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GMO—Humans: The Countdown Begins

December 3, 2015

Today is the last day of a landmark conference in Washington, D.C. The International Summit on Human Gene Editing . Formerly referred to as “germline intervention”, Human Gene Editing (HGE) is the creation of a genetically modified human. HGE changes made to a human child at an embryonic level will be passed through normal sexual reproduction to all future offspring. This emerging technology has profound implications for the future of the human race.

Advocates hope to bring generational cures to genetic diseases such as Sickle Cell Anemia and Tay-Sachs Disease which can be specifically targeted for HGE at an early embryonic level. Critics are arguing that the technology is too new and the inherent risks to all of human-kind are too great. Due to the uncharted concerns and very present unintended consequences regarding HGE, many scientists in the summit are calling for a moratorium on all human gene editing. Philip Campbell of the science journal Nature explains why they have called for a moratorium and have rejected papers on the subject,

“So we've had human germline editing papers sent to us. These are confidential so I won't say more about them but several papers have been received by several journals and all have been rejected by us either because of technical inadequacies or because of noncompliance with local regulation . . . OR BOTH [emphasis mine].”

Poor science and breaking the law are just a few of the reasons why we should be concerned when discussing proliferation and scientific acceptance of this emerging technology. Here are a few facts to consider:

Human Gene Editing has been condemned by the United Nations and outlawed in over 29 countries (China, North Korea and the United States are not among them). Due to its eugenic history, Germany has enacted some of the strictest criminal penalties for human embryo experimentation.  The Nuremberg medical trials of last century ruled that the deadly human experiments performed by the NAZI’s during the Holocaust on concentration camp inmates constituted “human experimentation without informed consent” and were considered war crimes. Seven NAZI doctors were found guilty and hung. To prevent the medical research community from repeating these crimes the Nuremburg Code was adopted by most western nations (United States excluded) and became the founding tenant of modern bioethics. If the embryo is a person then HGE would be a violation of informed consent.

Undeterred by international condemnation, China, in April 2015, described their use of a newly developed CRISPR–Cas9 technology to edit the genomes of human embryos. Led by Junjiu Huang at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, this team of scientists published the first and only paper to date of this controversial form of human experimentation. This new genetic modification technology is called CRISPR, short for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats.” CRISPR is incredibly fast, relatively simple and very cheap. A recent biotech startup named Amino has brought desktop bioengineering to everyone for a little under $700.00. For less than the cost of a leading smartphone you can bioengineer your own glow in the dark bacteria by splicing genes in your garage. Their marketing material boasts that “Amino is a small and simple-to-use hardware system that enables anyone to grow and take care of living cells. We are the world’s first publicly available bioengineering platform that can be used at home, in labs or in schools”. They go on to describe the following product line “These hand-assembled polished rich Mahogany Amino Ones are shipped with the Amino Glow App, a DNA program and the set of chemicals needed to transform the regular bacteria into a glowing organism and keep it growing and glowing! A living Nightlight!”

OR Nightmare, depending on whose hand holds the test tube. These do-it-yourself (DIY) bioengineering kits have been criticized as opening the door to “bio-hackers” who may use the technology for malevolent intent. From DIY DNA kits to community laboratories where CRISPR is available to untrained amateurs, the possibility for domestic bio-terrorism becomes a probability. “One of the biggest fears surrounding CRISPR is that it could be used to create a genetic modification designed to spread through a population of organisms at an unnaturally fast rate”, says Heidi Ledford writing for the science journal Nature. The FBI routinely builds relationships within the bio-hacker community so that any realtime threat can be assessed and hopefully neutralized.

As the price of this “cut and paste” gene sequencing has reached hobbyist levels the temptation to alter children at an embryonic level has proliferated. Testing material is easily acquired. An excess of over 500,000 human embryos have been created through the IVF process. Clients routinely abandon their cryogenically preserved offspring rather than continue to pay for the upkeep of their frozen embryos. It is increasingly common that they altruistically donate their left-overs to science. With the easy availability of human test subjects whom the National Institutes of Health have declared non-persons, it is just a matter of time until a rogue scientist using CRISPR technology repeats what was done in China last April and produces a GMO child.

Once the genie is out of the bottle there will be no putting it back. Perhaps we should heed science fiction writer Bruce Sterling, “"Maybe we're about to radically change the operating system of the human condition. If so, then this would be a really good time to make backups of our civilization."

Daniel Becker is President of Personhood Alliance, lecturer and author of the book Personhood : A Pragmatic Guide to Prolife Victory in the 21st Century

Personhood.org


Ectogenesis: Artificial Womb

EctogenesisEctogenesis, as it applies to persons, is the creation and/or continuation of human life outside the human uterus. It can refer to the complete artificial creation of human life (as in Brave New World), or the term can be applied to all technological developments that would result in a shortening of the time required for the fetus to attain viability following implantation in the womb.

Artificial Intelligence: making intelligent machines

The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was coined by John McCarthy in 1956 as "the science and engineering of making intelligent machines." After 50 years of AI programming, researchers are creating systems that can understand speech, imitate human thought, beat the smartest test taker, and even create machines that can watch children for their parents. While many of these discoveries seem almost unreal, they are a part of the culture in which we live today. From creating a chip to implant into a person that would enable them to speak and understand a foreign language to creating a robot that could fight in times of war, the developments of AI are limitless. The question remains though with all of these developments what should be the limitations?


If we as a society possess the ability to create a machine that can think, talk, walk, and even respond to stimuli like human beings, then does that mean that they are equally human, or even a person? The other side to this debate is the reality that through technology a superior race of human beings could exist. No longer would we watch the Olympic games and see skilled athletes, instead we would see athletes that had been programmed to run faster, breathe longer, and play harder. The prize that came to the athlete that trained the hardest would now go to the athlete who had been given the newest technological advancements. The question remains in search for technological advancements are we risking loosing our value as humans, better yet persons? Science will give society the opportunity to redefine what it means to be a person, yet the question is what will our response be?

Artificial Intelligence: What are the Transhumanists saying?

Implantable brain chips: ethical and policy issues By Ellen M. McGee, Ph.D. Director, The Long Island Center for Ethics Long Island University

“The future may include the reality of science fiction's "cyborgs," persons who have developed some intimate and occasionally necessary relationship with a machine. It is likely that computer chips implanted in our brains and acting as sensors or actuators may soon not only assist the blind and those with failing memory, but even bestow fluency in a new language, enable "recognition" of previously unmet individuals and provide instantaneous access to encyclopedic databases.

 

Developments in nanotechnology, bioengineering, computers and neuroscience are converging to facilitate these amazing possibilities. Research on cochlear hearing and retinal vision has furthered the development of interfaces between neural tissues and microcomputers. The cochlear implant, which directly stimulates the auditory nerve, enables totally deaf people to hear sound. An artificial vision system, the "Dobelle Eye," uses a tiny television camera and ultrasonic distance sensors mounted on eyeglasses and connected to a miniature computer worn on a belt. This invention enables the blind to navigate independently, "read" letters, "watch" television, use a computer and access the Internet. 1 These "visual" activities are achieved by triggering pulses from the microcomputer to an array of platinum electrodes implanted on the surface of the brain's visual cortex. In March 1998, a "locked in" victim of a brain-stem stroke became the first recipient of a brain-to-computer interface, enabling him to communicate on a computer by thinking about moving the cursor.”

How long Before Super-Intelligence? By: Nick Bostrom, Oxfrord Future of Humanity Institute, Faculty of Philosophy & James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford

 

“Once artificial intelligence reaches human level, there will be a positive feedback loop that will give the development a further boost. AIs would help constructing better AIs, which in turn would help building better AIs, and so forth.

Even if no further software development took place and the AIs did not accumulate new skills through self-learning, the AIs would still get smarter if processor speed continued to increase. If after 18 months the hardware were upgraded to double the speed, we would have an AI that could think twice as fast as its original implementation. After a few more doublings this would directly lead to what has been called "weak superintelligence", i.e. an intellect that has about the same abilities as a human brain but is much faster.” Source: 

Artificial Intelligence: what are the Scientists and Secularists saying?

Brain Chips: Connecting the mind and machines By Michael Bay (Monday, June 5, 2006)

 

“A chip implanted in your head that allows you to store and recall information, of have a direct connection to machines, including computers and the Internet. Kennedy says the implications of such technology are very serious. ‘You are going to have individuals who have super-power of memories, calculation abilities and communication abilities and be far superior than the rest of us.’” Philip Kennedy, CEO and chief scientist of Neural Signals.

 Biotechonology, Human Enhancement, and the Ends of Medicine By Edmund D. Pellegrino

Some physicians have already crossed the divide between treatment and enhancement, between medically indicated use and patient-desired abuse. There is already a need for physicians to reflect on the ethical implications of their involvement in the uses of biotechnology. This reflection centers on these loci: (1) The use of biotechnological advancements in the treatment of disease; (2) its use to satisfy the desires of patients and non-patients for enhancement of some bodily or mental trait, or some state of affairs they wish to perfect; and (3) more distantly, in the use of biotechnology to redesign human nature and thus to enhance the species in the future.

Artificial Intelligence: Biblical worldview

Will Biological Computers Enable Artificially Intelligent Machines to Become Persons? Anthony Tongen, Ph.D. is, Visiting Assistant Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of Arizona

Central to a Christian concept of personhood is the image of God. A strong AI perspective poses challenges to three common views of how human beings bear the image of God--the functional, the relational, and the substantive. The functional perspective concentrates on what we as human beings do. This view comes under attack as we consider our response to whether or not we are deterministic creatures. Did God create us in such a way that we follow a brain "program," or is there an aspect of free will in our function?The relational view of the image of God focuses more on our ability to have relationships with others and with God. In his book The Frontiers of Science and Faith, John Jefferson Davis chooses to focus on the security of the relational view in the face of strong AI. Davis's point is that instead of seeing strong AI as an attack on the unique creation that we are in Christ, we should regard our ability to have a relationship with God as the element that will ultimately set humans apart from "intelligent" machines.

Remaking Humans: The New Utopians Versus a Truly Human Future By C. Ben Mitchell and John F. Kilner

Again, the idea of improving society through technology is not new... What is new, however, is how the transhumanists intend to use technology. They intend to craft their technopia by merging the human with the machine. Since, as they argue, computer speed and computational power will advance a million fold between now and the year 2050 A.D., artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. The only way humans can survive is by merging with machines, according to the transhumanistss.Robots and computers will of course never become human. Why not? Because being "one of us" transcends functional biology. Human beings are psychosomatic soulish unities made in the image of God. The image of God is fully located neither in our brain nor our DNA. We, and all who are "one of us," are unique combinations of body, soul, and mind. We might quibble theologically about how best to describe the components of our humanity, but most Christians agree that we are more than the sum of our biological and functional parts.The technopians, however, do not share our view of what it means to be "one of us." Even though computers and robots may never become "one of us," some will doubtless attribute to them human characteristics and--it is not inconceivable to imagine--human rights, including a right not to be harmed. One day it may be illegal to unplug a computer and so end its "life" at the same time that it is an ethical duty to unplug a human being whose biology has ceased to function efficiently.

Cloning and the New Age

Cloned HumansDolly the sheep brought the realities of cloning into the mainstream society. Today the effects of cloning on a society are at the center of many ethical debates. Yet what is cloning?


Cloning is the process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. It is the procedure in which the nucleus which contains the DNA is removed from a human egg and replace with the nucleus (DNA) from the donor's somatic (body) cell. An electric charge stimulates the new human embryo, and the cloning process is complete. Thus, it creates an exact duplicate copy of the donor.

With this in mind, two terms have been given to human cloning even though there is really only one type.The term reproductive cloning has been used to describe when a human clone is implanted and delivered as a full term pregnancy. This type of cloning was used to create Dolly the sheep. Research, experimental or therapeutic cloning have been the terms used for the other "type". In this, the procedure is identical to the above except that this new cloned human is experimented upon in his or her first few weeks of life and then killed. Essentially, the clone is created to destroy the embryo and harvest its stem cells for research.

Why is Cloning a problem?

From a biblical worldview, the first reality is that God is the creator of life. Therefore, it is God's job to create life, not man. Thus when we take the act of creating life away from God, it is not only dehumanizing for the individual, but it threatens human dignity as a society. Beyond that, cloning gives individuals the opportunity to create life and then treat it any way deemed acceptable. Cloning does not value each human being as unique and individual.

According to Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk, Director of Education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center:

Cloning participates in the basic evil of moving human procreation out of the setting of committed marital intimacy and into the laboratory. Human procreation should not take place in the laboratory because it is inherently dehumanizing to bring a new human being into the world through means which replace the marital act. Each of us has a right to be brought into the world as the fruit and expression of marital love, rather than as the product of technical domination and manufacturing protocols. Procreation is not meant to be replaced by production. There is a dignity both to the process of procreation as established by God through sexual self-giving, and the dignity of the life itself which is engendered by that process. Cloning threatens human dignity on both of those levels.Cloning also represents a sort of genetic engineering. Instead of choosing just a few of the features you’d like your offspring to have, like greater height or greater intelligence, cloning could allow you to choose all of the features, so it represents an extremely serious form of domination and manipulation by parents over their own children. It represents a type of parental power that parents are not intended to have. Ultimately, cloning is a type of human breeding, a despotic attempt by some individuals to dominate and pre-determine the make-up of others. With cloning you also distort the relationships between individuals and generations. If a woman were to clone herself, using her own egg, her own somatic cell, and her own womb, she wouldn’t need to have a man involved at all.Oddly, she would end up giving birth to her own identical twin—a twin sister who would also be her daughter.

In reference to Human Therapeutic Cloning Rev. Dr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk notes:

If human reproductive cloning—the bringing to birth of a new child who is an identical twin to somebody else—is wrong, then therapeutic cloning is worse. Therapeutic cloning is the creation of that same identical twin for the premeditated purpose of ending her life in order to harvest her tissues. In sum, there is a grave evil involved in therapeutic cloning because life is created for the explicit purpose of destroying it. With a cloned birth, at least we would end up with a baby that is alive. Human therapeutic cloning, the artificial creation of a human life for the sole purpose of her exploitation and destruction will always be gravely unethical, even if the desired end is a very good one, namely the curing of diseases. Therapeutic cloning sanctions the direct and explicit exploitation of one human being by another, in this case, the exploitation of the weak by the powerful.The danger of therapeutic cloning lies in the intentional creation of a subclass of human beings, made up of those still in their embryonic or fetal stages, who can be freely exploited and discriminated against by those fortunate enough to have already passed beyond those early embryonic stages.Therapeutic cloning raises further serious slippery-slope concerns. The temptation to make embryos that can be exploited for their stem cells offers the further temptation to grow those cloned embryos within a uterus to the point of a fetus. Such a fetus can then be aborted and conveniently harvested for needed organs, avoiding the trouble of having to start from scratch with undifferentiated stem cells.

(Source: Family Research Council: Stem Cell Research, Cloning & Embryos )

Bina48: Person or Machine?

BINA48 came to life in the Plano, Texas laboratory of Roboticist, David Hanson. She was designed and programmed to the appearance and personality of Rothblatt’s spouse, Bina Aspen, who spent greater than one hundred hours teaching the android to be her doppelgänger.                   Wikipedia

Is she a machine with a partially downloaded human consciousness or a very young undeveloped "person"?

CLICK HERE to hear her discuss her view of God and her soul.

BINA ASPEN and her Doppelganger BINA48
            The HUMAN      The MACHINE
       
   

Aging and the End of Life Q&A

Assisted suicide and euthanasia is a confusing subject. However, this subject will greatly affect future generations as we continue the slide down the slippery slope toward declaring several classes of human beings ... non-persons in the eyes of the law. Please carefully consider all factors before making a judgment. The following are a list of questions that many have asked on this subject and answers that address these provocative questions.


 
  1. Isn't a decision to kill oneself a private choice about which society has no right to be concerned?
  2. What about those who are terminally ill?
  3. Shouldn't it be the person's own choice?
  4. What about those in uncontrollable pain?
  5. What about those with severe disabilities?
  6. Is this really an important issue?
  7. Opponents of legalizing assisting suicide say it will lead to involuntary euthanasia. Aren't these overblown scare tactics?
  8. Is euthanasia new to society?
  9. What about "will to live" documents?

1. ISN'T A DECISION TO KILL ONESELF A PRIVATE CHOICE ABOUT WHICH SOCIETY HAS NO RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED?

This position assumes that suicide results from competent people making autonomous, rational decisions to die, and then claims that society has no business "interfering" with a freely chosen death decision that harms no one other than the suicidal individual. But according to experts who have studied suicide, this basic assumption is wrong.

A 1974 British study, which involved extensive interviews and examinations of medical records, found that 93% of those studied that committed suicide were mentally ill at the time. A similar St. Louis study, published in 1981, found a mental disorder in 94% of those who committed suicide for reasons other than a settled desire to die, and that they are predominately the victims of mental disorder.
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2. WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE TERMINALLY ILL?

Contrary to the assumptions of many in the public, a scientific study of people with terminal illness published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that fewer than one in four expressed a wish to die, and all of those who did had clinically diagnosable depression. As Richman points out, "effective psychotherapeutic treatment is possible with the terminally ill, and only irrational prejudices prevent the greater resort to such measures." And suicidologist Dr. David C. Clark observes that depressive episodes in the seriously ill "are not less responsive to medication" than depression in others. Indeed, the suicide rate in persons with terminal illness is only between 2% and 4%. Compassionate counseling and assistance, such as that provided in many hospices, together with medical and psychological care, provide alternatives to assisted suicide among those who have terminal illness.
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3. STILL, SHOULDN'T IT BE THE PERSON'S OWN CHOICE?
Christopher Reeves, famous Hollywood actor who played Superman, admitted to being depressed after his horse riding accident. Because he was depressed, he thought of suicide. Yet, with encouragement and care those thoughts passed.

Almost all of those who attempt suicide do so as a subconscious cry for help, not after a carefully calculated judgment that death would be better than life. A suicide attempt powerfully calls attention to one's plight. The humane response is to mobilize psychiatric and social service resources to address the problems that led the would-be suicide to such an extreme. Typically, this counseling and assistance is successful. One study of 886 people who were rescued from attempted suicides found that 5 years later less 4% had gone on to kill themselves. Paradoxically, the prospects for a happy life are often greater for those who attempt suicide, but are stopped and helped, than for those with similar problems who never attempt suicide. In the words of academic psychiatrist Dr. Erwin Stengel, "The suicidal attempt is a highly effective though hazardous way of influencing others, and its effects are as a rule...lasting."

In short, suicidal people should be helped with solving their problems, not helped to die.
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4. WHAT ABOUT THOSE IN UNCONTROLLABLE PAIN?
They are not getting adequate medical care and should be provided up-to-date means of pain control, not killed. Even Dr. Pieter Admiral, leader of the successful movement to legalize direct killing in the Netherlands, has publicly observed that pain is never an adequate justification for euthanasia in light of current medical techniques that can manage pain in virtually all circumstances.

Why then, do so many personal stories of people in hospitals and nursing homes have to cope with unbearable pain? Tragically, pain control techniques that have been perfected at the frontiers of medicine have not become universally known at the clinical level. What we need is better training in those techniques for health care personnel-not the legalization of physician-aided death.
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5. WHAT ABOUT THOSE WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES?
What would this thinking say about our attitude as a society? On the one hand, we tell those who have neither terminal illness nor a disability, "You say you want to be killed, but what you really need is counseling and assistance." On the other hand, we tell those with disabilities, "We understand why you want to be killed, and we'll let a doctor kill you"? It would certainly not mean that we were respecting the "choice" of a person with the disability. Instead, we would be discriminatorily denying suicide counseling on the basis of disability. We would be saying to the non-disabled person, "We care too much about you to let you throw you life away." To the person with the disability we would be saying, "We agree that life with a disability is not worth living."

Most people with disabilities will tell you that it is not so much their physical or mental impairment itself that makes their lives difficult, as it is the conduct of the non-disabled majority toward them. Denial of access, discrimination in employment, and an attitude of aversion or pity instead of respect are what make life intolerable. True respect for the rights of people with disabilities would dictate action to remove those obstacles, not "help" in committing suicide.
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6. IS THIS REALLY AN IMPORTANT ISSUE?

If you are healthy and relatively happy, you might not think so. However, the National Council on Disability definitely thinks it is. In their position paper, Assisted Suicide: A Disability Perspective, states, "The dangers of permitting physician-assisted suicide are immense. The pressures upon people with disabilities to choose to end their lives…are already prevalent…People with disabilities are among society's most likely candidates for ending their lives, as society has frequently made it clear that it believes they would be better off dead…Persons with disabilities who are poor or members of racial minorities would likely be in the most jeopardy."
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7. OPPONENTS OF LEGALIZING ASSISTING SUICIDE SAY IT WILL LEAD TO INVOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA. AREN'T THESE OVERBLOWN SCARE TACTICS?
Absolutely not. Those who desire to see assisted suicide and euthanasia legalized say there will be strict limitations to guard against abuse of this power to kill. Holland is often pointed to as being a good example of the humane use of euthanasia. The reality tells a different story. A report released by the Dutch government reveals that in 1990, 5,941 of the 11,800-recorded cases of active assisted killing were done without the patient's consent. Safeguards do not work.
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8. IS EUTHANASIA NEW TO SOCIETY?

The following is from an article in the New York Times dated October 8, 1933. The German Ministry of Justice announced its intention to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of incurable patients.

The proposal stated that, "It shall be made possible for physicians to end the tortures of incurable patients, upon request, in the interest of true humanity…" This was on the eve of the rise of a cruel tyrant, Adolph Hitler, whose inhumane treatment of fellow human beings is legendary.

The real issue of euthanasia is the value of each human life. Traditionally our society has advocated love, compassion and medical intervention to help those who are old, infirm, disabled, or deeply depressed. We are now being conditioned to believe that it is compassionate for a medical doctor to kill a less than "perfect" human. But, when any group of people decide who lives and who dies, based on age, infirmity or mental capacity, the weak and "undesirable" become targets of the strong. Sound familiar?
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9. WHAT ABOUT "WILL TO LIVE" DOCUMENTS?
There is growing evidence that those who do not provide clear directions concerning the life-saving measures they would want are more likely to be denied them than to receive them. Many court cases have been decided in favor of removing all forms of life support. Therefore, it is important that those who do not want to be denied life-saving medical treatment, or even food and fluids, make their views known in some form of advance directive.

Two common advance directives are Living Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney. Living Wills focus on the rejection of life saving medical treatment under certain medical conditions. Durable Powers of Attorney authorize a specified person to make decisions concerning the provision or withholding of life-sustaining measures when the signer is incompetent. Though such laws appear to protect patients' rights, they have some serious flaws from a pro-life point of view.
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National Right to Life has developed an alternative, life-affirming advanced directive called the "Will to Live". This document presumes that food, fluids, and life-saving medical treatment are to be provided. However, it also includes optional sections for the signer to specify conditions under which this presumption does not fully apply, such as when death is imminent or when the signer is in the final stages of terminal illness. Suggestions are given for ways to list one's end-of-life directives with precision and detail.

Click here for a free copy of the Will to Live form from the National Right to Life website.

. . . Pre-Born Human Children at an Embryonic Stage

". . . the (human) embryo is not nothing"

Judy Norsigian of the Boston Women's Health Book Collective (current editor of the benchmark feminist text, Our Bodies, Ourselves)

"To say that these embryos are 'cellular' life but not human life is to engage in a game of semantics. Every one of us started out as embryos."

Carrie Gordon Earll, bioethics analyst for Focus on the Family

Therapeutic Cloning is a term that masks a horrible truth . . . someone must die in order that others may potentialy benefit.

Human experimentation without human consent was outlawed at the Nazi Nuremburg trials of 1949. The biotech community at Emory and University of Georgia routinely kill human embryos as they seek to advance medical science through the cloning of young children.

A Personhood Amendment would be the first step in establishing ethical paramenters that protect human dignity in the 21st century.

Will Biological Computers Enable Artificially Intelligent Machines to Become Persons?

by Anthony Tongen, PhD

Have you ever participated in an intelligent conversation about "artificial intelligence"? Artificial intelligence (AI) is a phrase that is often heard, especially in the context of recent movies, but rarely understood. In general, AI refers to the automation of intelligent behavior via mechanisms such as computers. In this article, I will consider some advantages of biological computers, discuss current views of AI, and conclude with a discussion of personhood.
 
Biological Computers
 
Biological computers consist of both biological and mechanical material. Two main advantages of biological computing are small size and rapid speed. In 2001, a group of Israeli scientists created a prototype biological computer--with enzymes as the "hardware" and DNA as the "software"--that may someday patrol a human body for the detection and/or treatment of disease. This computer is able to run approximately one billion operations per second with 99.8% accuracy. Astonishingly, one billion of these biological computers could fit inside a drop of water!


 
In 1999, a group of scientists from Emory University and Georgia Tech made a calculator (called the "leech-ulator") with neurons taken from leeches. In normal silicon computers, connections are made between the computer's chips only when the programmer directs the connections to occur. However, in a biological computer the neurons are able to connect on their own and are often said to be "thinking" by making connections with their neighbors, possibly increasing computational power. Since the processing power of the silicon chip is close to being maximized, the next generation of computer technology may rely on the use of biological computing. A billion operations per second is impressive indeed, but when the prospect of massive neural connectivity is considered, the speed is almost unfathomable.
 
The "leech-ulator" demonstrates that the ability of neurons to make local connections might be an advantage on which artificial intelligence could capitalize. Suppose scientists are able to map the neural and chemical processes in the brain completely; could a biological computer be made based on this map? The answer is a resounding yes, because the technology to produce a computer duplicating a map (once it is provided) is already available. Such capabilities raise ethical questions. Is an artificially "intelligent" computer a person? How do we define a person? Are human beings more than the neural signals and chemical reactions in their brains?
 
Artificial Intelligence
 
Proponents of AI may support one of two views: strong AI and weak AI. Proponents of strong AI believe that machines can duplicate human intelligence in its entirety, including a sense of consciousness. Proponents of weak AI, by contrast, believe that machines can merely simulate intelligence or act as if they possess intelligence. The prevalent attitude among most AI researchers is to accept the weak AI hypothesis and simply to ignore the strong AI hypothesis. As long as the computer program works, whether it is called a simulation of intelligence or real intelligence is regarded as unimportant.2
 
Many people participate daily in activities involving weak AI, with the most popular enterprise being "gaming." Since the computer "Deep Blue" successfully defeated chess great Garry Kasparov in 1997, we are no longer able to say that a human being is the world chess champion. However, it is important to note that Deep Blue does not mimic the way a human being would play chess, but instead calculates outcomes based on all possible moves and then selects the move with the highest probability of winning. Weak AI also contributes significantly to applications such as speech recognition, machine translation, and search engines.
 
Traditionally, strong AI has been connected to determinism. Determinism claims that all behavior is the result of preceding events. The idea that machines can duplicate humans implies that humans are deterministic creatures who make decisions based on some predetermined brain "program." One of the challenges of strict determinism to the Christian worldview may be framed as follows: If a person is just following his or her "program," then do notions of responsibility, sin, and redemption even make sense? For instance, if a computer is programmed to run the Windows operating system (OS), the computer is doing what it was created to do--even though some people might consider running Windows a sin. In a strict deterministic worldview, the concept of right and wrong quickly becomes very hazy.
 
Proponents of strong AI are not necessarily strictly deterministic, however. In fact, biological computers may make the most dramatic impact on AI in connection with silicon computer chips. If a neural network can be trained to imitate thought, then scientists could connect this "thinking" neural net to a computer chip, resulting in a non-deterministic component of a machine.
 
Personhood
 
With the development of strong AI, personhood has increasingly come under attack. Definitions of personhood are loaded with terms that are unique to the human race, but advances in strong AI are challenging these definitions.
 
The secular definition of personhood has an assumption of naturalism embedded within. A logical implication of naturalism is that every aspect of a human may be reduced to a material basis. While this view of personhood may not seem to be challenged by AI, "intelligence" is an assumption of strong AI that has major ramifications for the naturalistic concept of personhood. Defining intelligence by some barometer of the average mind risks the implication that many in our culture are not intelligent or are without minds. Even without presuming the existence of God, such an assumption about intelligence demeans an entire segment of humanity.
 
Central to a Christian concept of personhood is the image of God. A strong AI perspective poses challenges to three common views of how human beings bear the image of God--the functional, the relational, and the substantive. The functional perspective concentrates on what we as human beings do. This view comes under attack as we consider our response to whether or not we are deterministic creatures. Did God create us in such a way that we follow a brain "program," or is there an aspect of free will in our function?
 
The relational view of the image of God focuses more on our ability to have relationships with others and with God. In his book The Frontiers of Science and Faith, John Jefferson Davis chooses to focus on the security of the relational view in the face of strong AI.3 Davis's point is that instead of seeing strong AI as an attack on the unique creation that we are in Christ, we should regard our ability to have a relationship with God as the element that will ultimately set humans apart from "intelligent" machines.
 
The substantive view focuses on the image of God as manifested by certain qualities or characteristics within the make-up of the human being--i.e. on what a person is.4 The most common aspect referred to in this view is reason. The substantive view of the image of God is the view that comes under the greatest attack when confronted by the assumptions of strong AI. However, through studying our uniqueness as creations of God, the substantive view is also the one that is most strengthened. Millard Erickson says that this view should prompt us to focus on the duplication of the attributes of God in our own lives.5 It is enlightening to study, one by one, all of the attributes of God and to reflect on two things: 1) how amazing it is that God chose both to reveal those attributes to us and to allow us to possess portions of them, and 2) how difficult it would be for us to create a computer that duplicates these attributes.
 
At the same time, AI may prove in the end to be more versatile than we anticipate. Accordingly, we might be wise to give more careful consideration to what some already maintain is a more accurate biblical understanding of the image of God--i.e., one that sees the image as attaching uniquely to human beings regardless of their capacities.6
 
Conclusion
 
To answer the question that was posed in the title of this article, I do not believe that biological computers will enable artificially intelligent machines to become persons. While AI may have both positive and negative consequences, it is limited in its capacity to duplicate human beings because there is far more to reproducing a person than simulating his or her neurological processes. I would invite Christians to keep abreast of developments in AI, but also to be encouraged by their uniqueness as creations in the image of God! 
 

1 Thanks to Mary Adam, Greg Chalfant, Gene Chase, Scott Lacey and Doug VanderGriend for helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.
2 Russell, Stuart and Norvig, Peter. Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach. 2nd ed. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 2002.
3 Davis, John Jefferson. The Frontiers of Science and Faith. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2002.
4 Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Baker, Grand Rapids, MI, 1998.
5 Ibid.
6 For example, see John F. Kilner, "Biotech and Human Dignity," CD available from CBHD, 2003

The Advent of the Artificial Womb: A Prospect to Be Welcomed? (Biblical Worldview)

A recent report in the journal Nature1 speculated about whether or not artificial wombs are on the scientific horizon and what ethical issues they might raise. Experiments that are aimed at helping premature neonates survive and IVF embryos to implant more successfully are fostering predictions that the artificial womb may one day move from science fiction to reality. However, the technological hurdles seem insurmountable at this point, and many of the scientists involved in the above research reportedly have no interest in taking the next steps toward developing artificial wombs.


Such steps have already been taken with animals, however, as a Japanese team has attempted to gestate a goat in an artificial womb. When the animal kept disconnecting the catheters that provided necessary nutrients, the scientists paralyzed the animal with a muscle relaxant. Unfortunately, the goat never developed the muscle tone necessary to survive and upon birth could not stand. The baby goat died a few days later.

Experts in this field suggest that they could not guarantee that a human fetus could ever develop in an artificial womb without risk of serious physical harm. Even if the formidable technological obstacles could be overcome, should we move in the direction of developing artificial wombs? Surely this is an example of something that should not be done even if it can. If our feminist colleagues are right about pregnancy being fundamentally a relationship, then there is something important that happens in utero between mother and unborn child. Far from the idea that the womb is a neutral place where the unborn child is simply housed until birth, studies in prenatal psychology suggest that what occurs in the womb has a formative influence on who the child becomes. What makes pregnancy special is the bonding that occurs between mother and unborn child. This is why adoption is so difficult for many birth mothers with unwanted pregnancies and why surrogates frequently want to keep the child they are carrying.

What kinds of harms might come to a child if, in the first nine months of his or her life, there was no bonding, no relationship, and no prospect of connection between mother and child? Though it may be that such children would not be physically harmed, nurturing them in an artificial womb is far from ideal and is not something we should encourage. Children in the womb are owed the best chance at a good start in life, consistent with their dignity as persons made in God's image. 


1 Knight, J. "An out of body experience." Nature 2002; 419:106.

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