Persons Beyond Roe v. Wade: The Post-Human Age? -- By: C. Ben Mitchell

Journal: Southern Baptist Journal of Theology
Volume: SBJT 07:2 (Summer 2003)
Article: Persons Beyond Roe v. Wade: The Post-Human Age?
Author: C. Ben Mitchell


Persons Beyond Roe v. Wade:
The Post-Human Age?

C. Ben Mitchell

C. Ben Mitchell is associate professor of bioethics and contemporary culture at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and consultant on biomedical and life issues for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

“The importance of a proper understanding of the imago Dei can hardly be overstated. The answer given to the imago inquiry soon becomes determinative for the entire gamut of doctrinal affirmation. The ramifications are not only theological, but [for] every phase of the … cultural enterprise as a whole” (Carl F. H. Henry).1

For the thirty years after Roe v. Wade, the debate over human fetal personhood has glowed with sometimes white-hot intensity. While Roe arguably focused on a woman’s right to privacy, everyone knew then, and certainly knows by now, that its fundamental question was the nature and moral status of unborn human lives. Post Roe v. Wade, the fundamental question facing the world in the twenty-first century remains the question, what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be “one of us”? Is a human blastocyst one of us? Is a human zygote one of us? Is a human fetus one of us? Would a cloned human embryo be one of us?

The abortion debate resulted in a redefinition of human persons for the sake of personal autonomy. Ironically, the cost of one person’s autonomy was the future autonomy of an unborn baby. Today’s emerging biotechnology revolution challenges us to extend the redefinition of human nature; this time for the sake of technological prowess. Advances in genetic engineering, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, cybernetics, robotics, and nanotechnology depend in large measure on our willingness as a culture to recast what it means to be human.

The currently regnant worldview, naturalistic materialism, has proved to be an insufficient paradigm for protecting human dignity. Biological membership in the species homo sapiens, arguably a necessary condition for human personhood, is neither a philosophically satisfying definition of person nor a sufficient ground for a biblical-theological anthropology.2 Not only so, but xenotransplantation and transspecies genetic engineering may produce chimeras—living members of our species who share either discreet organs from another species or DNA from another species. Would an animal-human chimera be a member of our species and, therefore, on a purely naturalistic view, a human person? Would the answer to that question depend on which, or how many, nonhuman ...

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