Opening the latest episode of Science Channel’s “Through the Wormhole: Will Sex Become Extinct?” Morgan Freeman begins with a shocking statement.
“A brave new world of human reproduction is just around the corner. New technology and our evolving biology are about to rewrite the future of sex and change the age-old roles of men and women.”
What exactly does he mean, “change the age-old roles of men and women"?
Since the beginning of the human race, men and women have procreated. It is the only way to create a baby — involving one man with an X and Y chromosome and one woman with two X chromosomes.
But according to a featured geneticist on the program, the male species is “on the road to extinction.”
In extremely dumbed-down talk, the female X chromosome has the ability to repair and link itself to other X chromosomes. It is “taller” and “stronger” than the more “puny” Y chromosome of the male, which does not have the ability to repair or link itself. According to studies done on kangaroo males (which have genes surprisingly similar to ours), the Y chromosome is losing genes, getting smaller and smaller and, eventually, the geneticist predicts, will become extinct.
Now just a minute. Before you panic and freak out (like I did), know that, according to the program, what the geneticist is talking about is maybe a billion years down the road.
Scientists have also discovered that they can actually take skin cells and reassign them jobs so that instead of becoming skin cells, they can become lung, eye or even sperm cells.
But a woman would still be needed to grow a biological child, correct?
Not necessarily. A marine biologist was able to build a machine that grew shark embryos to full term — without the mother.
“We’ve done something that was rather strange, rather abnormal and challenging, too, to think about what are the implications in the future," he said.
Through monitoring the embryos and changing the pH of the water to mimic that found in the womb of the mother shark, the marine biologist was able to continue the growth of the embryos in an artificial environment into healthy, fully developed sharks.
What could this mean? That possibly human babies could be mechanically grown, as sharks?
“Even then I still think there’s ethical questions one has to ask about it,” he says.
So where does science stop and God come in? Should we be celebrating the new leaps and bounds of technology, or is there a limit to what power man should have over the creation of life?
I called a friend of mine who has been through a challenging couple of years. She was able to conceive her first son naturally, but then struggled to get pregnant. She and her husband eventually adopted a beautiful baby boy and have since tried in vitro fertilization with difficult results: she conceived but miscarried.
“I’ve tried everything,” she told me. “But there wasn’t a difference in how I felt about my biological son compared to my adopted son. I was able to be there with my adopted son when he was born, and it was the exact same feeling I had with my firstborn: seeing that familiar, unfamiliar person for the first time. I knew he was mine.”
Even with her frozen eggs waiting the “right time” to be implanted again, my friend says she has this strange connection with them.
“I have seven eggs that could potentially be my children, if it all works out,” she says. “But I probably won’t be able to have seven more children.”
My friend says she feels like she’s done all she can, naturally and scientifically, to bring more children into her family, and the rest is up to God. His timing, his will, his plan.
And so she trusts. And waits.
Everyone in this world, regardless of race, religion or sex, has this same innate, natural connection to — and longing for — family. We all came from a mother and father. Some change families, stick with the ones that brought them here, or are in the process of beginning their own. But "family," at least genetically speaking, is an unbreakable bond.
And that bond is strengthened by how we are brought into this world. How much of that connection would be lost if science were to take out that human connection?
The role of a woman would be far less crucial. Science would say, “We don’t need your blood to pump nutrients, your breasts to make milk, your uterus to grow babies, your body to make children.”
It’s like saying, “Thank you, God. But science will take over from here.”
I read a book recently called “Matched” by Ally Condie. In this young adult novel, “The Society,” as the leaders are called, match youths according to genetic makeup. They analyze each person’s strengths and weaknesses and assign them two things: a job and a spouse. They are trying to create the perfect world, where disease is eradicated and mental illness is a thing of the past.
You read it and think, “Weird! That would be crazy.” But the crazier thing is how fiction can work its way into reality.
I’m not saying we would ever have a world like the one in "Matched." But I’m sure 20 years ago I couldn't imagine a world like the one we are currently living in, either.
We need both men and women, male and female. We still need procreation, the “natural” way. We need families, for it is on that very foundation that societies and nations are built.
I believe that God is the master scientist. I believe he allows us to take part of the glorious creation process by bringing children into the world.
Science is good. It has helped families, like my friend’s, to be able to do this when it can’t be done. But I also believe there is an ethical and spiritual limit to what we as mortals can and should do when it comes to creating a family.
In other words, we had better be very careful when we start to play God.
“There is but one good; that is God. Everything else is good when it looks to Him and bad when it turns from Him.” (C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce,” 1945)
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.