Jeff really has a grasp of God’s mercy and comfort in the midst of the difficulties of raising special needs children. And he has a gift for encouraging others along the way with God’s truth. Here’s just one example.
In part one, I discussed the medical background and risks of a potential IVF treatment for certain mitochondrial diseases. In this final part, I will explain the theological problems the procedure presents.
God is the Author of Life
In Acts 3:15, Peter calls Jesus the Author (or Prince) of life. The word translated as author/prince is “archegos,” which comes from a root meaning “first,” “source,” “head,” or “ruler.” It is used of military leaders, city founders, or originators/authors. Jesus is also the “archegos” of our salvation in Hebrews 2:10 and the “archegos” of our faith in Hebrews 12:2. It is God (through Jesus) who created life. He is still the Creator, and life is His most extravagant creation. It is usurping His position, then, to assert our own right to create life (according to our image and wisdom) as this procedure attempts to do. Quite simply it is overstepping our bounds. The Bible calls this crossing of the line “transgression,” one of its word pictures for sin.
The Scriptures are full of examples of God’s power to give life. From Abraham’s and Sarah’s son born in their old age (Isaac), to Hannah’s son, Samuel, to the birth of John to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age, to the virgin birth of Jesus to Mary, to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there is no denying God’s miraculous power to give life. Melanie and I have also experienced this miraculous power. After years of infertility, God stepped in and brought life to us — not when we thought it was best, but when He knew it was best. (We really thought it was the worst possible time, but that is a story for another day.) We did not need IVF; we just needed to trust God to be Author of life. He gave us our first born son, Aidan, and our parenting journey began.
God is the Authority Over Life
The additional meanings of “archegos” teach us that Jesus (who is God) is not just the source of the beginning of life; He is also the authority (or captain) over life. The context of Acts 3:15 sheds important light on this. Peter was explaining the healing of a lame beggar outside the Temple. He had been lame since birth, yet God had a marvelous plan for his life. In the name of Jesus, Peter and John brought complete healing to this man to the amazement of all who had seen him lame for years. As Peter explained that the risen Jesus was the power behind the miracle, they proclaimed Jesus (the one the Jews had killed) as the Author of life. This was vividly demonstrated by the indisputable healing of the beggar. Who are we, then, to say that God has no plan for those who suffer from disease? While certainly there is room for us to relieve suffering and offer healing, it is not our purview to try and eliminate suffering as if we were the masters over life. There is great value in suffering that today’s quick fix culture fails to consider. Even in disease and suffering, God is still good. It is in our suffering that we can truly experience His goodness.
God in Our Lives
We have also experienced this first hand. Gwendolyn suffers having an incurable mitochondrial disease. For years, she had dozens to hundreds of seizures per day. Now she does not sit on her own or talk on her own or lots of other things that an eight year old girl should do. We suffer to care for her and provide for her. Her schedule is draining. We deal with therapists and doctors and special education teachers and insurance and medical supply companies and all manner of difficulties (even churches that won’t help). And, yet, we see great good in our journey. Without Gwendolyn, we would never have understood compassion as we do now. We wouldn’t know as much about selfless love. And we would not have known how sweet a personality can shine through even without words without having Gwendolyn. We do not understand all that God is doing, but we have found that He is good. He is the Authority over life.
Our trust of God as the Author and Authority over life was tested again in the birth of Lincoln, our youngest. Science said that we would have a 25% chance of having another child like Gwendolyn. There is no random chance with God, though. We trusted Him that whatever He chose to do would be good and right. Even after a miscarriage, we trusted God as the Author of life. And he blessed us with a great little boy. Lincoln has no symptoms of mitochondrial disease and is a joy to our whole family.
So, this so-called “three-parent IVF” process is medically perilous (part one) and an affront to the Author of life. The researchers should walk away from it now.
“archo” article in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre at Newcastle University in England are trying to win government approval for a new in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technique to supposedly eliminate some mitochondrial diseases from being passed from mother to child. Sensational headlines are calling this “three-parent IVF” or “designer babies.” You might wonder why I am tackling this topic on a Bible blog. This is actually is a perfect opportunity for some theology practice. Biblical knowledge has to be applied to the problems of today, or it is just trivia.
We receive two kinds of DNA at conception. Nuclear DNA (over 3.3 billion base pairs) comes equally from mom and dad. Each cell has one copy of this genetic blueprint. We also receive mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs), but this comes only from mom. Since we have lots of mitochondria in each cell, there are lots of copies of the mtDNA in each cell. According to the best theories of researchers, mtDNA is only involved in the process of turning sugars (or fats) into energy. They do not think it has any impact on identifiable characteristics (height, eye color, etc.).
The IVF procedure under consideration fertilizes an egg from the mom with a known mtDNA defect with sperm from dad. The nucleus of the fertilized egg is then transplanted into the “hollowed out” egg from a woman who has no known mtDNA defect. The resulting child, then, has nuclear DNA from mom and dad and the mtDNA from a second woman. It is true that the mtDNA is just 0.1% of the total nuclear material. It is stretching the facts to declare the second woman a second mother. (However, the legal and ethical issues surrounding the recipient’s notification and donor’s rights would have to be addressed.)
Despite the small percentage of total genetic material being replaced, I think this is a very risky medical option that may not even be needed. Most mitochondrial diseases (75%) are linked to something other than mtDNA defects (nuclear DNA, environmental factors, etc.). This procedure would not avoid any of these causes. Even a known mtDNA defect does not guarantee that a mom’s children will exhibit symptoms. One defect, called LHON, causes severe vision problems. But it only occurs in 50% of boys and 10% of girls with an affected mother.
Secondly, researchers do not know every mtDNA mutation that might cause a mitochondria-related disease. A mtDNA transplant would not guarantee perfectly healthy mtDNA. An unidentified defect might be passed along from the donor. Researchers also do not understand all the complex interactions of nuclear DNA with mtDNA. It is clear that in most cases of mitochondrial disease (not maternally inherited), some nuclear genes are involved. Replacing the mom’s mtDNA with another woman’s mtDNA brings the risk of actually causing new problems because of the unknown interactions between nuclear DNA and mtDNA. (UPDATE: This recent research demonstrates how a single gene defect in the nucleus or mitochondria may not cause a problem, but the combination does.)
I admit, I am not a doctor or genetic specialist. However, as an educated layman, there are so many unknowns and uncertainties that the risk seems unjustified. Hurting families should not be test cases, especially when there are clearly superior options, such as adoption or even trusting God.
Why am I singling out this procedure for examination? Our daughter Gwendolyn has a mitochondrial disease. We have had to learn about mitochondrial diseases and genetics. We have had to make decisions weighing medical science against faith. Gwendolyn’s exact genetic diagnosis is still unknown, but it suspected to be autosomal recessive (coming as a combination of nuclear genes from mom and dad). They have not found a specific defect in her mtDNA (which came from Melanie). This type of inheritance implies a 25% risk for us having another child with all of Gwendolyn’s severe symptoms.
In part two, I look at the theological problems with this procedure…
“mtDNA and Mitochondrial Diseases”
“Mitochondrial Disease Inheritance and Genetics ”
“And three make the perfect baby”
“Three-Parent IVF Could Reduce Disease, But Stirs Debate ”
“Ethics debate opens into ‘three-parent’ IVF technique”
“Mitochondria vs Nucleus“
Recently, a blogger asked me a great question in the comments on his blog. When I offered to help answer his questions about the Bible, he asked me if there was one Scripture that I considered “gold” or thought about every day. What a great question!
But it made me pause. One Scripture? I love every book of the Bible. My favorite one is always the one I am studying at the moment. There is so much depth, beauty, insight, inspiration, and joy in the Scriptures. Could I pick just one? I am not one who has chosen a “life verse” that encapsulates my faith or purpose. God has always provided the right Scripture at the right time for my situation. One Scripture? I decided to dig back into the bedrock foundations of my faith. What is essential? What do I know is true? What do I depend on?
I thought back to one of the great turning points in my life – a literal choice between life or death. I was just a young teen, probably finishing 8th or 9th grade. I had chosen to follow Jesus with my life a year or two earlier. I was on a youth retreat with my church at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina. My life was just not going the way I wanted. I wasn’t athletic or popular. I wasn’t funny or attractive. I wasn’t talented in anything anyone noticed. I was believing Satan’s lie that no one loved me. One night I just sat out in the open air hallway outside my room. I looked down two or more stories to the ground and rocks below. A voice inside whispered, “no one will care if you just fall off of here and die…” I didn’t know the term “spiritual warfare,” but I knew this was a spiritual attack. I went back inside to get away from the immediate temptation. However, I was still wallowing in the self-pity and the lie. Later, I went back outside, letting the tears, at least, fall to the ground below.
One of our college age counselors, Keith, came and sat with me. He tried to offer advice and wisdom and comfort. It was nice to have someone notice my struggle, but it wasn’t enough. I did come in for the night, but my despair continued. However, during that week, God got my attention through the speaker. My memory isn’t clear on exactly what the speaker said, but God clearly revealed to me that He loved me. No matter what anyone else thought, He loved me. God loves me just the way I am! It sounds like such a simple truth, but it gripped me with a real power. I have value and worth. I have a purpose and a destiny. It isn’t because of anything that I am, except that I am loved by the King!
So here is that one scripture that, upon reflection, is the bedrock of my faith. When my faith wavers, looking for a foundation, this Scripture calls me back to the love that changed my life that week. Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (NASB)
Administrative note: Over the weekend, this blog received its 1000th all-time view. People from 17 countries have stopped by (unbelievable). Durt on the Bible isn’t taking the internet by storm, but I am thankful for all who take time to read. If it has value to you, please share it with someone else who might be encouraged.