This book began as a series of lectures in Cambridge. Its six chapters are of interest as much as for their authors as for their subjects. They include: 'Cloning: After Dolly', by Rev Dr John Polkinghorne, a member of the Donaldson Committee, an expert advisory group on therapeutic cloning; 'Genetic Engineering of Food', by Professor Derek Burke CBE, who chaired the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes; 'Reproductive Medicine', by Rev Dr Tim Appleton, a biology teacher, Anglican priest and a founder member of the ethics committee at Bourne Hall Clinic run by Steptoe and Edwards, the test tube baby pioneers. Transplantation ethics and euthanasia are also discussed.
The strong points of this book are the brief history of biotechnology, which includes discussion of legislation and ethical dilemmas in this area, and helpful suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter. Michael Rees' insistence that God has revealed his truth to us in the Christian message, absolute truth that speaks about what it means to be human, is welcome.
Despite some Bible references, the book lacks commitment to the Bible as our ultimate authority. Certain relevant biblical truths such as God as creator, the perfection of God's original creation, the uniqueness of man as made in the image of God, the historicity of the fall bringing about disease, suffering and death to the world are muted, ignored or even implicitly denied. There is no mention of the sixth commandment nor of the incarnation of Christ who, conceived by the Holy Ghost, shared our humanity from conception and thereby gave dignity to human life from the time of fertilisation. Indeed, Fraser Watts espouses an evolutionary world view and states that: 'To assume that an individual comes about immediately after fertilisation is taking too simplistic a point of view'.
Those seeking a specifically Christian response to biotechnology will be disappointed. The latest edition of Ethics and Medicine (2000;16:2) is more helpful.
General Practitioner in Birmingham