International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Design and Destiny: Jewish and Christian Perspectives on Human Germline Modification

edited by Ronald Cole-Turner

Introductory Essay by Celia Deane-Drummond

This book, edited by an author with many years experience reflecting on complex issues in bioethics, brings together a range of authors from Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish perspectives around the specific issue of inherited genetic modification. For those with a tendency to stereotype Christian views as anti-scientific, or for those confused about the current scientific possibilities in such technology, this book will come as a welcome relief. Ron Cole-Turner sets the stage by clearly mapping the field and the range of possible views that might be held. His specific argument is to show how Christian approaches, even the most conservative, allow for some genetic modification that is inherited, as long as it is conducted under certain restrictions.

Although this book has only one essay by a Jewish scholar, the representation of this tradition is important for the argument of this book, as it reinforces a more liberal approach to the engagement of religion with new medical technologies. The basic attitude of Judaism is one that encourages human use of technology as long as it is orientated towards the good – understood as God’s purposes. Of course, knowing what such purpose might be is constrained by a view of the world as sustainable, and an understanding of creation as good and in need of preservation. From a Jewish perspective human beings are not automatically good or evil, rather, the Torah gives a guide as to what might be morally good acts. In this respect, Jewish commentators face similar problems to those of Christians in that their ancient tradition does not give explicit guidance as to what might be right or wrong in the context of modern genetics. Jewish scholars are similarly exercised over the tension between the need to develop therapies for degenerative diseases, and the need to hold in mind the history of eugenics and wider issues of social justice in health care provision.

This volume also brings together experienced and newer scholars to the field. Roman Catholic writers who have written extensively in this area include Lisa Cahill, Thomas Shannon, James Walter and Celia Deane-Drummond. Tristram Engelhardt contributes from long experience as a medical practitioner and familiarity with the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Nigel Cameron, Amy DeBaets and Ron Cole-Turner write from a Protestant perspective. While Catholic writers are more likely to refer to the tradition of natural law and Roman Catholic social teaching, the difficult questions and issues that confront these authors brings a commonality in purpose. This purpose is to seek what might be ethically reasonable and theologically appropriate given the emerging possibilities in human genetic modification.

Yet this book also presents a diversity of perspectives on what might be the most important issues to consider, and how it is best tackled theologically. For authors like Thomas Shannon, Roman Catholic instructions provide the plumb line for moral reflection. Lisa Cahill considers the Catholic tradition of natural law more generally, while Celia Deane-Drummond seeks to recover reflection on what might be an informed conscience and virtue ethics approach to these questions. Protestant writers give a higher priority to biblical ethics. This book is not just significant, however, in that it seek to tackle what is arguably on the horizon in moral medicine, it goes further to open up new questions about human identity and the human condition. It will therefore serve as a valuable tool in any course on ethical issues in science and technology, as well as those more narrowly limited to bioethics.