens at Lake Shawnee in April is like nothing we ever enjoyed in our California suburbs. Gage Park is a wonder for our kids, and they are happy walking along the Shunga Trail or the Governors Lake, not to mention the many smaller parks that dot Topeka’s landscape. Our boys also like a stroll around the capitol building grounds, a visit to the Topeka Zoo or Discovery Center, running around Washburn’s campus, or riding bikes at Kingsrow Park. There are so many great places to choose from, and it always feels so unhurried.

We have a backyard. Short of earning your first million dollars, home ownership is actually possible in Topeka. Not only that, but one can have a substantial backyard along with it. If we picked up our current house and yard and plunked it down where we used to live in California, it would not cost double what it does in Topeka, but closer to ten times as much. In our California neighborhood, a fixer-upper is still likely to be north of half-a-million dollars. It boggles our minds, particularly when we consider the beauty and style of so many homes here in Topeka at a fraction of the cost.

We enjoy the people. Isn’t this the most important thing about any place? Whether we reflect on our neighbors, the staff at Washburn Law School, our realtor, folks at the bank, co-workers in state government, ladies working in the general store at Cracker Barrel, people we meet at a park, or our friends from church; we have felt welcomed into people’s lives in a genuine way. The kindness and initiative people show us is wonderful, and more than anything, endears us to Topeka.

When we arrived in Topeka, my only acquaintance in town, who had himself moved here five years earlier, said he was finally starting to feel at home in this city. We now know the feeling, and are grateful that Topeka is our home.


Written by Michael Duenes

April 30, 2016 at 1:14 pm