[Paleopsych] CBC: (Colson) Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, by Sandra Davis

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Book Review: Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, by Sandra Davis
Thu, 17 Mar 2005 16:36:03 -0600
Center for Bioethics and Culture <cbcinfo at thecbc.org>

In every era, men and women have been given the responsibility to be 
stewards of the world and its affairs. In our time, this task, having 
never been an easy one, has become even more difficult. We not only live 
in a pluralistic society, but also a highly technological one and the 
ethical dilemmas we face are, in some ways, unlike any others. In the 
twenty-first century, often dubbed the “biotech century”, questions of 
right and wrong have become inextricably linked to our widening awareness 
of our technological prowess- our gathering strength to affect mankind at 
the genetic level. These serious issues require a balanced response, one 
that supports the harnessing of the incredible capacities our world 
offers, but as good stewards, advocates the ethical use of those 
capacities for the benefit of mankind. As biotechnology becomes the new 
nexus of moral stewardship for our century, our obligation remains to make 
ethical decisions before God, not only for ourselves, but for every 
generation after us.

Charles W. Colson and Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Ph.D., have done the 
Christian community a substantial service by editing a collection of 
essays, entitled Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, to aid in this 
process of staying well-informed. These essays present a Christian 
approach toward biotechnology and its moral concerns. Genetics, 
cybernetics, cloning and the public policy and legal needs of each area 
are addressed. The authors are diverse, including physicians, academics, 
scientists, and lawyers; from both Christian and secular circles who 
recognize the importance of collaboration as a means of effecting change.

The comprehensive range of issues addressed reflects the rapid pace with 
which biotech has developed, far beyond the early years of the abortion 
debate in the seventies. A thorough education is greatly needed, 
especially among Christians who oftentimes, are last to engage in cultural 
discussions out of a desire to protect the integrity of the faith. The 
need for action must come out of staying abreast of the current issues and 
Cameron notes this purpose in his introductory essay, “Christian Vision 
for the Biotech Century”: “The pro-life community needs to upgrade both 
its understanding of and commitment to questions that go beyond abortion 
and yet are of equal gravity to our conscience and our civilization in 
their threat to the sanctity of human life”. Though rightfully engaged in 
the abortion debate, a more well-rounded defense against newer issues is 

Because the issue of cloning is nearest to the public consciousness, a few 
essays are devoted to describing the process of cloning in layman's terms 
and outlining its ethical implications. The passage of Prop. 71, a bill 
designating taxpayer money for embryonic stem cell research, in California 
in 2004, has unfortunately proved the timeliness of the warnings by those 
committed to responsible bioethics. Yet the common charge of Luddism by 
critics is not one that can be substantiated within these pages; “The 
Sanctity of Life in a Brave New World” states in its manifesto: “We 
strongly favor work in biotechnology that will lead to cures for diseases 
and disabilities, and we are excited by the promise of stem cells from 
adult donors and other ethical avenues of research...we welcome all 
medical and scientific research that is firmly tethered to moral truth”.

Other essays address the impact of genetics where, among other concerns, 
the desire to patent genetic material for purposes of research makes men 
and women objects to be owned rather than autonomous, free individuals. C. 
Ben Mitchell, Ph.D., stresses this in his essay “The New Genetics and the 
Dignity of Humankind”: “Genetic technology may be used to relieve human 
suffering, treat human diseases and thereby protect human dignity; or it 
may be used in ways that erode our dignity and treat us as mere 
commodities, or even worse, refashion us in someone else's image”. David 
Stevens, M.D., in his essay “Promise and Peril”, celebrates the potential 
benefits of genetics but also argues for reasonable parameters for an 
almost completely unregulated field.

Since the Christian community is most familiar with the pro-life debate 
surrounding abortion, a couple of essays discuss how the national 
discussion has changed since Roe v. Wade, and offer new strategies for the 
Christian community.

Overall, Human Dignity in the Biotech Century is an excellent book for 
those wanting to familiarize themselves with the current issues, and to 
gain a sense of the “big picture”. It is educational, sobering, and 
uplifting, too- the work that these authors are doing in their various 
vocations to advocate for responsible bioethics is exactly the right 
response. Finding the appropriate balance between ethical applications of 
biotech while not compromising the distinct, inviolable nature of human 
beings is part of the task of our generation.

Sandra Davis, Staff Writer, The Center for Bioethics and Culture

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