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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

Kentucky Is A Joke and So Are Many Major “Student” Athletics

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I confess I’ve lost almost all interest in college basketball, and college sports in general. I still watch here and there because I enjoy sports, but my heart’s not in it at all. Sure, part of it is that other interests besides sports have needed my attention (e.g., having 4 kids under age 8), but the essential fraud of college sports has really done a number on me.

I’m not sure why my level of cynicism has increased so much in recent years, for it’s not as if corruption, cheating and academic fraud are anything new to the NCAA. I suppose my general dislike for John Calipari and the undefeated NBA team he’s got over there at Kentucky have pushed me over the edge. I don’t care what he or anyone else says: Kentucky’s basketball program is a fraud and a disgrace to Kentucky as an “academic” institution, and so are all the other programs just like it. You simply don’t admit “students” to your school who are clearly non-students destined for the NBA in a year or two.

Of course this pertains not just to college basketball, but all major college sports, which is why I’ve watched so little of it recently. Maybe I’m a blowhard for saying so, and I’m taking myself too seriously. But I’ve always been a big sports fan, and having graduated from UCLA, college basketball has run in my veins to some degree. Yet if it was UCLA who was 31-0, rather than Kentucky, I honestly believe my disinterest would be virtually the same. It’s just a joke. I know many others say this, but major college sports are little more than a minor league system for the big leagues, and academics doesn’t really come into it. These sports point up the general academic fraudulence that, in my view, permeates large portions of university undergraduate life.

Yes, the caveat needs to be made that there are plenty of athletes on NCAA athletic scholarships who major in engineering or some other challenging major and will take their academics seriously. I understand that, but I don’t think it changes the overall picture of major college sports, which is a huge money-making industry. ESPN’s Jay Bilas pretty much said it all in commenting on the NCAA’s “punishment” handed down to Syracuse recently: “People think, ‘What’ll happen is, schools will now recruit the lesser athlete, but the better student.’ They don’t do that. They’re not going to recruit the lesser athlete. They’re going to recruit the best athlete. That’s what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to win games and get athletes to play.” End of story.

On another sports related note, last night I watched one of the most stunning documentaries on the football brain damage issue I’ve ever seen: The October 8, 2013, PBS “Frontline” episode on “the NFL’s concussion crisis,” League of Denial, which you can watch here. If you find yourself wanting to watch something for about an hour-and-a-half, I’d highly recommend this. Indeed, I’d watch it again, it was that well done.

I had already pretty much decided that I didn’t want any of my boys playing football in their youth, but this cemented it. Former New York Giant and NFL Hall of Famer, Harry Carson, made the case all by himself in this film. And the pack of lies and obfuscation the NFL has promulgated, and continues to put forth, in my view, is just appalling. Anyone who has watched the NFL with an ounce of common sense can tell you that the NFL’s “doctors” were full of it.

Which got me thinking of something related to our culture’s cult of “science” in general. We’re told ad nauseum that science is “based on fact” and tells us the truth, while religion and morality is just a bunch of “opinion.” Science is “evidence based” because we observe things objectively. So we should all put our unwavering faith in science. Yet it was abundantly clear that observation and “evidence” meant nothing to the NFL and its doctors. They didn’t want to hear it. In other words, for the modern scientific enterprise to have any validity at all, it presupposes and depends on a bunch of non-scientific things, two of which are high regard for truth-telling and open-mindedness. Such values are not scientific and don’t come from science. Rather, they are pre-scientific metaphysical and spiritual necessities. Without them, there is no science. The human element cannot be removed, and scientists, particularly the NFL’s scientists, all have their personal, economic and other commitments, which were on full display. The documentary was sobering on so many levels. My wife was riveted, and she watches about 15 minutes of football during the Superbowl each year and that’s it.



Written by Michael Duenes

March 8, 2015 at 2:43 pm

Fracturing the Genetic, Gestational and Social Components of Parenthood

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joyce_kennardFormer California Supreme Court Associate Justice, Joyce Kennard, in her dissenting opinion in Johnson v. Calvert (1993), brings home a number of concerns about commercial surrogacy. Quoting from the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, she reminds us that “the gestation of children as a service for others in exchange for a fee is a radical departure from the way in which society understands and values pregnancy.” It certainly requires that we accept a much more utilitarian understanding of pregnancy. It makes pregnancy a kind of business proposition, even though there may be, and often is, love involved in surrogacy contexts.

Additionally, “surrogate parenting allows the genetic, gestational and social components of parenthood to be fragmented, creating unprecedented relationships among people bound together by contractual obligation rather than by the bonds of kinship and caring.” I wonder if we understand yet the full consequences of pulling apart the “genetic, gestational and social components of parenthood.” I honestly don’t know. In some ways, it seems benign, no different than adoption, or perhaps better than adoption, since the genetic parents will be raising the child. Yet the generative act never happens for the genetic parents. Any child of theirs is not the product of the physical and spiritual union God designed to bring about children. This is particularly apparent when it comes to gay couples or single men and women who want to use a surrogate. In such a case we may have a gay man’s sperm, an anonymous woman’s egg, brought together in a laboratory, with another separate woman carrying the child through pregnancy, and both of these women then entirely absent from the child’s subsequent life. This is indeed a radical departure from the social nexus in which the vast majority of human beings have been conceived and raised.

Further, in surrogacy, we ask a young woman to carry the child, to nurture the child as she does so, but to remain disinterested enough in the child she is carrying so that she can happily give the child away when the pregnancy is over. And we don’t ask her to give the child away through an accident of circumstances. Rather, we ask her to enter into the pregnancy for the specific, sole and intentional purpose of relinquishing the child in the end. What effect does this have, if any? Does the fact that all of this is done contractually, with people being sued, change us as people? Does it change the way we view having children, in the sense that we feel entitled to them?

Finally, “surrogate parenting alters deep-rooted social and moral assumptions about the relationship between parents and children . . . [It] is premised on the ability and willingness of women to abdicate [their parental] responsibility without moral compunction or regret [and] makes the obligations that accompany parenthood alienable and negotiable.” Does the commercial aspect change the nature of how we see children and their place in our lives?

I think all of this is worth pondering. We so easily compartmentalize things, and think that action A over here has little or no effect on action/person B over there. And then we rush into things. We seem to have done so here.


Written by Michael Duenes

February 25, 2015 at 6:56 pm

Schaeffer: Downstairs and Upstairs Knowledge

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schaefferIn addition to talking about “universals” and “particulars,” Schaeffer discusses what he calls “downstairs knowledge” and “upstairs knowledge.” Downstairs knowledge is that which has to do with “mathematical knowledge,” that is, what we might think of as scientific knowledge. Of this “downstairs knowledge,” Schaeffer writes:

In the downstairs area, which modern man ascribes to rationality and concerning which he talks with meaningful language, he can see himself only as a machine, a totally determined machine, and so he has no way to be sure of knowing even the natural world.

“Upstairs knowledge” is the arena of the spiritual, the soul-ish part of man, or what modern man might pejoratively call the “nonrational” part of us, the area where we deal with meaning and values. Schaeffer argues that modern man has largely said that “there is only silence upstairs,” that is, in the upstairs life. . .

. . . modern man is without categories, for categories are related to reason and antithesis. In the upstairs he has no reason to say that this is right as opposed to that being wrong. . . But notice it is more profound and more horrible. Equally, living upstairs he has no way to say that this is true as opposed to that which is non-true.

In other words, the only thing that modern man said we could “know” was mathematical or scientific knowledge, that which could be measured, tested, evaluated with our five senses. Everything else was merely opinion, at best. This loss of moral and/or spiritual knowledge is teased out more thoroughly in Dallas Willard’s wonderful book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge.

According to Willard, moral and spiritual knowledge, “upstairs knowledge,” was “relocated, by subtle increments within a long drawn-out process, into the domain of feelings and cultural traditions, where they could not be taught by the acknowledged institutions of knowledge [e.g., the public schools and secular universities] as a body of knowledge. This is what we mean when we speak here of the ‘disappearance of moral knowledge.'” (emphasis his).

Willard goes on:

     The inner dynamics of a nonphysical ‘soul’ or person responsibly weaving its own life together by choosing to follow rationally grounded moral insights or traditional teachings from the Bible disappeared from possible cognitive view – it was not thought to be ‘scientific’ – and with it disappeared the moral knowledge that had from the beginning taken [the human person] as its subject matter. Moral knowledge naturally disappears when its subject matter disappears. (emphasis mine)

Post-modern man has taken things a step further than modern man, as Schaeffer’s line of thought predicted, leading us to the place where bare mathematical knowledge is about all that appears to be left. Even the scientist has lost his or her epistemological basis for saying much of anything is true or false, fact or non-fact. Science is thus being reduced to a cudgel or bludgeon, a will-to-power by which to impose social policy. Whatever the current cultural elites in power happen to want to impose, they simply say that it is “scientific” or “evidence-based,” (See, for example, climate change, sex/contraceptive education, parenting, health care. Just say that it’s “evidence-based” or “based on science” and that’s supposed to be the end of the discussion). What counts as actual evidence or “truth” is largely left out of it.

The upshot is that we have this great cleavage in our culture over what is considered “knowledge” or “fact” or “evidence-based” and what counts merely as “your opinion” or “your feelings.” Spiritual truth – as presented in the Bible, through the created order, and embodied in the person of Jesus Christ – counts widely today as mere opinion, something you’re entitled to hold very privately. But certainly don’t begin talking about it, teaching it and living it out in the public arena as though it is true knowledge. As Schaeffer says, “In the ‘upper story’ [Wittgenstein] put silence, because you could not talk about anything outside of the known world of natural science. But man desperately needs values, ethics, meanings to it all. Man needs these desperately, but there is only silence there.”

So what is Schaeffer’s prognosis, given the above situation? “Modern man is left either downstairs as a machine with words that do not lead either to values or facts but only to words, or he is left upstairs in a world without categories in regard to human values, moral values, or the difference between reality and fantasy. Weep for our generation!”

We might weep if we felt more deeply the implications, as I believe Schaeffer did. We should also see this as an opportunity, for mankind is still in the image of God. Nothing changes that. Thus, the “God-shaped vacuum” to which St. Augustine referred still resides in us, and there are still men, women and children hungering and thirsting for the life-giving knowledge of the gospel, hungering to know it as “true truth,” to borrow Schaeffer’s term. To be lost in a world without knowledge is to be lost indeed.

As Dallas Willard says, the prescription is that “our opponents,” along with the rest of the world, “must see people and communities of people in which [Christ] lives today.” This is the epistemology of life, grace and truth . . . water for our souls.


Written by Michael Duenes

December 21, 2014 at 10:20 am

Some Interviews Simply Must be Watched

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This is one of them; just rich food for the soul.


Written by Michael Duenes

April 20, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Duenes, Science