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Human Genome News Archive Edition

Human Genome News, September 1992; 4(3)

Second National Conference on Genetics, Religion, and Ethics

The Institute of Religion (IOR) of the Texas Medical Center and Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) sponsored with DOE and NIH the Second National Conference on Genetics, Religion, and Ethics on March 13-15 in Houston. "Implications of the Human Genome Project for Medicine, Theology, Ethics, and Policy" was part of a 3-year project by the same title that began in March 1990. About 160 participants from 8 countries included clinicians, researchers, ethicists, theologians, health policy analysts, and representatives of the news media and of genetics organizations. C. Thomas Caskey (BCM) and J. Robert Nelson and Hessel Bouma, III (both at IOR) organized the conference.

W. French Anderson (NIH) opened the conference with an update on the encouraging progress of patients undergoing human gene therapy for adenosine deaminase deficiency and suggested that genetic engineering would be limited to the quantifiable elements of body and not involve the nonquantifiable elements of spirit or "soul." Abby Lippman (McGill University), Paul Billings (California Pacific Medical Center), and Kenneth Vaux (University of Illinois College of Medicine) responded with alternative perspectives.

Archbishop of York John S. Habgood, author of Religion and Science analyzed the effects of genetic knowledge on those to whom it applies, its possible misuse by others, and its therapeutic use. Aubrey Milunsky (Boston University School of Medicine), Ronald Cole-Turner (Memphis Theological Seminary), and Thomas F. Lee (St. Anselm College) responded.

Caskey presented an update on the Human Genome Project and the unique implications of recent developments for genetic counseling. Mark Hughes (BCM) described initial efforts to use polymerase chain reaction amplification and DNA probes to diagnose lethal genetic diseases in preimplantation blastocysts. Paul Simmons (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) addressed the moral and religious implications of these recent developments.

Ruth Bulger (Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences) pointed out that this is the beginning of a difficult era in which many genetic conditions can be diagnosed but not altered. She discussed appropriate behavior and how society might use genetic information constructively, citing particularly the need to listen to the voices and perspectives of women. Dorothy Wertz (Shriver Center), Robert Baumiller (University of Detroit), and Dianna Milewicz (University of Texas Medical School) responded.

James Gustafson (Emory University) addressed the thinking and action points at which theologians and geneticists might meet: the shared concern about the morality of certain genetic research and therapy, and the significance and use of genetic knowledge for interpreting the nature, meaning, and value of human life. LeRoy Walters (Kennedy Institute of Ethics), Kevin O'Connor (Office of Technology Assessment), and Richard Gatti (UCLA School of Medicine) presented additional viewpoints.

Representatives from four interdisciplinary groups in Boston, Chicago, Houston, and Washington, D.C. engaged in the 3-year project gave reports, and seven persons representing a wide spectrum of different religious traditions addressed the relationship of genetics and religion in each tradition (see Interdisciplinary Groups and Religious Groups).

A draft Summary Reflection Statement, discussed at the conference and refined through correspondence, identifies the medical, theological, ethical, and policy issues on which consensus could be reached and some unresolved, ongoing issues.

Two edited volumes on this project are expected to be published in 1993: one on the overall project and conferences and the second featuring a series of genetic counseling case study interviews from the patients' perspective. (Information on books is available from J. Robert Nelson.)

Copies of the statement are available postpaid and without charge from

  • J. Robert Nelson
    Institute of Religion
    P.O. Box 20569
    Houston, TX 77225
    Fax: 713/797-9199

Interdisciplinary Groups

Worcester Polytechnic Institute
"The Human Genome Project and Prenatal Diagnosis"

Valparaiso University
"The Human Genome Project: Issues for the Religious Communities"

Institute of Religion
"Genetics, Religion and Ethics: The Clinical Connections"

Georgetown University
"Religious and Theological Attitudes Toward Genetic Intervention and Alteration of Life Forms"

Religious Groups

The Genetics Institute

American Scientific Affiliation

Baylor College of Medicine

Rice University

St. Louis University Medical Center

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

University of Texas, Austin

Reported by Hessel Bouma, III

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The electronic form of the newsletter may be cited in the following style:
Human Genome Program, U.S. Department of Energy, Human Genome News (v4n3).

Human Genome Project 1990–2003

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international 13-year effort, 1990 to 2003. Primary goals were to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological study, and determine the complete sequence of DNA bases in the human genome. See Timeline for more HGP history.

Human Genome News

Published from 1989 until 2002, this newsletter facilitated HGP communication, helped prevent duplication of research effort, and informed persons interested in genome research.