Christian Ethics, Free Course, Lesson 8


In this session, we will consider together the issues involved in Genetic engineering and Euthanasia.


In 1961 the first tadpoles were cloned (genetically identical specimens grown from a single cell.)

In 1962 DNA was unravelled by James Watson and Francis Crick.

In 1966 Robert Edwards cultivated human ova in a laboratory.

By 1969 ova could be grown to 100 cells.

In 1978 Louise Brown was born – the first ‘test-tube baby.’

Since then, tremendous strides have been taken in the whole realm of genetic engineering. Grotesque experiments have been done on chimpanzees with a view to the possibility of homosexual men carrying a pre- fertilised ova in their abdominal cavities, later to be delivered of the baby by caesarean section. Similarly, it is possible by egg-fusion to give a lesbian couple guaranteed female offspring.

With some ten per cent of people unable to conceive and a further fifteen per cent having difficulty, it is understandable that we should seek to do something about infertility.

However, what we do has to be governed by moral and spiritual considerations. Because these do not rank high among some geneticists, the only limit to what may be attempted is dictated by public opinion. As those concerned for the sanctity of human life, we Christians must pass comment.

(i) ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION BY THE HUSBAND may be justified in some circumstances. However, the economically-determined practice of fertilising several ova and either disposing of or experimenting upon, the un-needed ones should be discontinued. In fact, human fertilised ova should never be experimented upon – these are, after all, children in all but age.

(ii) ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION BY DONOR divorces life-giving from love-making and brings a third, albeit anonymous, person into the marriage. Questions arise as to the legal status of the child and the psychological acceptance of the child by the stepfather. And there are increasing concerns about the genetic and health risks for society should widespread AIDS continue.

(iii) THERE ARE A GROWING NUMBER of acceptable ways of preventing and curing genetically transmitted diseases without the need for human embryo experimentation.

And if only one per cent of abortions were discontinued, there would be enough babies available for adoption for all who are childless.


The word ‘Euthanasia’ means ‘easy death’ or ‘mercy killing.’ It is not yet legal in the U.K., but surveys indicate that a majority of people favour its introduction. It is an emotive subject. How long do you let a suffering person go on living, especially when he or she wants to die? Isn’t it charitable to put such people out of their misery with a fatal drug?

Part of the problem today is that we can keep people alive much longer than previously. Pain itself shortens life, but that can now largely be alleviated. Life-support machines can sustain bodily functions almost indefinitely even though there is no hope of conscious recovery.

Easy death as a medical technique seems a neat solution to the problems raised by terminal illness. But is it? Who is going to make the decision? The pain-ridden patient? Or relatives shattered with grief or callously wanting to get Aunt Nellie’s fortune? Or a central committee? Or the doctor whose training and responsibility it is to save life? Who would trust a doctor if you knew he had legal power to terminate your life?

All positive killing of humans is murder in God’s sight (Ex. 20:13). Therefore, from a biblical perspective, euthanasia is an evil because it evolves taking a human life that is considered special by God.

Having said this, those who are obviously dying should be allowed to do so. Living corpses should not be sustained on machines – that does nothing for the dignity of human life.

We must also be prepared for the consequences of our stance on euthanasia. Are we prepared to give the necessary support to the elderly and terminally ill? Are we prepared for the financial consequences? The best approach to dying and the whole issue of euthanasia lies nowadays in the hospice movement where, with a high staff-to-patient ratio and skilled counselling and drug administration, patients are able to die with dignity. Many Christians are actively involved in this movement. Such care for the dying is the final, loving brush-stroke in the art of healing.


1. Plan a strategy for educating the young people in your church and local schools on these issues.

2. “It is a morally neutral thing to experiment on human embryos.” Do you agree? If not, why not?

3. Scientists are talking about the possibility of ‘cloning’ human beings.

Would you agree with this? What are the dangers?

4. “Everyone over seventy should voluntarily take a suicide pill to ease the burden on the taxpayers.” Do you agree or not with this statement? Give Biblical reasons for your answer.


1. Pray over these issues as they relate to your own personal life and experience.

2. For more information and advice on these issues contact CARE or the Christian Medical Fellowship; or research on the Internet.

3. See if you can visit patients who are dying from terminal illnesses in (a) Your local hospital; (b) Your local hospice.

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