The 21st century has experienced rapid developments in medical technology. Most of these developments have helped sustain human life in a number of ways. However, some of them have brought a host of ethical and moral questions which have challenged Christian ethics (e.g., Vitro fertilization techniques, genetic engineering).
As medical technology continues to develop, it might eventually produce a safe and effective artificial womb (i.e., a device in which a human embryo can successfully live and develop until independent viability). In this article, I will describe the process I think is appropriate to the church for approaching this ethical issue and explain how I would apply it to the issue at hand.
- Evaluate it in light of the teachings of Scripture.
With regard to this ethical issue, I believe that Christians must study the results and impact of this medical technology on human life (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social). Their knowledge must be informed by medical experts and scientific studies. Learning the complexities surrounding this ethical issue will be crucial once it is evaluated in light of the teachings of Scripture.
John Davis states that the first consideration in Christian ethical analysis is to ask: Is the “intervention consistent with the commands, precepts, and principles of Scripture?” By accepting this as the first consideration in my process, I believe that “virtue ethics” must be given greater priority over “ethics of vision.” By applying virtue ethics to this ethical issue, we need to ask: “What type of human beings should we seek to become?” Do we really want to create a society that will give birth to babies through an artificial womb? I understand the risks involved in pregnancy and parturition. Such risks might be one of the reasons why the development of an artificial womb would be deemed necessary by some. Since risks are inevitable, the believer must know how to respond to them. For example, when Paul was about to return to Jerusalem, his friends did not want him to go because they were concerned for his safety (Acts 21:12). Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 ESV). This statement does not mean that Christians must always pursue danger. However, Paul understood that there are situations where believers must go through pain or suffering to fulfill God’s plan. Hence, believers must not make the person’s preference the determining factor in this new ethical issue but must decide which is most pleasing to God.
- Asses the intent.
In approaching this ethical issue, the Christian must ask the question: Does it please God, and is it done with the right intent? Davis notes, “Biblical ethics teaches, with regard to the factor of intention, that for an action to be fully pleasing to God, that action must be done with right intent.” This statement is key to developing an approach to “new” ethical issues. Medical technology tends to bypass this aspect because it has usually made the desire and the happiness of man the determining factor. When this becomes the sole objective, it is possible to pursue experiments that go against God’s plan and design. If the purpose of the artificial womb is to simply produce soldiers for a country’s national security or provide laborers for commercial purposes, then Christians must assess if it diminishes human dignity and subverts God’s original plan for man.
- Examine its implications for God’s purpose for mankind.
While I do not seek to presume the motives of those who create an artificial womb, I believe that the church needs to ask if this development supports or hinders God’s plan for humanity and human relationships. Elon Musk, for example, has “talked of making humanity an interplanetary species by someday sending colonists to Mars.” Does this go against God’s plan for humanity to dwell on the earth (Acts 17:26; Rev. 13:8)? Regarding the artificial womb, I would encourage the church to compare it to David’s words in Psalm 139:13-14 and see how God’s power is magnified through the development of life in the mother’s womb.
The last factor according to Davis, consequences, seeks to ask, “What would be the consequences of these technologies—in the short and long term—for individuals involved and for society?” The church must ask: Will the creation of an artificial womb have positive or negative implications concerning God’s design for marriage, sex, family structure, the church, and how society ought to function? Davis notes, “In light of the imperfections of human forecasting, it is all the more necessary to make ethical decisions within a deontological perspective that is based on principles and duties that are not limited merely to a special context or short-term benefits.”
With a plethora of questions surrounding this new ethical issue, I believe that this process can lead the church to base its response on the principles of Scripture. While the Bible does not explicitly address this ethical issue, the principles that can be derived from it can lead the church to discern if this is pleasing to God or not. Tim Sansbury beautifully shows the relationship between the Christian faith and Christian ethics with these words: “What we believe is demonstrated in what we do.” Hence, it is important to educate the church on such ethical issues through God’s Word since it provides the wisdom it needs to make decisions that are rooted in God’s truth and character. Tim Sansbury rightly concludes, “Scripture is our authority and we should submit to it.”