By Roland Lovstad
“Always to care, never to kill” is a principle that applies to all human embryos, even those developed outside the womb through scientific methods such as in-vitro fertilization, concludes a new report from the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR).
“Christian Faith and Human Beginnings” was adopted by the CTCR in September. It is scheduled to be distributed to congregations and all rostered church workers by the end of this year. Requested by the 1998 LCMS Convention, this report is intended to guide Christian response to the use of fertilized human eggs for medical research such as recovery of stem cells. It describes techniques for in-vitro fertilization and cloning and provides a glossary of related terms.
Dr. Samuel Nafzger, executive director of the CTCR, believes the report is one of the most significant documents the commission has prepared. “It is an important document, very technical, but very readable,” he said. “It makes the strongest case that neither science nor medicine has documented reasons for change in the long-standing LCMS position that human life — and that includes pre-implantation life — is included under the Scriptural mandate for protection and care.”
In-vitro fertilization is the clinical practice of fertilizing human eggs in a laboratory setting and often includes decisions not to transfer all the eggs into the woman’s body. Some are frozen for possible future transfer and others are discarded.
The commission cites several contemporary factors pressing for the use of the leftover fertilized eggs. Scientific curiosity seeks to unlock secrets of the embryo. Medical research sees embryos as sources for stem cells, which may have potential for treatment of disease. The commission also notes that the promise of economic gain may override moral concerns for the status of the embryo.
“Today we know that in-vitro fertilization is a widely used technology, and that we cannot escape pondering the significance of human life presented to us in Petri dishes in an in-vitro fertilization clinic,” reads the report. “Access to human life in these earliest stages in a laboratory setting requires us carefully to examine the sources of some people’s uneasy sense that life in this form is ‘doubtfully’ an object of compassion and love.
“Upon examination,” the report continues, “the Commission on Theology and Church Relations has remained convinced that both biblical and philosophical perspectives support the wisdom of protecting pre-implantation embryos from the time of conception.” The report adds that cloning pre-implantation human life for stem cells also ends the development of the embryo, preventing it from developing into a live-born human.
“Human embryos, beginning with conception, are set on a course of development that leads continuously to an unfolding of a unique human life,” says the CTCR report. The commission says it found no moment in that “unfolding” that establishes a basis for distinguishing between embryonic life that need not be protected and embryonic or fetal or live-born life that should be protected.
The burden of proof to the contrary lies with those who argue for removing protection from pre-implantation embryos, the report states.
The report cites Jer. 1:5, Ps. 139:13-16, Job 10:8-12, and Job 31:15 as biblical texts often used in arguments concerning pre-implantation embryos.
“When conversing with people who are not convinced that these passages and principles extend to pre-implantation human life, we can nonetheless assert that — at the very least — the bias in Scripture testifies to God’s care for all human life,” the report says.
“This comprehensive care casts reasonable doubt upon attempts to remove embryonic human life from under the umbrella of God’s love,” the report continues. “Furthermore, Scripture offers no guidelines for exempting certain lives from God’s interest and care.”
The report also argues that the biblical call to see embryos as our “neighbors” through our love and care — as illustrated in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan — is much clearer than opposing arguments that suggest human life need not be protected from the earliest stages of its development. Scripture calls again and again, the report says, “to love and service of the ‘least of these,’ our brothers and sisters.”
“The approaches proposed thus far do not succeed in providing clear and convincing evidence to lift the burden of proof that lies on those who propose to destroy embryos,” the report concludes. “In the absence of decisive arguments, pre-implantation embryonic life should be afforded the benefit of the doubt and the benefit of life.”
The report also warns, “If we become accustomed to excluding some human lives even when we may reasonably doubt the ethics of the exclusion, we may in our sinful pride find pretexts also to exclude other lives from the circle of our care. This fact of human moral carelessness should make us all redouble our efforts to be completely sure about our ethics before we press forward.”
Posted Dec. 1, 2005