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Intersection of Life and Faith

How should you respond to genetic technology?

  • Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
  • 2001 25 Jul
How should you respond to genetic technology?
Advances in technology have now made it possible to intervene in even our own genetic makeup. Genetic technology is accelerating every day, opening doors to many more options and raising a multitude of ethical questions.

Here are some principles that can guide you as you consider how to respond to these breakthroughs:

  • Only God can create life from nothing, but He has called us to wisely manage the elements of life He has created -- whether we're caring for plants, animals or ourselves. It's possible and sometimes useful to improve parts of creation -- which has all been damaged by mankind's fall -- by following God's leading on how to change matter. Whenever you're facing a decision about genetic intervention, be sure to pray about it and consider the purpose involved. Know that genetic intervention is not inherently wrong; it's the way in which people use it that can be either wise or foolish. For example, genetic testing to determine your probable risk of developing a particular disease might benefit you under the proper circumstances, but changing your unborn baby's genes merely to suit personal preferences could prove dangerous in many ways.

  • Approach genetic issues with attitudes of humility, respect, community, responsibility and compassion. Keep the sanctity of human life foremost in your mind, and seek always to treat people as people rather than objects.

  • Realize that our genes are an important part of life, but since life exists in other realms beyond the physical (such as the spiritual), genes are only part of our existence. Understand that genetic intervention can never bring about a utopia on earth, and that the most important choices we make in life aren't merely physical ones.

  • Seek to sustain, restore and improve your body so it will serve you better as you seek to serve God. Ask yourself whether any genetic intervention you're considering will give you a greater capacity to pursue what God is calling you to do with your life.

  • Advocate human dignity when dealing with genetic research. Support voluntary participation in such studies, and the free and thorough dissemination of information about the risks involved.

  • Discourage attempts to patent raw data from the human genetic code, but support efforts to patent man-made processes for studying the code.

  • Through your church, help provide counseling to people who have recently learned the results of genetic tests. Such news -- whether good or bad -- can have strong emotional consequences. Also, help people think and pray through whether they should consider genetic interventions in the situations that confront them.

  • Advocate responsible financial plans for paying for genetic procedures, so medical costs don't skyrocket because of them and limit some people's ability to obtain medical care.

  • When considering whether to use genetic drugs for yourself or your children, discern whether the product is fairly safe, will likely provide a genuine improvement, will not limit the recipient's future and constitutes the best use of your limited resources.

  • Encourage ways of using genetic technology that will enable all mankind to benefit, rather than just certain groups of people.

Adapted from Genetic Turning Points: The Ethics of Human Genetic Intervention, copyright 2001 by James C. Peterson. Published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Mich., www.eerdmans.com, 1-800-253-7521.

James C. Peterson is the C.C. Dickson Associate Professor of Ethics at Wingate University, Wingate, North Carolina. He served as a research fellow in molecular and clinical genetics at the University of Iowa and earned a doctorate in ethics at the University of Virginia.