Interfering with the Aging Process
Q. How far should scientists go in trying to reduce the aging process in the body? Is it ethically right?
A. These are not easy questions. In one century medical developments, better nutrition, and more healthy life styles have combined to increase the average life expectancy in 1900 from 47 years to 76 today in the United States. Some of the most important contributing factors have been the widespread use of vitamins, the discovery by Alexander Fleming of penicillin (the first antibiotic) and various vaccines. Were society to eliminate smoking and other harmful habits doubtless the average age could be increased further.
But what scientists now want to do is manipulate our biochemistry through genetic engineering, hormone injections (DHEA, Melatonin, Antidioxants, etc.), and Telomere therapy (extending DNA telomeres in cells, which reduces aging), cryonics (deep freezing), and nanotechnology (microsurgery). Many of these treatments are, and would be, extremely expensive and therefore only available to a small minority of society who have the financial means. This in itself is immoral. Genetic manipulation scares alot of people, and with some justificiation, because no-one knows the dangers of tampering with human genes. Many feel that genetic engineers are trying to play at being God, and without doubt there are some who would like to try and create new life forms (the human-ape cross must be high on some agendas).
What we as Christians must try to remember is that God has an historical agenda. The human race, as presently physically constituted, is not destined to always be. We have the promise that sickness and genetic degeneration are to be removed in the millennial age. Though men used to live to great ages in the early patriarchal period, it is instructive to remember that this was severely cut after the flood in order to curtail the wickedness of men who were living for many hundreds of years. Reducing man's age is therefore for his and for the race's collective good. With the majority of the world heading for a time not unlike Noah's antidiluvial (pre-flood) world, it is not too difficult to understand why the Lord might not perhaps want wicked men to prolong their mortal life span. According to New Covenant theology there are a limited number of spirits waiting to be incarnated onto this world. The New Testament says that the Lord wishes to shorten the last days for the sake of the righteous who will face certain extinction if wickedness is allowed to progress beyond its divine assigned time-span. Thus the Lord desires to get the remaining spirits who are foreordained to be born in the pre-millennial era incarnated on earth and thus permit the inauguration of the Millennium. If this scenario is true, as New Covenant Christians believe, then obviously it is in Satan's interests to prolong the lifespan or humans as much as possible and increase the murder of the unborn (abortion). As far as the latter is concerned he has done extremely well for instead of reducing or eliminating abortion, more and more nations are introducing it.
There are many who wish to increase the life-spans merely (subconsciously) to postpone the Judgment and to enjoy lives of sinning more. For those who trust in Christ and the resurrection there is no fear of death. All our days are numbered -- the God has foreordained how long we will live any way. Thus the attempt to lengthen human life is mere vanity.
We must strike an intelligent balance in this equation, however, and avoid a fatalism which says that we ought not to try and save or preserve life since God has decided how long we are going to live. But the paradigm of life is not that simple. Though it is true that many are foreordained to have short lives in this sphere, we do not know beforehand who these people are. You can imagine how anxious spouses and parents would live their lives if they knew prophetically that a son, for example, would meet a fatal accident when 6 years old. The scriptures also testify that life is also precious and whilst the Lord sometimes intervenes to shorten a life basically we are to fight to preserve it by all ligitimate means. This fighting for life has, as its purpose, to teach us to love and care for others. All of life's activities are designed to sanctify us and cause us to grow in love. Sitting around indifferently with a fatalism such as the Moslems have will achieve nothing for anyone.
Some would argue that life is but a theatrical performance with God the audience. That is a gross misrespresentation of the purpose of life. We have not been created and placed down here for God's entertainment but for our salvation and eternal progression as his sons and daughters. Earth life is a kind of spiritual obstacle course designed to stretch us and teach us to utilise our God-given resources to the maximum. But it is up to us to choose how to use them. The players come and go, part of a divine plan that embraces everyone. Both the good and the evil have a rôle to play. And whilst it may seem that we are but puppets on a string, in truth we have great freedom of action. And God, being all knowledgeable, is able to weave history to give individuals the freedom they need (if not always what they want) in order to learn the lessons for which, with their agreement, they were sent down here to learn.
New Covenant Christians believe that medicine is important and necessary is most areas. Of course, much medical research, and the time and money that entails, would be circumvented if the world lives more moral lives. Just by making the world a non-smoking planet would reduce cancer significantly, lengthen the average human lifespan, and reduce our hospital bills. If the world lived a sexually moral life similar benefits would accrue.
There is surely nothing wrong in lengthening human life by trying to eliminate the diseases which cut it short (within the constraints I have mentioned) -- I would say it was even desirable. But where we as Christians must say a definite "no" is where scientists are trying to make human beings immortal, as is the stated intention of some. Were immortality to be achieved (which I believe is impossible), then other more horrifying problems would arise with population control. Obviously child-birth would have to be severely reduced, perhaps even limited to an élite few. It is not difficult to picture a nazi-type Lebensborn breeding scenario resulting with undesirables being exterminated. Think of the competition to be the recipients of immortality -- who would decide who would be immortal? Who would be allowed to have children? We have seen the attempts in China to reduce children to one per family -- China now has a generation of spoiled, precocious children who, lacking inter-personal skills such as a family life with siblings offers, will become an even more selfish generation than now obtains.
It is possible, of course, to speculate ad infinitum. Though the intention behind many to create immortality may well be sincerely motivated, the consequences, knowing as we do what human nature is like, could be horrific. The sort of self-restraint and selfless sacrifice for such a utopia to work simply is not present in fallen humanity. We have seen one social experiment -- communism -- prove our case.
For all the apparent philosophical contradictions and inconsistencies (and I underline "apparent" deliberately), God knows best, and we had better follow His plan. We have our allotted time. Who would wish to live forever anyway? The writer of the famous Gulliver's Travels made that point well. If you know the story, Gulliver came across a land where everyone was immortal. The trouble is they were all blind. And surely utter and complete spiritual blindness would be the fate of most of mankind were they to achieve immortality, and before long people would long to die.
Those Christians I know who have found spiritual peace in Christ would not want to live in this life forever anyway. We have obtained citizenship in another country and it is there we long to live. Yes, we would like to live on earth, but on a New Earth, not this old one "which is passing away". Immortality in sin? No thank you. That is what Adam and Eve risked had God not prevented them from earting from the Tree of Life in their fallen condition. To have been immortal in sin would have precluded redemption. What a nightmare. Judgment at the hands of God would surely be better than that!
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 26 February 1998
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