Arguments for and against gene therapy and genetic engineering

Christian perspectives

The main arguments Christians consider on the issue of gene therapy and genetic engineering include:

Somatic cell therapy

For

  • Somatic cell therapy has been shown to be effective against a range of diseases, and so many Christians would consider it stewardship to support them.
  • Many Christians would argue in support of somatic cell therapy because they would see it as God-given knowledge that continues the healing work of Jesus:
quote
And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.Matthew 4:23

Against

  • Some Christians may argue that altering an individual's genes goes further than conventional medicine, and say it is playing God.

Germ line therapy

For

  • Some Christians argue that scientists would be acting as stewards if they could develop treatments that would ensure that future generations do not suffer from genetic conditions or diseases.
  • Many Protestants believe that embryos that are younger than 14 days old do not have full human status. They support the genetic manipulation of embryos to ensure that they do not suffer in the future.

Against

  • In their role as stewards, some Christians would consider the unknown risks of germ line therapy to be too great. Their role is to prevent harm to future generations.
  • Some Christians are concerned that this expensive type of treatment would only be available to the wealthy and so it would go against Christian teachings on justice.

Saviour siblings

For

  • Christians would use the sanctity of life view, that all life is sacred. The argument would be that the birth of saviour siblings offers the chance of life to a sick sibling.
  • Some argue that the intention of saviour siblings is to heal and cure disease. Christianity teaches that they should heal like Jesus did.
  • The destruction of those embryos with the wrong tissue type would be acceptable to these Christians because they are under 14 days old.

Against

  • The embryos that are destroyed because they have the wrong tissue type are considered by some Christians to have full human status, and so they would be against these procedures. Some Christians believe that the principle of the sanctity of life covers all human life from the embryo stage.
  • Some Christians may argue against these procedures due to the potential psychological harm that could come to the saviour sibling. They might argue that they would feel unvalued and 'used' in some way. Instead, they should be valued as a creation of God and not for their ability to save their sibling.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that:

quote
To legalise the use of the most vulnerable human being to cure is unworthy of man. To conceive a child to use him - even if it is to cure - is not respectful of his dignity.Archbishop Pierre d'Ornellas of Rennes and other French bishops

Designer babies

For

  • Many Christians argue that as long as the technology is used to prevent disease, and not for non-medical gender selection or for enhancement, it is acceptable. They might consider it part of their role as stewards and as an act of healing.
  • Those Christians who think that an embryo before 14 days does not have full human status could support procedures only to resolve serious genetic conditions or diseases.

The Church of England teaches:

quote
We would be concerned to see PGD (Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis) used for anything other than serious genetic disorders, because of the increased commodification of babies.Church of England statement in 2004

Against

  • Many Christians would be against procedures for enhancement reasons, and would only support them where the aim is to heal.

The Church of England teaches:

quote
We also continue to be concerned about purely 'social' justifications of PGD (for example, for family balancing)... Genetics needs to develop for the purpose of therapy, not enhancement.Church of England
  • Some Christians are against many of these procedures because they worry it could lead to the commodification of babies, and humans would begin to treat the gift of life as a product.
  • Some Christians point to recent history where humans have used their knowledge of genetics for evil purposes, eg eugenics in Nazi Germany.
  • Some Christians argue that there is no full understanding of the effect that changing genes has, and the risks are not acceptable unless it is to cure or heal.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches:

quote
Preimplantation diagnosis is therefore the expression of a eugenic mentality that accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various types of anomalies.Dignitas Personae

Embryology

For

  • Christians, eg many Protestants, who do not believe embryos have full human status would see it as acceptable to use embryos if the research leads to medical breakthroughs.
  • To some Christians the duty to heal means that scientists should be encouraged to conduct research into drugs or procedures that can cure diseases and medical conditions.

Against

  • Many Christians are against the creation of embryos purely for embryonic research and insist that only those left over from IVF procedures be used.
  • Other Christians who believe that embryos have full moral status from conception believe that all experimentation and the subsequent destruction are wrong.
  • There is concern that the research could be used for selfish and financial reasons. This would be against the Christian teachings on stewardship and the honest use of resources given by God.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches:

quote
To create embryos with the intention of destroying them, even with the intention of helping the sick, is completely incompatible with human dignity.Dignitas Personae