Theology Matters: What Should We Think of Genetic Engineering?

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right; when you have done so, the rest lies with God.”[1] C.S. Lewis

What should we think about genetic engineering?

Feeling overwhelmed on this subject of genetic engineering? You are not alone.   My goal in writing this short article is to whet your appetite with two very new developments in science. Are you ready?

Now is the time for the difficult part because I’m giving you homework. It came out April 26, 2016. If there is one thing you need to know about genetic engineering, you have to stay current. The science is always moving forward. Here is the article: Did you read it? Did you understand it? I know I read it like five times. Got it? Okay, so what did it say?

The article states scientists can create induced pluripotent stem cells (ipsc) from skin cells and then convert them into heart or brain cells without inserting genes into the skin cells. It is accomplished by merely treating the cells with a set of chemicals. This avoids actually having to insert genes or use genetic engineering. This procedure may allow skin cells from a patient to be used to convert them to ipscs and then use them to treat damaged or diseased tissues or blood cell types in the patient. This approach avoids the use of embryonic derived stem cells from fetuses and avoids the problem of using a donor stem cell to be put into a patient whose immune system may reject the donor cells. It may also avoid the possible outcome of causing cancer in the patient when modified cells are injected into the patient assuming the chemicals do no short-term or long-term harm. No need for embryonic stem cells here. Want to get behind this science and push it forward?

Okay, next article. Here is an article from May 13, 2016. Take a deep breath and read, now: Did you get it? Make sure you read the letter entitled “Should We Synthesize a Human Genome” at the bottom of the page. It explains that as a follow-up to the original Human Genome Project that aimed at reading the sequence of the three billion chemical letters in the DNA blueprint of life, the new project would involve not reading, but rather writing the human genome – synthesizing all three billion units from chemicals. Care for some new designer genes anyone? Do you want some of Einstein’s DNA inside you or your off-spring?  What are the ideals and who decides? These possibilities are coming to a world near you.    

I want to conclude this article with this quote from Garth Jones, an anatomy professor in New Zealand: “The current biomedical revolution may well have more widespread consequences for human life than either the Copernican or Darwinian revolutions.... Unlike social revolutions about how people live, this revolution is concerned with what human beings are, and what they are going to be.”[2] This may be even more obvious today in light of the rapid advances illustrated in the two articles mentioned here. Are Christians prepared for what is coming? Science won’t wait for us to catch up. Seeing what is at stake, I think we all need to be. What are our guiding principles as we debate this revolution? How do we heal the sick through the tools given to us by our maker AND do no harm to ANY human?

The Rev. Andrew Ray is Assisting Priest at St. Paul's in Prosper

For more reading:

[1] “Yours, Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis” (2008)

[2] Jones, Gareth G. Brave New People, IVP, 1984, p.12

Posted by The Rev. Andrew Ray with

Priests from throughout the diocese explore religious topics with depth and nuance.