Bioethics @ TIU

Human Germline Genetic Enhancement and The Abolition of Man

Posted May 6th, 2015 by Steve Phillips

I appreciate Courtney and Jon expressing their thoughts on the issue of human germline modification and the references to C. S. Lewis’s book, The Abolition of Man. My thoughts on this are more extensive than I can put in a blog post. I expressed those thoughts several years ago in a paper presentation at the CBHD summer conference. If you are interested in my extended thoughts, the paper was published in the Summer 2102 issue of Ethics & Medicine.

One of the points that Lewis makes in The Abolition of Man is that the human project to control nature through the use of science ultimately involves the control of some people by other people. This is clearly seen in the issue of human germline genetic modification. That process involves those who would use such technology exercising control over not just the life of the child who is created with the genetic modification, but also all of that child’s offspring. Lewis highlights the hubris of anyone who would think that they have the wisdom to foresee all the effects that such a modification would have and feel that they have the right to impose those effects on future generations. The concerns about safety are very serious and are reason not to proceed, but even if there were some way to establish the safety of germline modification (and there are good arguments that such a thing cannot ethically be done), it would still be wrong to assert control over the lives of multiple generations of future human beings by determining their genetic characteristics based on what we think is best for them.

2 Responses

  1. Carol Eblen says:

    Thank you Dr. Phillips, for your comments and observations. I am not a scientist in any way, shape, or form. I read the comments of the educated bioethicists to find my own way and to “know what I know” as a lay person who really can’t fully comprehend the science of genetics etc. but who is interested in the subject matter of what is morally right and wrong in the practice of health care and the context of Christianity.

    I recently read again the testimony of Dr. Francis Collins, The Director of the National Gnome Project, in the Article entitled “God is Not Threatened by Our Scientific Adventures.” Dr. Collins is a practicing Christian with an inspired point of view that doesn’t conflict with his belief and his faith in science as a means of advancing the human species ——this also being God’s Will.

    Dr. Collins said in this article “To be able to look, for the first time in human history , at all three billion letters of the human DNA, which I think of as God’s language —it gives us just a tiny glimpse into the power of his mind.”

    I’m sure Dr. Collins would agree with your concerns about safety in the editing of genes but he believes that God, as the creator, is outside of science and that God’s language, the three billion letters of the human DNA, will continue to be spoken and heard and protected, or not protected, according to God’s will on planet earth,as HIS plan for those on the planet earth and elsewhere in the universe evolves.

    I read someplace else that some Christian scientists believe that the human being, our species, unlike other species has evolved with the “God-given instinct and intellect to search for God.


  2. Jon Holmlund says:

    Steve, may I encourage you to expand on your argument by spreading it over some future blog posts? Access to your Ethics and Medicine article may not be straightforward for some, unless they can lay hands on a hard copy of the issue.

    And would you allow, in principle, limited application of germline modification within the “therapeutic boundary?” I think that’s an important question.

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