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Where Does the Church Stand?

It is clear that many religious ethicists oppose genetic discrimination. In 1989, the Church and Society commission of the World Council of Churches released a study document, “Biotechnology: Its Challenges to the Churches and the World,” which draws attention to “unfair discrimination...in work, health care, insurance and education.”Venter and his colleague, William A. Haseltine, CEO of Human Genome Sciences, made the cover of Business Week, 3423 (May 8, 1995) with an article by John Carey, "The Gene Kings," pages 72-78....Similarly, in the proposal approved by its 1992 General Conference, the United Methodist Church Genetic Task Force listed prominently among possible HGP repercussions, “discrimination: the suffering and/or hardship that may result for persons with late-onset disease like Huntington’s or Alzheimer’s disease, or with a genetic predisposition to diseases like high cholesterol levels or arteriosclerosis.”33 US 130 (1948); cited by Rebecca Eisenberg, "Genes, Patents, and Product Development," Science, 257 (14 August 1992) 903-908, p. 904.And, in 1989, the Seventeenth General Synod of the United Church of Christ meeting in Fort Worth, Texas, approved a Pronouncement which included a rejection of “screening as a basis for determining civil, economic, or reproductive rights.”Kevles and Hood, The Code of Codes, 313,314.A resolution passed at the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in July of 1991 states forcefully: “The use of results of genetic screening of adults, newborns and the unborn for the purpose of discrimination in employment and insurance is unacceptable.”

This clear stand against genetic discrimination provides a solid foundation from which to build an ethical proposal, but it stops here. There are hints that church ethicists will side with those who advocate privacy; and there are hints that they favor some sort of national program which guarantees  health care to everyone. What we do not  yet see among religious leaders is any overall vision regarding the potential value (or nonvalue) of widespread use of genome information for health care delivery.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

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