If you will, stand with me at the edge of a dark abyss. Let us look down into it and ponder the contents of such a thing. Keep reading.
When one checks the news, the normal stuff is generally sought.
How are things in the Middle East? What are the Republicans and Democrats lambasting each other over in Washington? How will the weather be this evening? What powerful figure has just fallen prey to the consequences of his numerous and unwilling sexual conquests? The normal stuff.
Following a local news station’s links on their site, I found this:
Italian doctor says world's first human head transplant 'imminent.'
Go ahead and let that sink in just a moment.
The linked USA Today article reveals that international politics play a role in this story—the United States and Europe would not permit Dr. Sergio Canavero to attempt such a procedure. China apparently does not have the same qualms as the nations of the West.
The reader might be offended here—the reader may be grossed out. However, the Christian’s offense here should—must—be much more than growing physically queasy at the prospect of a head transplant.
Before going any further, forgive me the scientific jargon, Canavero's claims are garbage. Head transplants (cephalic exchanges if you’re fancy) have been completed in the past. A Russian doctor completed several of the procedures using dogs, and an American neuroscientist did the same using monkeys in 1970. Neither produced results that would be considered satisfactory by any standard. The maximum amount of time any of the animals lived was 29 days. What no one should worry about is a proliferation of cephalic exchanges.
The Christian’s concern is the following:
When so-called scientific progress is its own standard and science itself is believed to be the only true form of knowledge, we navigate into dangerous and uncharted waters rapidly. We have no real idea of what to expect.
Again, as stated above, claims of a head transplant are fraudulent. We should live in no fear of its success and the implications (though imagining those implications would be fodder for campfire tales). However, the fact that someone is willing to dream up such a procedure and a nation is willing to permit it should remind us to beware. When science is disconnected from the broader scope of human thinking, success becomes standard by which it is measured. In articles that followed this story from The Chicago Tribune and UK news outlet, The Guardian, the objections do not contain a moral dimension. The objection consists only of a claim maintaining such a procedure is impossible, so it should not be attempted. Neither object on moral grounds other than to call out Canavero for overstating his case and promoting fake news.
Without a moral barrier, progress is sought for progress’s sake, regardless of consequence. The door to new realms of possibility becomes ajar, but what sort of monster will slip through to our world? And if we find that door only guarded us from cobwebs and dead spiders, we’ve set the door-opening precedent. How do we know the next won’t reveal some beast from the bowels of Mordor?
Scientific progress acting as its own standard makes one assertion: if we can do it, we should do it. If we can swap heads, we should swap heads. Or, to put it in to real terms—if we can weaponize it, we should weaponize it. If we can sell it, we should sell it.
This blows past the crucial ethical and moral question: should we actually do this? After all, what can a head transplant actually accomplish? How is this contributing to the human good? Did God create the human body to undergo such things? As beings created to be forever embodied (1 Corinthians 15:42-49), is this the proper use of the human body? We cannot say the body doesn’t matter because we’re not gnostic, nor do we want to contradict Scripture which tells us that the body is indeed important (Romans 6:12-13; 8:22-24; 1 Corinthians 6:12-19; 2 Corinthians 5:1-5).
As Christians, we must ask these questions, even publicly. For now, few countries are willing to cross this line. We must continue to say, “What good can come of this?” and “What do you think will happen here?” We must remember that even our own bodies are not our own. We must remember that our non-ownership of our own bodies is a good thing. When we act in ways that promote attempted autonomy from the Creator, we actually regress; we degenerate. What begins in the laboratory, academy, or ivory tower rarely stays there. The outlandishness of an issue does not make the subject irrelevant. Which pastor in 1991 thought that he’d ever have to guide his people through moral and ethical policy decisions regarding two men who wanted to marry one another in the church sanctuary? Which deacon’s wife in 2007 thought she might be greeted by a person with male anatomy as she entered the community pool locker room to help her daughter change for swimming lessons? Those were problems for the people crazy enough to live in New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle. The good people of Topeka, Fort Wayne, Ocala, Akron, Columbia, and Macon never thought they would face such strange times.
To be sure, most of us will never, ever deal with the outworking of a cephalic exchange. However, if someone will kick that door open to the possibility, to exploring it, to exploiting all that is discovered in search of head transplantation, we will find that we have lost our humanity in search of progress.
The body is no mere object. It is not a trap to be escaped—this is part of the ancient gnostic heresy. It is not a commodity to be traded and trafficked. What the transplant of a head says is that, given the right circumstances, you may take the body of any other person as your own. Chew on that. There may not be boots-on-the-ground danger for such a thing just yet, but what could come of it? Every scenario I can imagine sounds like a page out of Mary Shelley or Stephen King.
So much of our societal sin arises from our syncretistic notion that the body is merely something animated by our immaterial soul, our true selves. Our drunkenness, sensuality, greed, and so many other things arise from the fact that we think of our spirits divorced from what is material. What has insidious sin wrought using our wrong thinking in this way?
We stand at the edge of this abyss. We have only begun to contemplate it and its horrors. Shall we set anchors, don harnesses, and begin the descent to find all that it has to offer and all that it has to take from us? Or shall we begin setting posts that we may fence off our neighbors, friends, and children from such a place until the Lord himself comes to fill the crater as he makes the whole world new?