Bioethics Ponders New Frontiers of Medicine

By Witham, Larry | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 19, 2000 | Go to article overview

Bioethics Ponders New Frontiers of Medicine


Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Medical treatment that is sensitive to Americans who hold a variety of religious beliefs is becoming a new frontier in both clinical work and research, two major conferences agreed this week.

Amid reports that animal cloning and access to stem cells, found in animal fetuses, is moving ahead rapidly, the biomedical ethicists, doctors and theologians say their work together is more important than ever.

"In general, the monotheistic religions believe in common that in the creation, created entities can be used for human benefit when it is appropriate," said Jonathan Moreno, director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia.

That is why, he said, word of the successful cloning of pigs did not raise alarm among theologians at the conference, "Belief and Bioethics: Religious Faith and Secular Medical Ethics," there last week.

The pig cloning was announced Tuesday. It involved removing the DNA-bearing nucleus from a female's egg, putting it into another egg with no nucleus, and stimulating growth with nurturing fluids.

The process, which creates a genetic twin of the donor egg without male fertilization, will allow doctors to grow pigs whose organs can be used for human transplants by engineering the DNA.

Regarding human cloning, Mr. Moreno said the monotheistic views are divided. Jewish ethics will allow it, but Roman Catholic ethics will not and Protestants "are all over the map," he said.

What doctors and theologians tended to agree upon, he said, is a need for caution in moving forward on this frontier.

"Speed is not of the essence here," he said. "Scientific progress is optional, but human decency is not."

The Virginia conference, which ended Thursday, focused mainly on the need for doctors to understand the religious values of patients.

A three-day conference opening today in Denver has a similar theme, "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine."

The meetings, expected to draw 600 doctors, nurses and practitioners, are sponsored by Harvard Medical School and the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston.

"Our increased evidence shows the links between mind-body and spiritual beliefs and recovery," said Dr. Harold Koenig of Duke University Medical Center, who will present a paper.

Insurers do not pay, however, for the time that doctors must spend to discuss with patients their religious or spiritual values and to integrate them into major treatments, the conference organizers said. …

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