Friday 18 August 2017

Two wrong attitudes that damage the body of Christ - Reflections on 1 Corinthians 12:1-31

In 1 Corinthians 12 the apostle Paul argues that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

In a previous blog post we considered spiritual gifts – their nature, distribution and function. In this post, we look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

‘I’m not needed’ (v14-20)

This is the temptation of the less visible members of the body. So the foot says, ‘I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand’ and in so doing stops being a foot. This means that the hand is then more limited what it can do as it has to operate from a fixed base.

The last of the Ten Commandments says ‘you shall not covet’. The reason covetousness, or jealousy, is so utterly destructive is because it both cultivates a resentful better attitude about someone else while at the same time immobilising the person so that they are no longer contributing what they can uniquely give.

So, not only do they become transfixed on wishing that they were someone else, but, more tragically, they stop being the person that God made them to be.

One of my heroes is a Christian psychiatrist by the name of Marjory Foyle.

Marjorie went out as a young doctor to serve as a cross-cultural missionary in Southeast Asia.

She tried many different positions at the hospital but really struggled to find a role that really suited her.

That was, until she had what she called her ‘bean field experience’. Now the bean field was where you went to the toilet and also, perhaps like Isaac the patriarch, to meditate and pray.

And it was in the bean field one day that Marjory had her Eureka moment and realised exactly why God had placed her on the planet.

Her unique gift was to be a carer for the carers. That was the moment she realised it and from that time forward she put all her energy into achieving excellence in that role.

You may be familiar with the book ‘Honourably wounded’ referring to people who had been wounded psychologically or spiritually in the Lord’s service. It’s an absolute classic. Marjory wrote it.

I remember hearing Cliff Richard describing going out to offer help during one of the African famines and feeling grossly inadequate as he didn’t have medical or nursing training.

One of the nurses was very straight with him thankfully. She said, ‘are you capable even of putting on a bandage?’ ‘No’, he said. ‘Well’, she replied, ‘then you’re of no use to us here’.

‘Why don’t you go back to England and do what only you can do which is to use your gifts as a singer and entertainer to draw attention to the situation and financial need out here’.

It was an absolute game changer for Cliff Richard.

You might’ve heard it said ‘Dare to be a Daniel’. Perhaps we would all like to be Daniels facing down the lions. But in fact there was only one Daniel on the whole of the Bible and he had a unique role to play.

Could you bear to be a Baruch? Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe. His job was to write down everything that Jeremiah said and then read it out in the marketplace. The job that was tedious, thankless and also dangerous. But if it wasn’t for Baruch we would not have the book of Jeremiah and all the wonderful prophecies about the new covenant that it contains.

We wouldn’t have Moses if it wasn’t for two midwives who risked the wrath of Pharaoh. We wouldn’t have David if his mighty men had not preserved his life on more than one occasion. We wouldn’t have Nehemiah’s great achievement if it wasn’t for the many others who helped him to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.

Solomon could have achieved nothing if it wasn’t for the literally thousands of workers who gathered resources, carved stone, cut wood, managed his horses and organised the feeding and defence of the nation.

There would have been no Spurgeon without an unnamed man one day, when he was diverted by the snow and ended up in the wrong church, who preached the sermon which utterly transformed his life. We would have no John Wesley without his mother Susanna.

You see the point. We are all interdependent. We are all needed. We are all necessary. I don’t know whether you are spending time wishing you were someone else or had some gift or ability that you see someone else has.

Or perhaps that you think that you are unnecessary in God’s great plan.

Well the message of this passage is that you are needed and you are necessary but you need to be the person God has made you to be, with the gifts he has chosen to give you, to build up and serve others.

Be that person and help your children and fellow believers to do the same. Don’t try to press others into the wrong mould.

It was Samuel Johnson who sad, ‘Don’t send your ducks to eagle school! You will frustrate the ducks, frustrate the eagles and frustrate yourself. Almost every man wastes part of his life in an attempt to display qualities that he does not possess’

Don’t say ‘I’m not needed’. Instead find out what you are made to do and do it.

You’re not needed (v21-26)

This is perhaps the temptation of the more visible in church, perhaps those in leadership or so-called ‘gospel ministry’. They possess the gifts regard as most strategic for building up the body of Christ.

Their temptation is to look on others who don’t have those same gifts and think they are less important.

But the reality is that every highly visible member of the body of Christ needs an effective team of people around them, praying for them, helping them to take their opportunities, and perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging them and holding them accountable, knowing that from those to whom much has been given much will be expected.

Lewis Hamilton is a phenomenally gifted grand prix racing driver but he could do nothing without his team, his designers, his computer analysts, his managers and the people who supply the millions of pounds necessary for to take to the track. The man is extraordinarily talented but he needs a whole team in order that he can do anything at all.

One of the most important letters lessons Moses ever learnt, and he learned from his father in law, was that he needed to build an effective team and delegate responsibility.

This was a life changer, not only from Moses, but for the whole nation of Israel.

As Paul tells us here (v26) if one part of the body suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.

As doctors we are only all too acutely aware of this – an affliction in only one part of the body will adversely affect the whole and perhaps event threaten the body’s life: a narrowed coronary artery, an inflamed appendix, a blood vessel in the brain blocked by clot, some abnormally dividing cancer cells in one organ spreading everywhere.

And so it is with the church – one person’s suffering is borne by all.

‘If one part of the body is honoured, then every part rejoices with it.’

You may know that we Kiwis are very proud of our national rugby team , the All Blacks. We are still trying to get over the fact that they were able only to draw recently with the British Lions because we are so used to them winning virtually every game.

They are widely acknowledged to be the most successful team in world history, in any sport.

But what makes them so good? You could point to many things: the training schemes, New Zealand’s prioritisation of rugby above any other sport, the prestige of being chosen to represent the country or maybe even the fact that they all seem so wonderfully uniquely talented.

But actually, I think the key secret of success is that they are trained to believe that the team is far more important than any one of the players. And if you watch them on the field, you’ll see they get as much pleasure from helping someone else score, giving that winning pass, as they do in scoring themselves.

It’s this utter delight in seeing any individual exceed that is such a powerful motivator.

The success of any member of the team is the whole team’s success.  There is an unselfishness cultivated which leads them always to put the good of the team ahead of their own glory.

If one part is honoured (v26) every part rejoices with it.

It’s perhaps a very imperfect model but I think that it’s something of what Paul is saying here about the church.

In the next blog post we look at some practical applications of this teaching.

Friday 11 August 2017

A navy of ordinary people – reflections on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12

A couple of weeks ago we went to see Dunkirk the movie. Although technically Dunkirk was a withdrawal or a retreat it paved the way for Britain’s recovery and eventual victory in WW2 against the Nazi threat when 330,000 soldiers were pulled off the French beaches to safety.

What people call the miracle of Dunkirk was effected when King George VI called the whole nation to prayer and three extraordinary things happened: Hitler inexplicably gave the order to his tanks not to advance further when the British and French troops were trapped between them and the sea, a storm grounded the Luftwaffe and the subsequent calm sea enabled a huge flotilla of small boats to reach the beach.

The most emotional moment of the whole film was the arrival of this flotilla out of the mist.
Certainly (alongside the providence of the halted tanks, the storm and the calm) what happened at Dunkirk is that many individuals, with extraordinary courage and at huge personal risk, joined together to offer whatever skills and resources they had in a selfless effort to rescue others.

And that is the perspective that Christopher Nolan offers in his film Dunkirk. Many ordinary people joined together to make the Dunkirk evacuation possible.

Director Christopher Nolan has said: ‘as a group of people we can achieve so much more than we can individually.’

An army of ordinary people, or perhaps more accurately, a navy of ordinary people.

And it’s this picture of the church – a group of diverse people engaged in a common task – that is the subject of 1 Corinthians 12.

The apostle Paul could have used a variety of different metaphors to capture this idea of a people of diverse origins and skills uniting together – an army, an orchestra – but in this passage, as we will see, he uses the metaphor of the body.  The church is the body of Christ.

Paul is responding to a question or perhaps series of questions that they have raised about the subject spiritual gifts. But he is also using this as an opportunity to teach them important theology and truth about what it means to belong to the church and how to behave within it especially with respect to working together.

In this passage the apostle Paul he makes it clear that despite their individual and corporate failings – these Christians in Corinth are ‘the body of Christ’ (v27). They have been baptised by one Spirit into one body (v13). They are people who recognise Jesus as Lord (v3) – the one who holds all authority in the universe, to whom they have given their lives. And despite their diverse backgrounds as both Jews and Greeks (v13) they have been given the one Spirit to drink.

And so Paul asks by addressing five questions about spiritual gifts

1.       What are spiritual gifts? (v7)

He starts in vs 4-6 by saying there are different ‘gifts’, different kinds of ‘service’, different ‘kinds of working’. We are told in verse seven that they are ‘manifestations of the spirit’. That’s the Holy Spirit, the third person the Trinity after the father and son. The Holy Spirit is the one who leads us to faith in Christ’s death and resurrection (v13) and who lives in us. And he gives special abilities - what are described in verses  4 & 5 as ‘gifts’, ‘services’ and ‘workings’. There are no less than eight specific references to the Holy Spirit in just the first eleven verses of this chapter.

2.       Who receives these gifts? (v7,11)

We are told that they are given ‘to each one’ (v7 & 11).

Not just to pastors, leaders, preachers or deacons but to every single member of the congregation.

You see, there is no division here between minister and congregation, between clergy and laity, between priests and pew sitters. Yes of course there was order and authority, and in Paul’s letter to Timothy and Titus - the pastoral epistles - a leadership structure consisting of elders and deacons on which our own church is modelled, but this leadership is plural and all members of the congregation are ministers in the sense that each one gift that benefit others.

Some have more than one gift. Paul it seems was an apostle, teacher, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher - but the point is that every member of Christ’s church has at least one gift. Each person is a minister of sorts.

This year 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation which began with Martin Luther nailing 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517.

The whole aim of the reformation was to take the church back to the Bible and to the doctrines taught there.

One of the key truths that Luther rediscovered was what we now call ‘the priesthood of all believers’.

In his Address to the Nobility of the German Nation (1520), Luther criticised the traditional distinction between the ‘temporal’ and ‘spiritual’ orders—the laity and the clergy—arguing that all who belong to Christ through faith, baptism, and the Gospel shared in the priesthood of Jesus Christ. 

All baptised believers are called to be priests, Luther said, but not all are called to be pastors.

3.       What are these gifts for? (v7)

We are told that they are for ‘the common good’ (v7). In other words they are intended not for self -edification or glorification but to benefit others. And so you see that every member of the church is both incomplete and interdependent, having something that all others need and at the same time needing all others.

4.       What do these gifts include? (v8-10)

We see that they are extraordinarily diverse (v8-10). There are nine different gifts mentioned: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and the interpretation of tongues. And we see all of these gifts operating in the early church in the book of Acts.  

Is this list intended to be exhaustive? No it’s clear that these are just examples. And Paul is not giving us here any teaching about what these specific gifts are in order to satisfy our curiosity.

His prime purpose is to illustrate their diversity.

There are similar, but interestingly not identical lists of gifts in other parts of the New Testament. Some of these gifts are repeated and others are new.

So in Romans 12:6-8 the list includes prophecy, serving, encouragement, contribution to the needs of others, leadership and showing mercy.

In Ephesians 4:11 we read of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Almost exactly the same list appears later at the end of 1 Corinthians 12.

1 Peter 4:10-11 speaks of speaking, serving and showing hospitality.

So in these five passages alone we see about 20 gifts and I expect that not even these are meant to be exhaustive, but simply illustrative of the diversity of God’s bountiful giving.

Of course as you might expect in different cultures, denominations and periods in church history different gifts are more prominent – as you might expect in a church which is worldwide.

Some of these gifts are more spectacular – prophecy, miracles, speaking in tongues – others are more familiar and may appear even more mundane – but all are gifts of God’s spirit.

Some are possessed by many individuals – other are much rarer.

In the Old Testament Exodus 35:31ff talks about Bezalel who was gifted with all kinds of crafts by the Holy Spirit. It was Bezalel who was responsible for virtually all of the decorative work in the Tabernacle.

Remarkably, a person with very similar gifting, Huram Abi, did all the ornate work in Solomon’s Temple.

So these were uniquely gifted individuals in arts and crafts, but needed thousands of others to help them fulfil their tasks,

5.       How are these gifts distributed? (v11)

We are told that they are distributed ‘as the spirit determines’ (v11)  they are gifts of grace not earned - you can’t earn a gift. You can only receive it. These gifts are given by virtue of God’s unmerited favour. It is God who arranges (v18) and apportions (v28). The Greek word charismata used in this passage simply means gifts of grace.

We see exactly the same idea in Romans 12:6. ‘Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them’. And because they are gifts of grace there is therefore no pride in having them.

One of the most gifted preachers in the evangelical church today is John Piper. I recently had the privilege of being at a conference where he was giving the main Bible talks and went along to a question-and-answer session where we all got to ask our most burning questions.

One of the first questions John was asked was how he dealt with pride. The obvious implication was that the questioner felt he was head and shoulders above not just other Christians but above preachers as well.

His answer was very challenging. First, he said, ‘I know my own heart and there is very little to be proud of’. Second, he said, ‘I know that that any ability or gift I have is given to me by God, so what is there to boast about?’

So how do they these gifts work together?

Paul illustrates this by using a metaphor - the metaphor of the body.

Why should he choose the body? Elsewhere in the New Testament we see a building or a bride or an army used to illustrate the church.

However here uses the body because he wants to show that the church is like a living, growing organism made up of diverse parts all of which interrelate and cooperate with each other.

The key thing about the body, is every that part, whether visible or invisible, is dependent on every other part. All parts need to be working for the body to be functioning properly.

In part 2 of this blog we will look at two wrong attitudes which threaten the integrity of the body.

Friday 4 August 2017

College climbs down over ban on Christian doctors and nurses training in sexual and reproductive health

Doctors and nurses wishing to practise in sexual and reproductive health have been granted more liberty to exercise freedom of conscience under new guidelines published earlier this year.

The Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare (FSRH), a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), has relaxed its stance on conscience in new guidelines issued in April so that those with an ethical objection to certain procedures can now obtain qualifications which they were previously excluded from.

Christian doctors and nurses in the UK are practising in an environment that is increasingly hostile to their beliefs and values. We have accordingly come to expect new constraints on our freedom of conscience almost as a matter of course. So this is a refreshing backtrack by the College.

In April 2014 I highlighted the fact that the FRSH was barring doctors and nurses with pro-life views from receiving its degrees and diplomas and may also be breaking the law (see also here). The story was later picked up by the Telegraph.

Under the previous guidelines, now removed from the FSRH website but still accessible in the Telegraph, doctors and nurses who had a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which can act by killing human embryos (levonelle, ellaOne, IUCDs etc) were barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertook the necessary training.

The wording was as follows (emphasis mine):

‘Completing the syllabus means willingness during training to prescribe all forms of hormonal contraception, including emergency, and willingness to counsel and refer, if appropriate, for all intrauterine methods…Failure to complete the syllabus renders candidates ineligible for the award of a FSRH Diploma.’

It added:

‘Doctors who hold moral or religious reservations about any contraceptive methods will be unable to fulfil the syllabus for the membership … or speciality training…This will render them ineligible for the award of the examination or completion of training certificates.

However, the new guidance grants much more freedom.

It begins by underlining the faculty’s commitment to diversity:

‘The FSRH welcomes and values having a diverse membership, representing a wide range of personal, religious and non-religious views and beliefs.’

It then underlines the fact that there is already statutory protection for healthcare professionals (HCPs) to opt out of abortions and procedures authorised under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA):

‘There are currently two specific statutory protections for HCPs who have a conscientious objection 1) to participating in abortion (Abortion Act 1967, s.4) 2) to technological procedures to achieve conception and pregnancy (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, s.38) .’  

But it also recognises that both the Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010 offer some conscience protection in areas other than abortion and IVF:

‘The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into UK law. Article 9 of the ECHR protects “the freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes … to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”’

‘Part 5 of the Equality Act 2010 sets out provisions for non-discrimination in employment. Specifically, s.39 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of “protected characteristics” (of which religious belief is one) and places an obligation on employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate religious beliefs.’

The guidance recognises that the rights to ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ and to ‘religious beliefs’ are not absolute, but qualified, and also that NHS employers may interpret these in different ways than the faculty, but this is nonetheless a significant step forward.

The guidance says that it applies to all FSRH qualifications and training, but a closer reading suggests that those seeking to sit the membership examination of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (MFSRH) will need to undergo ‘practical assessment of the provision of contraception (all methods including emergency contraception)’ and those seeking a Letter of Competence in Intrauterine Techniques (LoC IUT) will need to demonstrate ‘practical competence in the relevant live procedures’.

However, with respect to the Diploma of the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare (DFSRH and NDFSRH), holder must simply be ‘competent and willing to advise on all forms of contraception and manage SRH consultations, including providing evidence-based information on the options for unplanned pregnancy’. But there is no duty actually to provide all treatments.

‘The FSRH requires all Diplomates to provide patients with the full range of contraception choices, including emergency contraception and support of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy and appropriate onward referral. HCPs who plan to opt out of providing aspects of care because of their personal beliefs may still be awarded the Diploma, or recertified, if they can demonstrate commitment in their practice to the principles of care in section 5 of this document. For example, if a HCP chooses not to prescribe emergency contraception because of their personal beliefs, she/he has a personal responsibility to ensure that arrangements are made for a prescription to be issued by a colleague without delay, ensuring that the care and outcomes of the patient are never compromised or delayed.’

Although some would see referral to another doctor or nurse as a form of complicity, this is nonetheless a big improvement on the previous guidance.

Previously doctors or nurses who refused to fit coils or prescribe the morning after pill (MAP) were also barred from receiving the diploma signifying expertise in the management of infertility, cervical cancer or sexually transmitted infections. This effectively meant that many thousands of doctors and nurses were not able to obtain qualifications to pursue a career in gynaecology and sexual health.

This is no longer the case.

Quite why the faculty has relaxed its guidance is not clear, but I wonder if they have been conferring with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) who also similarly relaxed their guidance on dispensing drugs after receiving submissions from Christian Medical Fellowship and the Christian Institute earlier this year.

The GPhC’s attention was drawn to the fact that their proposed new guidance might well be illegal under Equality legislation (I made the same point about the FSRH in 2014).

The GPhC backtracked after the Christian Institute made it clear, in pre-action legal correspondence exchanged with the Council’s lawyers, that they ‘were fully prepared to litigate’.

Perhaps the FSRH also, on reflection, thought it wise to protect themselves by erring on the side of caution and taking themselves out of the legal firing line.

However, whatever the reason, the climb down is most welcome and will enable many more doctors and nurses to obtain diplomas in sexual and reproductive health. That can only be good for patient care. 

Thursday 3 August 2017

DNA editing – a significant advance but many questions remained unanswered

You can see my Sky News interview on this story here.

Scientists have, for the first time shown that it is possible to correct gene mutations in human embryos successfully using a gene editing tool potentially opening the door to treatment for over 10,000 single gene disorders.

The US and the South Korean researchers used a new technology called Crispr which was only developed in 2013.

The research appears in the journal Nature and has been covered by numerous media outlets and science magazines. The BBC report is somewhat simplistic and it’s well worth reading the original paper and coverage by the New York Times, Scientific American and Science News which give more detail.

Crispr technology has been used for human embryos before but the results have never been quite this good (see previous blog posts by CMF authors here, here, here, here and here).

What is new about this study is that the researchers managed to avert two important safety problems. First, they managed to produce embryos in which all cells, rather than just some, were mutation free. Second, they avoided creating unwanted extra mutations (‘off target’ effects) elsewhere in the genome.

The breakthrough was achieved by carrying out the gene editing at an earlier stage in development before fertilisation had taken place.

The study involved a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) a disease affecting about one in 500 people which causes thickening of the heart muscle and can cause sudden heart rhythm disturbances and heart failure.

HCM is caused by a mutation in a gene called MYBPC3 and is autosomal dominant, meaning that if one parent has a mutated copy there is a 50% chance of passing the disease on to children.

Researchers first tried editing the DNA in affected embryos (ie. after fertilisation), but of 54 embryos produced, 13 were ‘mosaics’ with some repaired and some unrepaired cells.  

So they then tried to correct the faulty gene before fertilisation. Along with the man’s affected sperm, the researchers then injected into an egg the DNA cutting enzyme Cas9, a piece of RNA to direct the enzyme to the faulty gene, and another piece of normal DNA to be used in the repair.

In 72% of 58 embryos the faulty DNA was excised and replaced with a copy of normal DNA from the egg, which the embryo used for the repair instead of the introduced DNA. In the remainder, the faulty DNA was excised but not replaced.   

So what we make of this?

There is no doubt that this research represents a significant step forward in gene editing technology.

Up until now, the approach to disability in the developing embryo and fetus has essentially been one of ‘search and destroy’. That is, embryos or foetuses are examined for genetic abnormalities and, if found to be affected, are discarded or aborted.

Gene editing, instead, offers the possibility of correcting a genetic abnormality in an individual embryo in order that that individual will then grow and develop normally. It is essentially guided molecular microsurgery and seems to have extraordinary precision. So, in principle, it holds great promise.

However, there are still huge ethical, technological and legislative hurdles remaining before this technology could be considered safe and appropriate for clinical use.

The key questions are around safety, ethics and necessity.

First, any change to the DNA in sperm, egg or a one celled embryo (so-called germline editing) will inevitably be passed down from generation to generation. If any errors are introduced they may be almost impossible to detect or eradicate. This is why over 40 countries currently ban all germline therapy.

But the key question is this: if it were possible to repair an abnormal gene in egg, sperm or embryo safely, would it still be wrong to attempt it given that this could mean, not only curing the affected individual, but eradicating the abnormal gene from the whole family? The question is most poignant when applied to diseases like Tay Sachs which are invariably fatal in childhood, but caused by an identifiable single gene mutation.

Second, this technology is already involving unethical practices in its development. Dozens of human embryos produced were discarded and it is likely that many hundreds and thousands more will be lost as the technology is refined. In addition, thousands of human eggs will be needed for research and young women, possibly driven by financial incentives, will be vulnerable to the well-recognised complications of egg harvesting. Twelve egg donors were used in this research. Preventing serious illness is a noble aim of course, but the end does not justify the means. There is a huge difference between editing a gene to help an individual and using that individual as a means to developing a technique that might possibly help others in the future. Why have we jumped straight to human research before testing this technique exhaustively in higher animals and non-human primates if we are so far from refining it?

Third, there is the danger of mission creep. The initial motivation might be to prevent or treat serious life-threatening illnesses caused by single gene mutations. However, there will inevitably be huge pressure to use this technology for far less serious genetic conditions or to modify, design and manufacture human lives to our preferences. The genie will truly be out of the bottle for designer babies and the vested ideological and financial interests will be very difficult to resist.

Fourth, is the danger of rogue scientists. It will be very difficult to offer proper surveillance or regulation to prevent abuses given that this is effectively ‘portakabin technology’ that will be almost impossible to police. We could be opening up a Pandora’s box of truly frightening possibilities.

Fifth, our understanding of the way genes produce physical traits, including genetic diseases, is still very rudimentary. What we do know is that our previous understanding of ‘one gene producing one trait’ is a gross oversimplification. Genes interact together in very complex ways and by editing one gene we may simply be altering one step in a complex process with knock-on effects elsewhere: rather as pulling a single thread from a knitted garment can lead to further spontaneous unravelling. This again underlines the importance of rigorous research being done in animals and especially nonhuman primates, before it is even contemplated in human beings.

Sixth, there are alternative ethical approaches to the prevention and treatment of many single gene disorders. I’m not advocating preimplantation diagnosis or abortion because, as noted above, both are eugenic practices involving the destruction of individuals with special needs. But, for example, parents known to be carrying deleterious genes can obviously avoid passing them on to their offspring by opting for  adoption. The vast majority of single gene disorders are neither serious nor life-threatening and even for those that are there often supportive treatments available (see also my previous blog post ‘13 solutions to mitochondrial disease assessed’).

Why am I more open to this technique than the three parent embryo for mitochondrial disease? Don’t both involve germline therapy? Don’t both promise to eradicate defective genes? Yes, but the similarities end there. Three parent embryo techniques do not work for single gene disorders, they introduce a third parent and they involve cell-nuclear replacement ‘cloning’ technology.

By contrast, gene editing is precise, anatomical and appears to work. It resonates much better with ‘restoration of a masterpiece’ (the human embryo) to its original unspoilt state than the unnatural fusing of tissues from three individuals we see in so-called ‘mitochondrial replacement’. It is more Michelangelo than Picasso. In fact DNA editing has already been successfully employed to treat mitochondrial disease in mice.

But the real questions are ‘is it safe’, ‘will it work’ and ‘can it be developed by ethical means’? And we are a long way from knowing the answers. We need to find these answers, but not by using human embryos as a means to an end.

Instead we need to employ techniques that treat the human embryo with the respect and care that it deserves as a very young, yet complete, human life.