Bioethical Advice

By Witham, Larry | Insight on the News, August 20, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bioethical Advice


Witham, Larry, Insight on the News


Biotechnology companies are turning to theologians and ethicists to find how the public will respond to new genetic medicine and designer foods.

"They want to avoid a clash of culture between the biotech industry, its supporters and investors, and a substantial segment of the religious population," says the Rev. Ronald Cole Turner. He was among a group of religious thinkers who attended a conference sponsored by Biotechnology Industry Organizations, which represents 950 companies, schools and state biotech centers. "It is a sincere effort," says Turner, who teaches theology and ethics at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. "It's not a matter of gathering intelligence on the enemy. They hope to develop public strategies in accord with public support."

Iowa State University religion professor Gary Comstock, whose recent book Vexing Nature? looks at the controversy, says the agricultural biotechnologists were taken by surprise when protesters began to demonstrate against "Frankenfood," or genetically engineered crops. Case by case, companies in the industry "are consulting theologians or ethicists as a way to anticipate" public reactions.

Those reactions, rising in many cases from religious groups, have stirred the debate over stem-cell research on human embryos, patents on genetic products, cloning and other issues. …

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