Monday 14 May 2012

Guest Post - Dr Shane McKee fights back on PGD

Last night I posted a blog with the rather provocative title 'Geneticist claims that weeding out embryos with severe genetic abnormalities is "a tremendous blessing and a wonderful thing"'.

It featured consultant geneticist Dr Shane McKee's recent 4thought interview on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Shane (pictured) is a consultant geneticist and self-styled 'Christian Atheist' in Northern Ireland with whom I frequently spar on twitter. One of our previous twitter dialogues (twebates) is available on this site.

Today Shane asked me if I would post his email reply on this blog which I happily do. I have agreed not to reply yet....

Dr Shane McKee replies

When did I say I supported abortion up to 40 weeks? I do not "support abortion" - I recognise that there are circumstances in which a family may decide that the best course of action is not to continue with, or initiate, a pregnancy that will result in a child with a devastating congenital disorder.

For you to bring Klinefelter and XYY etc into the mix just shows your ignorance of paediatrics and genetics. You can leave your childish blog post up there unaltered if you wish; it says a lot more about you than it does about me or my medical colleagues, who are trying to help families faced with terrifying prospects and agonising decisions. These people are real, and they mean a lot more to me than you, with your blinkers, can ever appreciate.

And, yes, if you needed a kidney, I would still give you one. But if I had 100 8 cell embryos, I would unhesitatingly disaggregate them and genetically re-engineer them or whatever in order to, say, treat a child with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, or a young mother with Huntington's Disease.

Because an embryo is not the same as a person; it is not a "disabled individual"; it is not a "person". An acorn is not an oak tree. A map is not a journey, nor is it the destination.

So I dare ya. If you have an ethical atom in your brain (for it is in the function of that tiny organ that your humanity - which I fully acknowledge - resides), post THIS email as a post on your blog. Don't add your little italic comments - leave it for your readership to do that in the thread below. You can start to respond after 5 comments.

Are you man enough to do that?


  1. Good man, Peter - you are forgiven :-)
    So, CMF types - any thoughts?

  2. Whilst, "An acorn is not an oak tree. A map is not a journey, nor is it the destination", We are not at liberty to determine who is to be granted life. We are not God.

  3. I would like to thank you both for your honesty and dedication to this debate.

    I believe that it is important to respect human life because it carries the image of God and therefore is an awesome responsibility and privilege to care for humans. We ignore this value at the peril of our society and our own standing in God's eyes.

    Of course an embryo has no personhood, in and of itself, because it has no cognitive function. Consider a severely demented patient. They have no personhood, no psychological 'selfs', no desires; and therefore (according to an autonomy driven ethic) no identity.

    If we were as ready to master these non-person humans for our own purposes, however noble, as we are with embryos, then we would be rightly considered monsters.

    Is it just our own needy, sentimentality that gives the illusion of duty to demented patients; or indeed all elderly and infirm people? Should we euthanse the lonely elderly when they cease to function autonomously within a social contract?

    No. Because they are human they have inherent dignity. Their full personhood may be in the past, but because they carry God's image they remain incredibly precious. Theology aside, once you begin to value people on their ability to function as persons then you lose the value of equality that is so essential to medical compassion.

    Embryos are human. Embryos are not persons. They have become future persons, clearly distinct from gametes, destined to develop into a person unless natural causes prevent this. As such, they deserve our deepest respect and nurturing protection, not only because they have no voice (like some people with dementia) but because they are small and fragile (even more so than dementia patients!). Despite not being cute, I see their worth. To devalue these human beings into commodities is to degrade one's own humanity; I shall have no part in it.

  4. "An embryo is not the same as a person"

    What is the justification for this claim?

  5. I'm not a CMF-type, but your message sounds pretty angry. I know you want to help people. That's great and commendable. I'm personally not sure beyond conception where I would draw a line for a person beginning. I struggle to argue with those ethicists who concluded that "post birth abortion" is no different to that before birth; and that leads me to disagree with the process of abortion, regardless of circumstance. Yes, it's crazy hard raising a child with severe disabilities; but to conclude that it's better therefore to allow the "disposal"of unwanted"product" doesn't sit well with me.

    It's said often, but these areas are so often a slippery slope as we've seen in abortion law.

    To leave with a quote from jurassic park, of all great texts "we spent so long wondering if we could, we didn't stop to think whether we should".

  6. Would you destroy the 8 cell embryo of Jesus if it appeared to have some abnormality and you knew it would grow to be Jesus?

    1. For an embryo to exist there has to be fertilisation of an egg with a sperm. As you believe that the conception of Jesus was immaculate - no sperm - then surely Jesus cannot have been an embryo.

      Although Mary's claim to be a virgin would have raised the odd eyebrow in my antenatal clinic.

    2. Actually, the "immaculate conception" is an RC doctrine relating to the conception of Mary, not Jesus. It follows from the RC belief that Mary was sinless and free from "original sin" - hence her conception must have been immaculate. There is nothing in scripture to suggest that Jesus could not have been an embryo. That's like saying he couldn't have been a child either

    3. And both such assertions would be ridiculous. You make my point for me.

    4. I cannot explain the mechanism that God used to form Jesus in Mary's womb in any more detail than Luke 1:35 'The Holy Spirit will come on you, the power of the most high will overshadow you', but I wonder whether you could explain at an atomic level what happens when a sperm enters an ovum and the DNA starts doing its thing and why?

      No I was thinking of a fundamental and universal Christian belief that Jesus was fully human and fully God - if that's not true then the whole thing falls apart and I would probably have a lie in most Sunday mornings!

      If Jesus is fully human (eg Luke 2:40 'And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom', Luke 2:7 'And she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes') from birth what was happening before? Luke 1:39-45 suggests Mary arrived within days of 'power of the most high overshadowing her'at her cousin ELizabeth who then refers to Mary as the mother of my Lord. At that stage Jesus would be a little beyond the 8 cell embryo but not much.

      It's not a big stretch to extrapolate from birth backwards, especially in the context of believing in a fully human Jesus, there is no discontinuity in scripture. That's why I pose the question.

    5. The question is as pointless as, "Would you destroy an 8 cell embryo of Hitler if it showed no abnormality?"

  7. Dr McKee states that 'An acorn is not an oak tree. A map is not a journey.' Sure - basic category error. I'm a keen gardener and the courgette seeds I planted a month ago were definitely not courgette plants. The tiny seedlings are now though. Is the point not that the embryo is neither an acorn/seed, nor simply a map? An analogy with an oak sapling would perhaps be more accurate. You can choose whether or not to cultivate it or simply let it wither.

    When does the sapling become a sapling and not a seed though? Jon Buckley, in the comments above, approaches the question from the other angle and asserts that demented patients have no personhood. I've encountered a number of patients and family members with dementia over the years. Just because they lacked the capacity to recognise those around them and, in many cases, the ability to care for themselves, it never even crossed my mind that they weren't persons.

    I don't for one moment underestimate the terrifying prospects and agonising decisions Dr McKee's patients face. I can only begin to imagine. However, I remain to be convinced by his assertion that we can draw a line - either on the basis of form or function - and confidently state that an embryo is not the same as a person.

  8. I'm no expert on these things, but I find myself reeling from some of the things stated so aggressively by Dr Shane. To claim that an embryo is not the same as a person seems incredible to me (and I'm aware this is the whole basis by which people justify abortion). At what point does the embryo become a person? A baby is no less dependent on its mother shortly after birth than it was (as an embryo?) within her womb. Just as my 2 month old son now depends utterly upon us as parents to care for him, so 3 months ago, or 8 months ago, was he dependent upon his mother for his sustenance & growth. The fact is he was more vulnerable & helpless then than he is perhaps now. Shouldn't that make us want to protect them MORE, not less?! And no-one is going to tell me that he was any less my son while hidden from our gaze, than he is now. To quote Scripture, he was being knit together in his mother's womb.

    Someone has said that one can tell a lot about a society by how they treat their young & their old. I'm ashamed of this country on that score. We slaughter our unborn (sometimes in the name of inconvenience, sometimes in the name of so-called compassion for the mother), and we (generally speaking) marginalise our old, we cart them off to homes for others to take care of.

    This IS a slippery slope, when men start deciding who's deserving of life, and who's not. Hitler took it to what seems an extreme right now, but if we looked back 50 years, we'd be shocked at how far we've come in this. The fact is we owe our love & care to the weak, whether that weakness is due to age, or due to sickness.

    And regarding babies with disabilities, this is worth watching:

    1. There's an awful lot of double standards here. CMF celebrates medical advance to treat and eliminate disease - disease which, by definition is natural and therefore part of any God's design - so that cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, infection can be treated, and eliminated - by manipulation of our tissues and our cells to remove that part of nature they (and I) deem 'abnormal'.

      The natural conclusion of your argument is that every sperm is sacred, and every ovum lost in menses is a scandal and a tragedy, as the opportunity for life has been lost and destroyed. An 8 cell embryo does not have a nervous system; it is surely ethically and morally superior to use PGD to plan for a healthy pregnancy than terminate living fetuses at 20, 24, 30 weeks gestation when the disability incompatible with extrauterine life is diagnosed, before the bond with the mother (and thus avoiding the psychological distress 'Dr' Saunders claims does not happen).

      Attraction between a man and a woman could be considered the most basic form of preimplantation genetic diagnosis: the couple consider each other the most suitable carrier of the genetic material they wish to repopulate the planet with. PGD just allows us to do that smarter and more reliably.

    2. "I'm no expert on these things, but"
      It is generally considered wise to say pothing further than "I'm no expert" in such circumstances.
      Use of the word "but" means here "I'm going to shoot my mouth off in a certainly ignorant andd possibly offensive manner anyway" and is a really, really bad idea.

      As for glorifying disability: take mine, painful and degenerative as it is. Or that child's. Celebrate it as the handicapped person, not someone else.

      No truly loving parent would inflict severe disability on a child, yet that is what you are arguing for.

  9. To say you don't support abortion but then say "I recognise that there are circumstances in which a family may decide that the best course of action is not to continue with . . .a pregnancy" seems rather a fine point to say the least

  10. Glad to see another Northern Irish thinker debating these issues! I have to admit though, some of the logic seems a little convoluted and circular. An acorn is not a tree and an embryo is not the same as an adult. But a human being is not an oak tree. Few of us have any problem with growing trees for wood, but most of us would be horrified by the idea of harvesting adults for organs. Yes, that's stretching the metaphor, but there is an essential difference between the two cases. Again, a map is merely a representation of a journey, while an embryo is actually the same substance as a person - that changes things.

    As a scientist - a physicist - I'm concerned that you try to call science on as a reference point. Science can tell us how developed an organism is but it can't tell us at what point "it" becomes "he/she". That's a value judgement about what constitutes a person. That an embryo - which is formed of the same essence as us - is a person seems (to me) to be entirely logical. Indeed, it seems much more logical than making an arbitrary distinction later in the process. We're getting into the territory of more-human and less-human, which seems very dangerous.

    But life is hard - and really messy. I've had health problems and know some of that at first hand. I reckon a world that doesn't understand grace is driven to these type of escape mechanisms - redefine life so that it alleviates suffering. But ultimately it causes it's own problems. When you know that God is good, not in a happily ever after way but really, richly good, you can face up to truth. When you know that sin doesn't have the final say, reality becomes less scary. When you know that death isn't the end you can face life's hardships without compromise. These are hard issues, but I can't think that living a lie is the answer.

  11. 1) The clear and unequivocal view of scripture is that the person starts at conception.
    2) As demonstrated by many of the comments already posted, this is a hard area for us to get our heads around. If, in our own understanding, we want to place humanity, or personhood, somewhere along a line after conception and before adulthood, then that is very hard to do. For example, how do we rank potential against actual? If we take an 8 cell embryo away from the mother and stick it in a field, it will cease to function. The same applies to a 2 month old baby. Some may say that there is a clear difference between the two, but any such differences feel very artificial to me.

    In a nutshell, God has already pronounced on something that is too hard for us clever humans to solve. I'm sticking with God's view. A person begins (not completes) at conception. To destroy an embryo is no different to destroying a 22 week or 8 month foetus, or destroying a baby once born, or...

    1. "1) The clear and unequivocal view of scripture is that the person starts at conception" - Source please.

      Your might also wish to explain why God often massacres, or condones massacre of, children and pregnant women throughout the Bible?

    2. "often"? Some unfounded insinuations there...

      I think most of us would accept that war is different from murder - which is the root of some of those "massacres". Dealing with the rest leads into a debate about justice. Our society's justice system is built on the principles of individual accountability and (somewhat) arbitrary punishment. (How, for example, do we decide that manslaughter equates to 15 years in prison while prostitution is worth 10 years etc.) Other societies - including those in biblical cultures - don't buy into those assumptions. There, you are responsible for your communities actions. In a society that's increasingly looking to punish parents for their childrens truancy, we can maybe empathise with some of that. Biblical sentencing seems much fairer to me - you receive punishment that is directly related to and commensurate with your actions. ("An eye for an eye" is the most natural and intuitive form of justice.) It's possible to disagree with those principles, but I think biblical justice is consistent and not arbitrary - and the framework seems reasonable (if slightly alien) to me.

  12. Shane has now confirmed on twitter his belief that fetuses less than 22 weeks gestation are 'not people'. See

    1. A 22 week old fetus is not a baby? I wonder if Dr. Shane McKee has seen the ultrasound scans of babies of 22 weeks gestation? If he has children, did his children start being children only after 22 weeks?! This is so ridiculous it is laughable. And why only 22 weeks? Why not go the whole hog and say they are children only after birth?! After all even 22 week premature infants cannot survive without life support.
      I think Shane McKee is making himself a laughing stock by suggesting a 22 week cut off - it is so arbitrary it is ridiculous.

  13. Thank you, Peter, for hosting this discussion. Let's hope we can keep it civil and respectful. Those reading/participating who don't acknowledge the Bible as any kind of moral guide will have to bear with me. (Please let's not get distracted from the issue under discussion by a wider debate regarding Biblical authority) These first few points are addressed to those who look to the Bible for guidance. Have had to split it because of length :-/
    I will follow up later with a further post which will resort to rationality (;-D), given what follows in this (split) one.
    1. "The clear and unequivocal view of scripture is that the person starts at conception." DISAGREE, on several levels: (a) scripture doesn't have a definition of conception in modern terms (b) scripture doesn't have a definition of personhood. The quotation is an inference (as opposed to an implication, never mind a declaration). The question is whether or not the reader infers correctly or incorrectly. The fact that Christians differ on their understanding is not all down to wilful disobedience and is strong evidence that it is not clear at all.
    2. There are fundamental difficulties with attributing statements about God's 'knowing" us in a temporal context to a God who (Christian belief holds) is unconstrained by a created space-time continuum. So those who would advance 'proof texts' such as Ps 139 v13-14 need to look at the context of those verses (esp vv 4 &16), as well as other passages such as Jeremiah 1. The point of these passages is an acknowledgement of God's foreknowledge, and his hand in our creation - he "knew" (or even "knows" us) before we were even formed, before we were "knit together." This is analogous to God knowing Abraham's descendents before his elderly wife conceived. Job 10 is also not definitive, but seems to keep the issue vague - recognising an "I" before birth, but then comparing death at birth to having "never come into being." Ex 21 vv22-24 is also ambiguous rather than explicit when it comes to the 'relativity' of crimes against a pregnant woman - the emphasis is on the woman and her miscarriage/prem labour rather than the survival of the child. (However in that time, when infant mortality was high it seems rather presumptuous to conclude that survival following all but very late miscarriages was anything but an uncommon experience).
    3. For at least some of the time in utero, Biblical passages do attribute what we would understand as personal identity to the individual - Jesus being an obvious example, Job and the psalmist are others. Whether this constitutes all characteristics we might (or might not) attribute to personhood is another matter. It's clear that in this thread already, some consider cognitive thought and decision-making capacity to be a mark of personhood. Personally I hold that personhood need not require that - we don't cease to be persons when we dream or are comatose (chemically induced or otherwise) - but it's a view based on (God-given) cognitive thinking (!) rather than one which I think scripture deals with definitively.

  14. 4. In my view it is tempting to have a neat and comfortable "box" within which to put the value of an embryo in a dish, in a panty liner, implanted in a uterus; a fetus; a prem baby. However, if we're serious about holding the authority of scripture in high regard, I think it is incumbent on us to look REALLY HARD at what it actually states (and factor in the context of the time of writing).
    5. As a consequence of the temptation of 4, and the fact that scripture is not clear, I consider that many Christians extrapolate backwards, and believe it better to "play safe" when in doubt about the status of the embryo/fetus. (Indeed, that used to be my position). An understandable place to draw the line is the "point" (even tho there isn't "one" but rather a spread of events) before which there can't be an individual. However, there is no biblical reason to conclude that from that "point" forward we have a human being, and it COULD be a mistake IF it means we fail to pay heed to the over-riding call to love God and love our neighbour...

    Go on, call me a heretic :-)

    1. I'm not sure how this helps though. The key question is "Is an unborn baby/foetus my neighbour?" - are they covered by the biblical commands to love. The line of argument seems to go something like
      1. There is an element of doubt about a biblical interpretation.
      2. Therefore I can chose whichever answer suits me best.

      Even if we accept the premise of point one, I can't be comfortable with drawing the second conclusion from it. We should chose whichever seems "most" true. Otherwise I can (very easily!) justify any choice I wish to make...

    2. drob, I think you're right about #1. I think there's a real temptation to do #2, but naturally that's not what I'm advocating. I'm advocating looking hard at whether our dogmas and presuppositions are as grounded in scripture as we think they are - to be open to God changing our mind.

      I think that while doubt exists about whether an early embryo is "our neighbour" we need to look out for those who clearly are. I choose to see God at work in the successes of medicine. Whilst there are some practices that may be dubious ethically/morally, I see treatment of infertility as something very much in which God is active (with biblical examples of intervention) - and I think it wrong to stand in the way of those "neighbours" who need to avail of, eg, IVF or ICSI. The success of these techniques is related to the need to fertilise multiple oocytes, and "select," as best as the embryologists can while they're in a dish, the embryos deemed most likely to result in a healthy baby. This merely mimics the process in health for other couples, which is also "wasteful" of early embryos.

      That said, I also think there is a duty to the unborn, particularly in an ongoing pregnancy. For this reason I personally will not be involved in terminations, unless there is a choice which has to be made between the life of the mother and the life of the fetus. Some of these are no-brainers - if the mother's life is endangered, the fetus' may be as a consequence.

    3. I fail to see how you can say "that's not what I'm advocating" though. There's no way to treat these issues with integrity unless we come to a decision about whether a foetus is a human or not. Statements like "there is no biblical reason to conclude that from that "point" forward we have a human being, and it COULD be a mistake IF it means we fail to pay heed to the over-riding call to love God and love our neighbour..." are (in practical terms) equivalent to saying that an embryo is only partly human - whether that be 5% or 95 % - and are thus inferior to an adult. Whether we like it or not, we can't avoid coming to a decision about this stuff whether we believe the bible gives a blueprint or not. After that we can worry about exceptional cases - such as whether it's valid to take a life in order to save one. (I think scripture has something to say on those issues.) But not making a decision isn't an option -indeed it's a decision in itself.

    4. I'm not advocating that we choose an option which suits us best best. I'm advocating that we look more closely at scripture and what it actually says, and the context of the verses we think are relevant - that we treat scripture with integrity. I'm advocating adopting a position from which we can act, and it may not be as neat and tidy as we'd like because, as you've said already, real life is messy. I acknowledge (a) that, as with other matters, Christians may not all reach the same conclusion, (b)that the position I have reached in my mind could be wrong, but I believe it treats what's actually stated in scripture with more integrity than how I used to read it. Furthermore, the alternative view of seeing every zygote as fully human in every sense begs the uncomfortable question which I have put to rodneybg re the relative numbers of zygotes lost naturally v those which implant and reach term. (If you haven't already, red my responses there as it may help explain further what I'm advocating).

      If I could draw an analogy with pacifism - it's easy to understand and a tidy position to adopt, and many wars are fought for selfish motives, but it may not necessarily the right thing to do to stand by and not defend the weak when we have the ability to do so. (And yes I see a fetus in an ongoing pregnancy as a defenceless individual that needs protection). Sometimes, pending parousia, we have to choose the lesser of 2 evils, and neat and tidy philosophy (or theology) doesn't always cut it.

  15. Psalm 51:5 'Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me'.

    1. Viewed through the eyes of a fetus that made it to term - what is your reason for presuming that this should be taken to apply to all fetuses? Furthermore, what is the purpose of this passage? What is the context? This is a personal meditation the psalmist's own sin (after bonking Bathsheba). It's a confession and a request for forgiveness - arguably a pattern we should follow rather than selecting a verse from to judge others by in an entirely different context.

  16. I'm sorry Slicer I should have added a little explanation. All I am suggesting here is that David is saying he was sinful from the time of his conception. I don't think a bundle of cells, indeed anything not human is capable of being sinful, therefore I take it that in effect David is saying he was a person from the time of his conception, and if that is true for David, why not everyone?
    It is not for me to judge anyone, nor do I. It is for God to judge, but as Christians we are called to preach the word to the nations and within that message there are some unpalatable truths, 'there is no one righteous not one', and we will only be saved if we repent and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ.

    1. A few issues in there to unpack, Rodneybg.
      There seems to be an internal contradiction in your most recent comment: You've said that you don't think a bundle of cells is capable of being sinful, but then go on to say you think David was sinful from the time of his conception. I can only think of 2 ways to make these 2 assertions compatible - (a) By conception you mean some time after when he was a bundle of cells (underlining the point I've made already about the difficulties of reading a modern biological understanding into ancient texts, even inspired ones)(b)that David somehow missed out the "bundle of cells stage" between conception and birth.
      The passage is entirely supportive of the longstanding Christian doctrine of original sin (however unpalatable that might be to non-Christians), but I've already asked the question what the reason is that you insist on reading this meditation on personal sinfulness (both original and subsequently wilful) as applying to the huge number of fetuses +/- embryos which never walk the planet. As I've said already, this is an adult commenting on his sin and its origin, not a statement asserting that all fertilised oocytes are people. To suggest so makes it a little difficult for them to understand Good News & deliver the repentance that you rightly point out is necessary for those of us with capacity...

  17. Dear Slicer, I'm just quoting David verbatim and accept his word as set down for us in Psalm 51 as inspired by God. David knew nothing of modern biology yet was inspired to talk of his sin from the point of conception, which I take as when his DNA was formed, making him unique. Therefore David (like every human) was never a bundle of cells, he was David or the embryo/fetus that would be named David.
    Clearly Psalm 51 is a meditation on David's personal sin, but as you say it is supportive of the doctrine of original sin. Who does that apply to? I think everyone, anyone who is a person. Who is a person? I think someone becomes a person when a unique human entity is formed, which takes us back to conception. And if it is not conception, when is it? I don't think there is any biblical guidance to suggest another point but this quotation and Elizabeth referring to Mary as a mother in Luke 1:43 if not definitive is surely supportive (although I am most willing to stand corrected).

    1. I've already referred to the encounter you mention as demonstrating a Biblical basis for personal identity in utero. I remain extremely puzzled by your statement that David, like every other human, was never a bundle of cells. Maybe you mean *merely* a bundle of cells - because you choose to attribute personhood to life from fertilisation? Denying that David and every other human was ever a bundle of cells is the same as denying that you have eyes or kidneys. If you mean not *merely* a bundle of cells then my question remains, why infer that personhood should apply to all fertilised oocytes?

      Are you comfortable effectively stating that God presides over a situation where more "people" end up down the toilet during the natural process of creation than ever are born, and that this has been the state of affairs since pre-history?
      And to restate the obvious, how is a fertilised oocyte a unique individual when it is capable of dividing into 2 unique individuals (monozygotic twins), or fusing with another "unique" individual?
      I suggest that you have bought into a dogma which is an incorrect extrapolation from the Biblical texts, and now read the Biblical texts through the lens of that dogma rather than letting the texts speak for themselves.

      Your question "if it's not conception, when is it?" serves to confirm my point 4 above, and I suggest to you that you are doing what I used to do - providing yourself with an easy answer. A superficially neat and tidy solution to a conundrum does not mean that it's the correct answer. The fact that scripture does not answer the question definitively is not a good reason to presuppose the answer, particularly if we are going to do harm, or fail to do good, to others as a consequence of dogma which has no robust scriptural grounding.

    2. I would not necessarily agree to merely. Chemically we are lots of water, calcium, phosphorus and several other elements. Even adults are in one sense just a bundle of cells. I think God imparts our personhood, He names us and calls us in the uterus (Jeremiah etc). I still cannot see where the discontinuity is from a baby at birth back to conception biologically or biblically, so yes that must include the first cell with the DNA of mother and father (and I use embryo for simplicity).

      I accept that as many as 50% of conceptions may not make it to live birth. I cannot explain that specifically from the texts, just as I can't fully explain the many horrible diseases we have to contend with. I can say with faithful confidence that a) God is sovereign and knows what He is doing b) He is holy, just, and merciful c)'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy'-Rom 9:14. I can also say we live in a fallen, sinful world and look forward to a new creation.
      With regard to monozygotic twins and the very rare case of the fusion you describe only God knows, perhaps one soul parts to form two. But you argument is not strong here.
      I am fortunate, I do not perform terminations or work in IVF, I am not involved in genetic engineering.I am challenged in other areas where again there is no specific verse or passage in the bible to guide me. But there is always a biblical framework, and, if we have turned to Christ, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who does guide us in our consciences. If, in our prayers, meditations, looking calmly and deeply into ourselves, we hear a quiet voice questioning what we do then we should think very carefully about continuing to do so. We die once and then face judgement - in Christ of course we are saved, but I think there is still an accounting.
      I accept completely your point about failing to do good is very similar to doing harm - but usually the ends do not justify the means. If Slicer you are working in this field I wish you all blessings and discernment.

    3. Thanks for engaging Rodneybg. I guess my point is that just because (as you acknowledge) we can't see the discontinuity doesn't mean it's not there, and we need to be sure that we're not making Biblical texts fit the model that we have in our heads rather than the other way around. This was not an issue for the ancients as they had no understanding of the process of fertilisation or embryonic or fetal development, so it's only become an issue as our biological understanding has advanced. Theology often has to develop in the light of new information. Our biological understanding remains incomplete, and it's no surprise to me that our theological understanding in this area is also incomplete.

      But it's not just a matter for those working in these fields. Infertility is remarkably common - you are likely to know quite a few folk who are affected by it. If there are controversial treatments for cancer, we are unlikely leave it to those just working in the field. (Interestingly infertility is sometimes a consequence of treatment for cancer). It is certainly easier to hold a restrictive view on therapies when we haven't directly experienced the pain/distress that others have to endure in their absence (and conversely easy to try to justify therapies which we shouldn't on purely emotive arguments). Feeling judged is one reason why folk often don't discuss treatment of infertility. There are associated issues which are a moral minefield, but when it comes to the central issue of childlessness, do you consider that it grieves God more to see medicine achieve a human life which wouldn't otherwise happen, using imperfect methods which are no more imperfect than the natural process, or to see a coupled denied access to such therapy and remain childless? I'm not necessarily looking for you to answer that here... just to think on it for a while.

      The issue is also far wider potentially than infertility. Our increasing understanding of the genetic nature of predisposition to disease, not least severe sepsis, one of the biggest killers on the planet, means that genetic therapies may have much to offer in the future for many kinds of diseases, and these may best be diagnosed and treated early, possibly even at embryonic level (in a dish) so it's important to think through what kinds of therapies should and should not be funded from a public purse. Views on the status of the embryo will have a direct impact on the development/availability of such potential.

      I wish you the same blessings and discernment, Rodneybg, as we both struggle toward the Light, and the day when we shall no longer see dimly.

  18. I have read some of the twitter conversations between Peter, Shane McKee and a few other medics, some of them anonymous. I am shocked by the rudeness expressed by Shane, to someone who is clearly much older and more experienced. I disagree with Peter regarding his belief that christianity is the only truth, but there is a way to tell him this without being unnecessarily rude or obnoxious. The GMC guidance on social media says we must treat our colleagues with respect. What I can say is that if you hold your colleague, that too such a senior colleague as Peter, in such contempt and think yourself much more clever and wise just because you are still practising and he is not, you are not only mistaken about your own abilities, but you have shown that your opinions are worthy of contempt. In your twitter posts you come across as egotistical and full of yourself, unable to tolerate anyone who disagrees with you, and petulant and angry that you are not able to convince Peter that YOUR way is the "only truth".

    It may be too late to change your mind about the human value of 22 week old fetuses, but please learn some manners - you are behaving like a petulant toddler having a tantrum, not a Consultant. Did your parents not teach you how to talk to those who are older and wiser? Shame on you. And this goes also for all the other medical tweeters who think that social media give them the licence to be as rude as they wish. You can give your own viewpoint without descending into abuse and putting down others. I have not seen Peter responsing to your tweets in the same manner, so take a leaf out of his book.

  19. I'm disgusted.and.shocked by this so called one.of.his shows he makes the.comment of.disabled children are.a burden....shocked that he thinks children
    before 22 weeks are not children.....does he.even.have children..

    I.wonder.that his views one.of.his premature it may not.survive.or was born with a genetic problem.
    My son was premature.and has complex medical needs ....he also has a undiagnosed genetic syndrome ....he is a.blessing and am a.better person.because of him.

  20. The irony of Mr McKee's beliefs are palpable. By day, (as a geneticist) he looks God in the face, yet is unable or unwilling to acknowledge the reason, value and meaning of his work, in all its glory.

    Clearly Mr McKee is seeking his truth and is on his own journey to find it. He talks about maps not being the destination. There's an old adage about travelling, "when you travel, don't take yourself with you".


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