- Religion and Philosophy
Religion: Religious views on Genetic Modification and Engineering
Genetic engineering is an extremely controversial issue without even considering the view of religions. Genetic engineering is when genes of a living thing are altered to create a variation, often beneficial, in that species and its future descendents. Some examples of this are the modification in the genes of certain bacteria allowing them to produce human insulin for diabetics or by modifying a crop so that it provides a greater yield. However, the issue is controversial, despite the benefits, for two main reasons. Firstly, the genetic modifications of animals and plants may have adverse and unpredicted effects or may be dangerous. Secondly, there are religious issues against genetic engineering; is it wrong to ‘play god’ by effectively creating and changing life?
“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked?” Ecclesiastes 7:13. This question from the bible now has an answer. Knowledge of genetic engineering has advance so far that it may be very soon that it would be possible to genetically modify and embryo to be a ‘designer baby’. This could give the parents the ability to decide the sex of their baby, give them immunity to diseases or even change physical features such as eye colour. In 2005 laws were passed giving scientists approval to carry out experiments that could lead to the first genetically altered babies being born in Britain, showing how close we are to genetically modified humans. The idea of modified people is extremely controversial. Not only is it potentially dangerous and against religious teachings of interfering with God but it also would be very expensive meaning only the wealthy could afford it. This could over time lead to physical differences between the rich and poor and would be likely to major social problems in the future with the rich becoming a disease resistant super-race. It would also make genetic engineering, babies and genes a commodity which could lead to numbers of issues.
Understandably there are many religious views against genetic engineering. Christian views against this include that the modifying of life is seen as ‘playing god’ as god created life and people in his own image, to modify the basic genetics would be suggesting that God was flawed. As all genetic engineering involves the usage and wastage of human embryos it is considered wrong by Catholics’ who believe life begins at conception and therefore life is being destroyed. This is against one of 10 commandments that ‘thou shall not kill’. It also goes against the bibles teachings of the sanctity of life.
However, there are Christian views for genetic engineering, particular those of liberal Protestants that believe genetic engineering is good if it is used to cure diseases. They believe this as Christianity teaches that Jesus was a healer and ass God’s stewards it is our duty to make the world a better place. Therefore if we can heal people through genetic engineering then it is ok, also it may be acceptable for some Christians if the embryos are only used early on before they have a chance to develop. This would support the standing of the law as embryos cannot be regarded as potential human life until they are 14 days old.
Muslim beliefs are not that different from Christian ones. They too believe that only god can alter the genetic make up of a person due to the sanctity of life. Also, like Catholics, Muslims believe embryonic research is the same as abortion; life begins at fertilisation and they do not agree with abortion. Scientists who try to create or alter life are attempting to replace god, something which is a great sin in Islam.
There are too, as in Christianity, views for genetic modification in Islam. In Islam it is a good thing as long as it is done for the cure of disease and not to produce ‘perfect humans’ or modified babies. The Qur’an and Hadith teach that Muslims should do all they can to cure disease. Using genetic discoveries to improve human life is what god wants humans to do as Khalifa’s (stewards) of his creation. However, it is difficult and often down to person opinion to distinguish what is too far religiously for genetic modification.
When looking at the religious arguments around genetic engineering it is very much down to a persons interpretation of the teachings of the religion, as specific teachings were recorded about genetic modification as it was non existing at the time the Bible and Quran were written. In fact the religious arguments mostly focus on moral issues which concern everyone of any religion.
Looking at genetic modification from a religious perspective is beneficial for the human race when considering how far we go. However, genetic modification should not be ruled out completely but instead used for things that will benefit the planet; medicines, food supply and better living standards. I therefore disagree with the statement “Only God has the right to interfere with our genes” but I do believe there are limits to how far genetic modification should be used. Using it for purposes such as changing the eye colour of a yet to be born baby is completely unnecessary and will only lead to problems both with untested genetic modification and socially. In an extreme example only the rich, who could afford the genetic modification would benefit which could lead to physical as well as social differences between the rich and the poor. Even if this were not to be the case it would be wrong religiously and morally to begin changing insignificant things such as appearance when people still die of diseases which could be prevented by genetic modification.