Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. - Isaiah 55:6

Human Genome Project: Promise or Problems?

In October 1989 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) authorized spending $3 billion for a 1012 year protect of mapping the complete genetic line of the human species. The effort is called the Human Genome Project (HGP). Supporters of the project optimistically expect to find the genetic links to more than 440 inherited diseases.

A recent issue of Newsweek magazine [10/21/91] contains a story on anticipated advantages of HGP. Of particular interest is the positive effect this research is expected to have for identifying cancerprone patients.

In contrast, the Wall Street Journal [10/17/91] raised questions over how genetic information will be used. Questions were asked as to whether the information will be used to screen people who wish health or life insurance. Many also wonder whether eligibility for certain jobs will depend on meeting certain genetic criteria.

Controversy has swirled around HGP since it began. In the fall of 1989 the Scientific American magazine sounded the alarm over the lack of concern shown for the abuse of genetic information.

Specifically, the article cited how little of the $3 billion was allocated for dealing with ethical concerns.

Two years ago the national director of Christian Life Resources was able to attend a seminar which addressed the ethical concerns of HGP. At that seminar concern was expressed not only over whether insurance coverage would be contingent upon passing a genetic screening, but over whether life would be ended based on these results. There was great concern over this leading to a eugenics movement where those with less "quality" life would be sterilized and perhaps eventually terminated because they fail to meet a genetic quality test.

At that conference HGP coordinator Dr. James Watson claimed he can see only good coming from the project. While we agree that much good can come from the project, we are not so sure as Dr. Watson that only good will result. After all, this Noble prize winner stated in May of 1973, "If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth, then all parents could be allowed the choice only a few are given under the present system. I believe this view is the only rational, compassionate attitude to have."

Watson's fellow Noble prize winner in genetics, Dr. Francis Crick, said in 1978, "No newborn infant should be declared human until it has passed certain tests regarding its genetic endowment and that if it fails these tests, it forfeits the right to live."

As God blesses us with greater insight into the genetic structure of human beings, we have a greater responsibility to be good stewards of that insight. We acknowledge the benefits that continue to come with this information. But, as with all areas of life, sinners often use good for evil.

We are grateful for attempts in the national legislature to prevent the abuse of genetic information. The ultimate solution, however, will be for Christians to speak loudly, clearly, and with authority the Word of God and the value He places on human life.

Beginnings, November 1991, Vol. 11, No. 5

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