As Gene Map Nears, Big Questions ; First Draft of the Human Genome Is Hailed for Its Medical Promise. but Ethics and Theology Are Also at Stake

By Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2000 | Go to article overview

As Gene Map Nears, Big Questions ; First Draft of the Human Genome Is Hailed for Its Medical Promise. but Ethics and Theology Are Also at Stake


Laurent Belsie, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Not since Charles Darwin put forward his theory of evolution have natural scientists sparked such broad rethinking of that bedrock question: What is man?

Geneticists' unveiling of the first complete sequence of the human genetic code - expected sometime this month - is already causing a stir in the fields of medicine and law. Ultimately, this scientific breakthrough, like Darwin's bombshell, could challenge fixed social and theological ideas about humanity and its place in the universe.

Troubling ethical questions - such as eugenics for the unborn and genetic profiling for health insurance - are only the beginning. In mapping the human body's genetic code, researchers are framing a new context for an age-old debate: Is human nature the product of free will or predestination?

"The mapping information is going to help us rethink a whole lot of issues, such as privacy, confidentiality, ownerships of body parts," says Tom Shannon, professor of religion and social ethics at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and author of a new book on the subject. "It's really going to reshape how we think about each other."

For the medical profession, such changes will take time.

For one thing, the sequence is so long - some 3 billion parts - someone would have to spend more than 47 years round the clock merely to write it out. For another, the sequence that researchers hope to unveil this month will still be a working draft - incomplete and filled with small errors - that might not be finalized until 2003.

Even then, scientists won't understand the genome.

"Imagine that you have the entire works of Shakespeare in front of you, with no spaces and no grammar, and you don't know English," explains Betsey Dyer, a genetics researcher and biology professor at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. That's what the complete sequence will look like. It could take decades to crack it.

Still, the complete sequence will mark a new plateau in scientific understanding. Two research teams - privately funded Celera Genomics in Rockville, Md., and a much larger publicly funded effort by academic, government, and foreign researchers - are racing to complete the sequence.

"It will revolutionize information about how our bodies work, how our bodies develop. It will lead to drugs and products that cure disease and prevent illness in the first place," says Michael Werner, bioethics counsel for the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington.

Already, it is shaking the legal profession, particularly in areas of patents and privacy.

Owning genetic keys

For starters, should companies own pieces of the human genetic code?

"The ability to obtain patent rights on human genome information can be incredibly commercially valuable," says Elizabeth Weiswasser, partner in the international law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, headquartered in New York City.

The United States has offered patents on gene sequences for years. What's new, she says, are mass efforts at sequencing, which portend a flood of patents and court challenges as companies jockey for commercial advantage.

Privacy represents another looming legal tangle.

If doctors, armed with an individual's genetic code, eventually believe they can diagnose that a person in his 20s will incur a life- threatening disease in his 50s, who should know that information? The person? His relatives? His employer or insurer?

"We're not interested in genetic testing," says Herb Perone of the American Council of Life Insurers in Washington. But if such testing becomes routine medical practice, "we don't want to be denied basic information in the future."

Evidence of actual discrimination in the workplace remains mostly anecdotal. When the American Management Association surveyed more than 1,000 of its members last year, only three said they used genetic testing on employees or job applicants. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

As Gene Map Nears, Big Questions ; First Draft of the Human Genome Is Hailed for Its Medical Promise. but Ethics and Theology Are Also at Stake
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.