Begotten, not made

Culture | Babies are not manufactured products

Issue: "Clinton: Capitol crimes?," Sept. 26, 1998

The term "reproduction," notes Christian ethicist Richard Eyer, is a metaphor from the industrial revolution. With this language, a child is thought of as a "product," something mass-produced, like other consumer goods. Just as manufacturing technology churns out commodities that must pass high standards of quality control, the new "reproductive technology" promises to fabricate perfect children. The Bible, however, does not speak of babies being made or produced, like objects off an assembly line. Babies are "begotten." The long passages of "begats" (which foil many a well-intentioned Bible-reading project) contain a profound truth: Human parents bring forth not things, not consumer products, but fellow human beings. In the latest edition of his newsletter Tentatio (online at, Mr. Eyer points out how this distinction is at the heart of the Nicene Creed, which emphasizes how the Son of God, the third Person of the Trinity, is "begotten, not made." Jesus Christ is "of the same substance as the Father," not simply another created being. Babies, although not equal to parents in power and glory, are of the same substance as their fathers and mothers-they are not "made" by fertility clinics. The Genetics & IVF Institute in Fairfax, Va., announced earlier this month a process that will allow parents to select the sex of their children. Sperm with the Y chromosome, which will produce a male, are sorted out from those with the X chromosome, which will produce a female. The woman is then artificially inseminated with the brand of her choice, resulting in either a little boy or a little girl, whichever she wants. The new possibilities opened up by genetic engineering-already used to tailor-make livestock-offer the prospect of allowing parents to custom-design their children. Americans already seem eager to take advantage of the possibility. A Harris poll reports that 43 percent would approve of genetic engineering that "improve babies' physical characteristics." Parents could make sure that their child is not only healthy but good-looking. Some scientists think genetic tinkering could breed children who are well behaved, with high IQs. And the genetic mistakes, false starts, and embryo seconds could simply be discarded, along with other industrial waste. Tragically, what drives the fertility clinics and funds their ever more exotic designer genes is the desperation of childless couples. The agonizing desire to have a child is touching and deserving of sympathy. The traditional solution to the problem, adoption, has become more complicated, due to another facet of the child-as-property mentality-the abortion epidemic. Certainly, there are legitimate medical procedures that can be helpful for childless couples. But the passion for a child at any cost can lead to profound moral transgressions. When a woman gets pregnant with sperm from an anonymous donor, not her husband, the covenant of marriage is violated. This is adultery, as is the use of a surrogate mother, impregnating a woman and paying her to carry someone else's child. Not only does this misuse another woman's body, it leads her to violate her vocation as a mother. Instead of caring for her child, she sells it. Unbridled passions-even passions for something good such as having a child-tend to have tragic consequences. When children were seen not as a consumer right but as a gift of God, childless couples threw themselves on the will of God. Sarah, giving up on God's promise, found a surrogate mother, but she ended up abusing Hagar and her son Ishmael, setting off a chain of events that led to centuries of inter-tribal warfare. God's grace, however, extended to Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, and the innocent child, who was begotten, not made. Meanwhile, the appropriately named scientist Richard Seed has announced the intentions of his Human Clone Clinic: He plans to clone himself. In two and a half years, Mr. Seed intends to have completed the research necessary to clone a human being-to take an adult cell, cause it to multiply, and grow a genetically identical copy of the original donor. Specifically, Mr. Seed is going to take one of his own cells and make himself an identical twin. This little seed will then be implanted in his wife, Gloria, who has agreed to carry and give birth to the child. Thus, she will become the mother of her husband's brother. When a new reproduction technology is developed, it is always hailed as the solution to extreme cases that seldom happen, but which, once accepted, open the door wide open. Mr. Seed says that he has received calls from parents of dying children, who hope to use his technology to replace them. His own motives are revealing: The Boston Globe reports that Mr. Seed, who is 69, considers that cloning himself would be the first step toward achieving immorality. By reproducing himself genetically, he imagines that he is reproducing himself, being literally born again, transmitting himself in repeated life cycles through the ages. Such delusions-Mr. Seed's clone would not be himself, but his twin, though 69 years younger-are a testimony to the desperation of the human condition. Mr. Seed will be in his 70s when his research reaches its culmination, and this rationalistic scientist does not want to die. He imagines that he can invent his own immortality, that he can save himself. Human beings want to be their own creators and their own saviors. And those are shoes we just can't fill.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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