The Ethics of Genetics

As the science of genetics continues to grow, ethical questions continue to be in the news. Recently a genetic company claimed that it could harvest embryonic stem cells without harming the embryo. And in the recent midterm elections, the state of Missouri narrowly passed a proposition to allow state-funded research on embryonic stem cells.

Touchstone magazine just reported that in a recent study by the Genetics and Public Policy Center, 75% of in vitro fertilization facilities reported using Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis, a procedure which determines if there are genetic abnormalities in the embryo before it is implanted in the womb. Nearly half of these facilities also let the parents use this procedure to determine the sex of the child, and whether they would implant based on the which sex they wanted. Chillingly, 25% of such facilities let the parents use the genetic information to choose to implant an embryo that would be genetically compatible with children they already had, so that an organ transplant from the younger child could be performed later. In many cases, unwanted embryos were discarded.

All of this new technology raises a host of ethical and legal questions. For example: How should parents handle information about genetic predispositions of their unborn child to disorders or diseases? What rights and responsibilities do employers or insurers have with such information? What are the pros and cons of knowing our own genetic proclivities? Should genetic engineering be used for curing diseases? If genetic engineering is inevitable, who will regulate such research and practice? Should the lives of human embryos be destroyed to save or enhance another human life? Who is responsible for a technologically created life--the technologist, the egg donor, the DNA donor? Should genetic information be patented? The classic LU articles below shed some light on these important issues.

Classic Articles

For the Patient's Good or the Company's Profit?
C. Ben Mitchell
"For the patient's good" has been a governing axiom of moral medicine for centuries. Many contemporary business arrangements in medicine threaten this axiom and, thereby, threaten patient well-being.

Cracking the Code
Les Sillars
Mapping the human DNA sequence is a dream come true for many scientists, but the possible consequences are giving bioethicists nightmares. Meanwhile, some observers think Darwinian assumptions cause researchers to place too much emphasis on genes.

Human Genetic Engineering
Ray Bohlin
Genetic technology harbors the potential to change the human species forever. The completed Human Genome Project has empowered genetic scientists with a human biological instruction book. Knowing this complete code will open new horizons for treating and perhaps curing diseases that have remained mysteries for millennia. But along with the commendable and compassionate use of genetic technology comes the specter of both shadowy purposes and malevolent aims. The author deals with specific ethical questions regarding medical applications of genetic engineering.

Genetic Testing for Diseases: A Judeo-Christian Perspective
Michael Atchison
A variety of technological advances over the past 3-4 decades make it possible to acquire a great deal of genetic information on any given individual. This paper looks at some of the ethical issues that arise from this technology and examines how different worldviews shape our approach to those issues.

Genetic Engineering
Ray Bohlin
Our culture teeters on the edge of a steep and dangerous precipice. New technologies will soon allow us to change, radically and permanently, the world in which we live. Indeed, we will hold in our hands the capability of directly and purposefully changing who we are as human beings. The technology I am speaking of is genetic engineering. Ethical and technical questions swirl around discussions of genetic engineering like the wall clouds of the eye of a hurricane.... I hope to lend a reassuring voice with a dose of sober realism.

Untangling a Ball
Les Sillars
A six-paragraph primer on the human genome and the techniques used to sequence it.

A Perfect Identifier
Bob Jones
DNA testing helps British police fight crime, but will liberty be another casualty? This article from World Magazine explores the implications.

Related Articles on Human Cloning

Biotech Cannibalism
C. Ben Mitchell
Government-approved human cloning may begin any day now. Already we've seen the cloning of sheep, monkeys, cows, and pigs--a veritable barnyard of clones. Old McDonald, the mythical farmer, is next.

To Clone Or Not To Clone
Hugh Ross
Is cloning inherently evil or merely a tool? Are there circumstances in which cloning a human might be good?

Begetting and Cloning
Gilbert Meilaender
The author, a Protestant theologian, considers the question of human cloning. He seeks to understand and explain the issue in a distinctly Christian context. This task involves looking back to the biblical account of God's plan for family life.

Can Humans be Cloned Like Sheep?
Ray Bohlin
A scientist trained in cloning techniques looks at the cloning of Dolly the sheep, examining the value of cloning in general and humans in particular. Includes 8 concerns about human cloning from a Christian perspective.