In the realm of scientific advancement, we often find ourselves standing on the precipice of ethical dilemmas. The recent creation of the first synthetic human embryo is a case in point. This breakthrough, while remarkable, raises profound questions about the value we place on life and the ethical considerations that should guide our scientific pursuits.
As Eric Weinstein aptly put it, “We are now gods, but for the wisdom.” We wield immense power, but do we possess the wisdom to use it responsibly? This is where the principles outlined in my upcoming book, “Five Principles”, come into play. These principles — Purpose, Skills, People, Environment, and Resources — provide a framework for navigating complex issues such as this one.
Purpose and the Value of Life
The principle of ‘Purpose’ calls for us to live purposefully, guided by a clear set of values. In the context of synthetic human embryos, this means balancing the purpose of scientific advancement with ethical considerations. History is replete with examples of science untempered by ethics, leading to atrocities such as the horrific experiments of Unit 731 in Japan during World War II and the abhorrent practices of Josef Mengele during the Holocaust.
The wisdom of the Church Fathers and the philosophical importance of life remind us that life begins at conception and should be valued and protected. It has been said that every man is called to be a saint and saints are gods by grace (John 10:34–35). This echoes the words of the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
People as a Resource
The principle of ‘People’ emphasizes the value of relationships and the ethical treatment of people. In the case of synthetic human embryos, this principle raises questions about the source of the genetic material used. Are we treating life as a commodity, to be bought and sold on the open market? Or are we respecting the sanctity of life, even at its earliest stages?
Resources and Ethical Considerations
The principle of ‘Resources’ calls for disciplined use of resources. But what happens when the resource in question is human life itself? How do we value a life that has been conceived, whether in a womb, a test tube, a jail cell, or a concentration camp? Saint Basil the Great, 4th century bishop of Caesarea once said, “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor.” This reminds us of the inherent value of life, what about the conceived life which we dispose and our responsibility to protect and cherish? God says:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
“This is what the LORD says — your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb: I am the LORD, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself.”
“For he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.”
“But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased.”
A Call to Action
As we stand on the precipice of this new frontier in science, we must remember that our actions reflect our principles. The creation of synthetic human embryos is not just a scientific issue, but a test of our principles and our humanity. It is a call to action for all of us to live purposefully, value people, and use resources with discipline.
In essence, our principles help us focus in a noisy world. They guide us in making decisions that not only advance science but also uphold the value of life. As we navigate this complex issue, let us remember the words of Aristotle: “The beginning is thought to be more than half of the whole, and many of the questions we ask are cleared up by it.” Let our principles be our beginning, guiding us towards a future where science and ethics walk hand in hand.