Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Field Notes

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Field Notes

Article excerpt

From "Idea" to "impact." In late May, I received a phone call from a member of the National Council of Churches, a consortium of thirty-six Orthodox and Protestant denominations that represent fifty million members of 100,000 congregations in the United States. The NCC had convened church leaders, ethicists, scientists, clinicians, and educators to update its policy statement on human genetics, and so to create a document that would be a resource in high-level advocacy and in grassroots education. The committee's work would be assisted by seven "Senior Sages," scholars and critics who are nationally renowned for their research and writing on human genetics. The committee and advisors would be holding their first meetings in New York, the NCC staffer told me--would I speak on issues related to their policy statement? Of course I would! Oh, your talk is next week. Gulp.

I had never spoken publicly on genetics. Most of my work at The Hastings Center is in the program we define broadly as "health care and health policy," and I've spent years working on patient safety, quality improvement, and other issues that fall under this header. I've also been reading and writing about health care issues that touch on genetics, and have become especially interested in how well clergy and churches are prepared to deal with everyday aspects of genetics--not "designer babies," or "our genetically engineered future," or the other cliches that are invoked by the media and in scholarly discourse. Rather, I'm interested in how the pastors of those 100,000 congregations can become genetically competent, as a function of their professional role and as an expression of their traditional vocation to care for community members who are sick or suffering. …

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