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About Religion & Human Biotechnology

Religious perspectives on human biotechnologies vary widely, depending in part on the specific technology or application.

Most religious leaders are in step with public sentiment in opposing human reproductive cloning and inheritable genetic modification. They recognize social and ethical as well as theological reasons that the use of these technologies would run counter to fundamental tenets of their faiths.

In 1983 a leadership coalition representing a wide spectrum of theological beliefs issued a letter to the U.S. Congress calling for a ban on inheritable genetic modification (changing the genes we pass on to our children). The Theological Letter Concerning the Moral Arguments argued that this practice would pose "a fundamental threat to the preservation of the human species as we know it, and should be opposed with the same courage and conviction as we now oppose the threat of nuclear extinction."

Religious communities are far more divided about other human biotechnologies, particularly embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Some conservative Christian denominations oppose ESCR because of their objections to any activity that destroys a human embryo. This has been a major theme in the ongoing debate about stem cell policy. Many other communities of faith support ESCR. Still others support ESCR that uses embryos created but not needed for infertility treatment, but oppose the creation of embryos specifically for research purposes.

Abortion-By-Mail Study Outrages Opponentsby Phil GalewitzKQED California HealthlineNovember 16th, 2016A pilot study of telemedicine-based medical abortion demonstrates a welcome new option for women. Opponents of abortion find the concept deeply disturbing.
Stem Cell Researchers Anxious About Trump Presidencyby Gillian MohneyABC NewsNovember 11th, 2016Mike Pence opposes federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. But reintroducing a funding ban "would be like putting a genie back in the bottle."
CRISPR gene-editing controversy shows old ideas about East and West still prevailby Calvin Wai-Loon HoEcontimesOctober 24th, 2016Western imaginations tend to fantasize Asian countries as exotic, crude "others," viewing Chinese research as advancing primarily due to an assumed lack of regulation.
Forget Ideology, Liberal Democracy’s Newest Threats Come From Technology and Bioscienceby John NaughtonThe GuardianAugust 28th, 2016Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, reviewed here, argues that "In the 21st century, those who ride the train of progress will acquire divine abilities of creation and destruction, while those left behind will face extinction."
In crisis-hit Venezuela young women seek sterilisationby Alexandra UlmerReutersAugust 3rd, 2016Food shortages, inflation, crumbling medical sector, and anti-abortion climate have caused a growing number of women to reluctantly opt for tubal ligations.
A Nation Ruled by Science Is a Terrible Ideaby Jeffrey GuhinSlateJuly 5th, 2016Logic and rationality can erase the nuances of people's lives.
IVF Ban lifted in Costa Rica: a success for reproductive rights?by Lynn M. MorganPLOS BlogsMarch 30th, 2016After years of political gridlock in the only western hemisphere country to ban IVF, Costa Ricans will finally have access to assisted reproduction.
We Are This Close to "Designer Babies"[cites CGS' Marcy Darnovsky]by Nina Liss-SchultzMother JonesFebruary 8th, 2016Issues to consider in light of the UK's approval of using CRISPR gene editing on human embryos for research.
Church May Back GM Embryos to Cure Inherited Diseasesby Oliver MoodyThe TimesDecember 14th, 2015The Church of England could agree to the genetic modification of human embryos.
Ethics of Gene Editing[with CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by Betty RollinKQED Religion & Ethics NewsweeklyJuly 2nd, 2015Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society discusses possible consequences of human germline gene editing for future generations.
Gene Editingby EditorialNature July 1st, 2015Legislators in the US House of Representatives are asserting themselves in the human genetic modification debate, but as public awareness grows this much-needed ethical discussion will take root in broader society.
Will Pope Francis’s Climate Message Break Through Where Others Have Failed?by Marianne LavelleScienceJune 18th, 2015The letter—184 pages long in its English version—also goes far beyond climate issues, touching on biodiversity conservation, genetically modified crops, and other issues.
Ancient American Genome Rekindles Legal Rowby Ewen CallawayNature NewsJune 18th, 2015The finding seems likely to rekindle a legal dispute between Native American tribes and the researchers who want to keep studying the 8,500-year-old skeleton.
Journalist Tells Sad History of NC Eugenics Programby John DrescherNews & ObserverApril 17th, 2015For years the sterilization program was considered a forward-thinking approach to prevent those who were institutionalized or on welfare from having children.
Why Racism is not Backed by Scienceby Adam RutherfordThe Guardian March 1st, 2015As we harvest ever more human genomes one fact remains unshakeable: race does not exist.
Genetic Testing and Tribal Identityby Rose EvelethThe AtlanticJanuary 26th, 2015The question of genetic testing, and particularly genetic testing to determine ancestral origins, is controversial for many Native Americans.
A Manifesto for Playing God with Human Evolutionby Carl ElliottNew ScientistSeptember 8th, 2014Fancy living forever, or uploading your mind to the net? The Proactionary Imperative embraces transhumanist dreams, but reminds why we need medical ethics.
Jordan’s Stem-Cell Law Can Guide The Middle Eastby Rana DajaniNatureJune 11th, 2014The law bans payment for donations of stem cells and eggs, and says that modified and manipulated cells are not to be used for human reproduction.
Searching Chromosomes for the Legacy of Traumaby Josie Glausiusz NatureJune 11th, 2014The daughter of a Holocaust survivor narrates her own participation in a study of epigenetic inheritance.
Their Foremothers’ Daughters[Quotes CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by Helen ChernikoffThe Jewish WeekMay 7th, 2014Jewish culture tends to appreciate scientific fervor, but a small group of American Jews are sounding a warning about the risks that can come with assisted reproductive technologies.
What DNA Testing Reveals About India’s Caste System by Dan KedmeyTimeAugust 27th, 2013New research reveals that genetic mixing between castes in India ended 1,900 years ago, around the same time the caste system was being codified in religious texts.
Russian-Speakers who Want to Make Aliya Could Need DNA Testby Asher ZeigerThe Times of IsraelJuly 29th, 2013The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office says would-be immigrants from the former Soviet Union may be asked to prove Jewish bloodline.
Made-to-Order Embryos: You Want to Sell What?!by Jessica CussinsBiopolitical TimesMay 2nd, 2013The fact that a fertility clinic can own and sell made-to-order embryos for profit raises novel concerns that should not be collapsed into predefined frameworks used to assess other assisted reproductive technologies.
Stem Cells: A Culture War Gone Quiet by Alex Seitz-WaldSalonAugust 23rd, 2012The GOP is so against stem-cell research that it's in the party platform. So why won't Republicans talk about it?
Genome Test Slammed for Assessing ‘Racial Purity’by Alison AbbottNatureJune 12th, 2012Hungary’s Medical Research Council has asked public prosecutors to investigate a genetic-diagnostic company that certified that a member of parliament did not have Roma or Jewish heritage.
Canada's Fertility Industry Now Open for (Unregulated) Businessby Emily BeitiksBiopolitical TimesApril 19th, 2012The decision to close down Assisted Human Reproduction Canada signals even less oversight of the country’s fertility industry.
Stem Cell Strife in US and EU Courtsby Doug PetBiopolitical TimesMay 11th, 2011Developments in US and European courts regarding funding and oversight of stem cell research have reopened passionate debates.
Hijacking Human Rights in Latin Americaby Gina Maranto, Biopolitical Times guest contributorMay 3rd, 2011Prominent Catholic politicians and scholars are using human rights discourse to strengthen a transnational initiative to restrict reproductive rights.
Gene of the Week: Christianityby Pete ShanksBiopolitical TimesApril 1st, 2011Gay scientists are reported to have isolate the 'Christian gene' and to have successfully removed it from experimental rats.
Vatican warns of ethical risks with gene progressby Nicole WinfieldAssociated PressFebruary 17th, 2009A Vatican official warned that advances in genetic testing were spreading a eugenics mentality — the effort to improve the quality of the human race by controlling heredity.
Religious leaders confront reproductive technologiesby Marcy DarnovskyBiopolitical TimesFebruary 9th, 2009The Religious Institute calls on religious leaders to take on the issues raised by assisted reproduction.
Vatican Ethics Guide Stirs ControversyChurch Decries Stem Cell Research, Infertility Treatmentsby Rob Stein and Michelle BoorsteinThe Washington PostDecember 13th, 2008The Vatican's first authoritative statement on reproductive science in 21 years triggered intense debate yesterday about some of the most contentious issues in modern biological research, including stem cells, designer babies, cloning, and a host of techniques widely used to prevent pregnancy and to help infertile couples have children.
Muslims not prepared to declare cloning 'halal'Philippine Daily InquirerJune 26th, 2008Philippine's Muslim clerics and food experts said they were not yet prepared to adopt a ruling on whether or not to declare as "halal," which means permissible or lawful, experimental animal cloning.
Embryo Bill is Plank of Gordon Brown's Agendaby Andrew PorterTelegraphMarch 24th, 2008The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is a major plank of the Government's legislative programme. For Gordon Brown - to whom the Bill means so much - and Geoff Hoon, his chief whip, the prospect of a parliamentary defeat on its measures is unthinkable.
The Religious Right: Pronatalist? Only if you are white.by Jesse ReynoldsBiopolitical TimesFebruary 26th, 2008Christian conservatives are looking abroad, warning that Europe faces the prospect of a "demographic winter" due to declining fertility among native Europeans and higher rates among immigrants.
Stem-Cell Researchby Marcy Darnovsky and Judy NorsigianConscience (Catholics for Choice)January 15th, 2008This letter to the editor expresses concerns about the health risks of egg extraction and the speculative nature of cloning-based stem cell research.
Vatican talks of 'eugenics culture’ after abortion of wrong twinby Richard OwenTimes Online [UK]August 29th, 2007Italian prosecutors have opened an investigation into a botched selective abortion that the Vatican has described as the result of a “culture of perfection” resembling Nazi eugenics.
Embryos injected with animal cells should be given human status, UK bishops urgeby Simon CaldwellCatholic OnlineJune 27th, 2007Human embryos injected with animal cells, or chimeras, should be accorded human status under proposals to be considered by the British Parliament in the fall, said the Catholic bishops of England and Wales
Can’t discard them as embryos, abort them as fetuses, or cast them out? Try hormone patches.by Marcy DarnovskyBiopolitical TimesMarch 16th, 2007A leading evangelical would support hormonal "treatments" for fetuses if genetic tests that can identify them as predisposed to be gay are developed.
WWJD – What Would James (Cameron) Do?by Osagie K. ObasogieBiopolitical TimesMarch 6th, 2007James Cameron is quite accustomed to casting big stars in his films. Yet many were surprised when Cameron took his legendary casting to the next level by setting his eyes on Jesus – yes, Jesus – as his next leading man.
Our Biopolitical Future: Four Scenarios [PDF]World WatchFebruary 28th, 2007CGS Executive Director Richard Hayes's essay is the cover story of the March/April issue of World Watch magazine. The four scenarios, which cover the years between 2007 and 2021, are Libertarian Transhumanism Triumphs, One Family, One Future, A Techno-Eugenic Arms Race, and For the Common Good.
National Council of Churches Adopts Policies on Human BiotechnologyGenetic CrossroadsJanuary 26th, 2007At its annual General Assembly meeting in November, the National Council of Churches USA adopted an important policy document on human biotechnology titled Fearfully and Wonderfully Made.
Stem-cell oracles[Quotes CGS's Marcy Darnovsky]by Dan PineJ. The Jewish newsweekly of northern CaliforniaFebruary 23rd, 2006Though still in relative infancy, stem-cell research holds great promise to cure juvenile diabetes and a host of other conditions, from spinal cord injury to Alzheimer’s disease to cancer. Is there a Jewish position on stem-cell research?
National Council of Churches Approves Policy on New Human BiotechnologiesGenetic CrossroadsDecember 15th, 2005The National Council of Churches (NCC) has approved a comprehensive set of policies to guide its members "through the maze of moral decision-making in the rapidly developing field of biotechnology." The policies will be studied by the Council's member communions over the coming year and and then reviewed for final adoption.
Playing God: The Challenges of Human Biotechnology for Spiritual Progressives [PDF]by Marcy DarnovskyJuly 23rd, 2005Marcy Darnovsky's presentation spoke at Tikkun’s Spiritual Activism conference on The New Human Biotechnologies: Why Progressives Don’t Have God on their Side and How to Change This in Berkeley, CA
Clergy From Sacramento Area To Denounce Stem-Cell Initiativeby Laura MecoySacramento BeeOctober 26th, 2004A group of Sacramento-area ministers will hold a press conference to denounce the $3 billion stem-cells bond measure.


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