by William Cutrer, MD, and Sandra Glahn

What do you think? True or false?

We should outlaw the suction tool used for performing abortions.
The abortion pill, RU486, should remain illegal in this country.
Genetic screening is unethical.
In each of these cases, we must distinguish actual evil from the potential for evil:

While doctors use the suction tool to perform abortions, they also use it for diagnostic and therapeutic dilation and curettage (D & C). It’s safer than the old metal curettes. So are we against the tool itself or the wrongful use of it?
The “abortion pill,” RU486, has potential for positive use in that it blocks progesterone production. RU486 might be helpful for treating some breast cancers. Are we opposed to RU486 itself, or do we oppose its use for elective abortions?
Some object to genetic screening because insurance companies have used the information to charge outrageous premiums for those found to be at risk for future illness. Do we oppose the screening or the wrongful use of this information by insurance companies?
In each of these cases, we need to consider a foundational guideline: Draw the fence around the evil itself, not around the potential for evil. As Augustine said, “The potential abuse of a thing does not preclude its use.” Many subcultures within the Christian community show a tendency to draw too wide a fence. Rather than oppose the immorality itself, they sometimes expand the moral limits to include anything that might “lead” to sin.

For example, some judge others for drinking because “it can lead to drunkenness.” They gloss over verses about Jesus turning water into wine and Paul’s suggestion that Timothy take wine for the sake of his stomach. In the West, we [usually]don’t use alcoholic beverages to treat disease, but we should consider parts of the world where painkillers and anesthetics remain unavailable.

The tendency to broaden the boundary of limitations—to be stricter than God—has been around since the beginning. According to the record we have, God never told Adam and Eve that they could not touch the fruit. Here’s what God said:

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16b–17).

Yet Eve says that God told them “don’t touch” (see Gen. 3:3). So as far back as the original first family, we see a drift toward widening the boundary of limitations while at the same time violating the actual limits.

When it comes to medical ethics, we must avoid doing the same thing. In each of the above cases, the tool, the medication, and the research are amoral. They can be used for bad purposes, but they also have potential beneficial uses.

Thus, when we hear the term “genetic engineering” or the “Genome project,” we must not immediately yell “nay!” envisioning a super race of designer babies or, at the opposite extreme, a race of people with the IQs of fish, designed to do menial tasks.

Developments from genetic research in the next few decades will probably relate to identifying and treating illnesses. This is a far cry from The Lost World. So while it’s always wise to consider the potential for extreme abuses before they happen, we must focus most of our energies on issues that currently confront care providers: How do we stop the existing excesses? How can we as a Christian community constructively provide direction, if not hard, fast answers for those seeking guidance? How do we view the technology? How do we view life? How can we bring the latter two together for the ultimate glory of our Creator God?

This was excerpted from our chapter in Genetic Engineering: A Christian Response