There is no doubt that the new opportunities and challenges lifted up by such things as stem cell research, cloning, genetically generated pharmaceuticals, trans-species genetic modifications, xeno transplantation, genetic screening, genetically modified foods, bio-patenting, and nanotechnology will dramatically alter the lives of people, now and in future generations. Such alteration can hold much promised good. It can also produce destructive and uncontrollable dynamics.
We believe these guidelines can help us and possibly others in our own processes of judgment not as if they were the last word, but as an initial word of needed, on-going reflection on how Christians might responsibly address biotechnological/nano-technological innovations in our time.
With the growth in medical technology, such as the use of drugs, respirators, resuscitation equipment, tube feeding, there has been an expansion of our capability to extend life. At the same time there are growing cries for legal sanctions to end life when requested, often arising from the experience of people who are terminally ill or severely disabled, or from their caregivers. Decisions to prolong or end life are surrounded by complex webs of personal relationships and professional responsibilities as well as questions of personal autonomy.
There are rarely clear solutions in the midst of these decisions. They take careful thought and reflection on the multi-faceted situation. Discussion with family, friends and church members is helpful in the process. The following information and considerations are offered to assist in reflection on end-of-life situations from a Christian perspective.
This resource does not officially represent positions and policies of churches who are members of The Canadian Council of Churches.
- May the tissues (for example, stem cells) of a human fetus be used to look for a cure for Alzheimer’s disease?
- Should scientists clone human beings, simply because it is possible?
- May humans manipulate the environment in whichever way suits them, no matter the effect on other species?
- Should Christians care about the ozone layer?
- Should Christian farmers grow genetically-modified foods?
When The Canadian Council of Churches’ Commission on Faith and Witness was asked to consider such important, troubling, and complex questions, we found we were led to the foundations of our faith. None of the questions is abstract; all are urgent, because they are about matters that are happening here and now to each of us. These matters have effects much bigger than we can see, but require that we make choices. In making choices, our humanity is disclosed.
Canada’s churches consider that the biopatenting issue is a significant one for humanity’s understanding of itself and of its call to live respectfully with other living beings, which we believe are also creatures of God. Seeking the Creator’s wisdom on our relationship with other forms of life is crucial now, when new ideas and powerful new techniques are having such an impact on humanity’s self-understanding and on the scope of human action. That’s why the Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship together sought intervener status in the Supreme Court’s “oncomouse” case, as did nine other non-governmental organizations.
On December 5, 2002, the Supreme Court of Canada published its decision that a genetically modified mouse, developed in the early 1980s by two scientists at Harvard University, is not an intervention within the meaning of Canada’s Patent Act. The Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada together had received intervener status in the Supreme Court’s “oncomouse” case.
The media release for that occasion can be found here.
The CCC has published a booklet, Life: Patent Pending, as a discussion-starter for people in church networks who want to consider questions of biopatenting, questions which, presumably will come before the Parliament of Canada in the foreseeable future. Click here to download the booklet
December 1996. Recognizing that issues surrounding decisions at the end of life were front-and-centre in both church and society, the Commission on Faith and Witness undertook a survey of its membership, resulting in the release of an ecumenical statement of convergence on euthanasia and assisted suicide. Click here to read or download this document.
More Resources from Other Councils of Churches
The World Council of Churches
Faith, science and technology
This project provides space for churches to engage with each other on how new technologies – from genetically modified seeds to the harvesting of eggs for genetic and stem-cell research, or to bionic legs and artificial intelligence – are affecting life. It includes opportunities for ecumenical reflection and advocacy on the issues at stake for people and the future of life on earth.
The National Council of Churches of Christ – USA
A policy on human biotechnologies and related statements.