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Genetics & Ethics: Topics Index

New knowledge gained from genetics research is raising a host of challenging ethical questions. These ethical questions are prompting intense theological reflection. The dramatic scale of the biomedical challenges throws us back upon first principles, back to questions about human nature, about our relationship to ourselves and to our divine source, God. In the popular press the issue is put this way: are we playing God? Another, and perhaps more instructive, way to phrase the question is: how might theological reflection on the frontier of genetic research guide and direct ethical deliberation?HGI has been criticized because (1) as ‘big science’ with top down administration it seems to squeeze out local initiative by smaller laboratories and (2) the large financial investment in genome...

Some of our farsighted religious leaders have entered into serious conversation with conscientious scientists so that cooperative thinking about our response and responsibility for the future can be anticipated.Hast-ings Center Report, 19:4 (July-August, 1989) 46.  It is worth noting that virtually all Roman Catholics and Protestants who take up the challenge of the new genetic knowledge seem to agree on a handful of theological axioms. First, they affirm that God is the creator of the world and, further, that God’s creative work is ongoing.See: Ann Lammers and Ted Peters, "Genethics: Implications of the Human Genome Project," The Christian Century, 107:27 (October 3, 1990) 868-872; Genethics: The Clash Between The New Genetics... Second, the human race is created in God’s image. In this context, the divine image in humanity is tied to creativity. God creates. So do we. With surprising frequency, we humans are described by theologians as “co-creators” with God, making our contribution to the evolutionary process."Genetic discrimination is defined as discrimination against an individual or against members of that individual’s family solely because of real or perceived differences from the normal genome...Third, religious documents place a high value on human dignity.

By “dignity” they mean what philosopher Immanuel Kant meant, namely, that we treat each human being as an end, not merely as a means to some further end. The United Church of Canada eloquently voices the dominant view: “In non-theological terms it [dignity] means that every human being is a person of ultimate worth, to be treated always as an end and not as a means to someone else’s ends. When we acknowledge and live by that principle our relationship to all others changes.”See: Thomas H. Murray, "Ethical Issues in Human Genome Research," FASEB Journal 5 (January 1991) 55-60.As church leaders respond responsibly to new developments in genetics, we can confidently forecast one thing: this affirmation of dignity will become decisive for thinking through the ethical implications of genetic engineering.

Yet there is more. The theology of co-creation leads Ronald Cole-Turner to a beneficent vision: “For the church, it is not enough to avoid the risks. Genetic engineering must contribute in a positive way to make the world a more just and more ecologically sustainable, and it must contribute to the health and nutrition of all humanity.”Mitchel L. Zoler, "Genetic Tests," Medical World News (January 1991) 1-4. "It is clear that unfair and discriminatory uses of genetic data already occur under current conditions. Enacted...

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Go to Genetics Topic Index

Genetics & Ethics: Topics Index

Genetics Research
Genetic Discrimination
Preventing Genetic Discrimination
Where Does the Church Stand?
The Abortion Controversy Intensifies
Testing Early in Pregnancy
Patenting God’s Creation?
Should Genes Be Patented?
Patenting Genes – Some Perspectives
The Gene Myth
DNA and Social Behavior?
The Gay Gene?
Treating Faulty DNA
Improving our DNA
Are We Asking Our Scientists to Play God?
Is DNA the Essence of Life?


Ted Peters
Dr. Ted Peters


See also:

Pain and Suffering
What Makes us Human?
The Cognitive and Neurosciences
Are we Free?
The Relation of Science & Religion
Books on Biology, Genetics and Theology
Egg Manipulation
DNA Double-Helix