Three years ago, I was working as a postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute of M.I.T., at the heart of the world of modern biology. At this institution, I began to learn about the rapid advances that are being made in genome sequencing technology that, at the time, I foresaw as being poised to enter the clinic as a component of mainstream medical treatment. Today, this technology is known as personalized genomics. I read the following article entitled, “The Future of Psychiatric Research: Genomes and Circuits” by leaders in the scientific community. The article equates the psychological with the physical, “In the United States, the cost in lost earnings due to psychiatric disease is estimated conservatively to be $200 billion per year.” The article takes a hopeful tone, presenting the notion that modern science and medicine may present a new, better life for people. I believe that the scientific advances explained in the article may improve life for people, but only if a robust legal and ethical framework is in place to prevent the healthcare industry from exploiting genomic information. As long as medicine is a business, the challenge will be to ensure that patients are protected. The article raised many questions in my mind. At some point in the future will medicine sequence individuals at birth for genetic “defects” amassing information that may be used for ill or for good? Indeed, this article entitled “Infant DNA Tests Speed Diagnosis of Rare Diseases” that appeared in the New York Times recently hints that this prospect is a reality today. While at the Whitehead Institute, I began to grow skeptical of the idea that personalized genomics might in all cases promise hope. As learned from the history of physics, the splitting of the atom had both positive and negative consequences for humanity. Today, biology is the frontier. I started to study religion and philosophy instead of science. As shown in the photograph above, the Holy Bible is an important element of my evolving approach to scientific ethics. Christian theologians are becoming aware of bioethical issues and starting to compose theological positions on the topic. From what I have read so far, I enjoy Stanley Hauerwas’s positions on the subject.
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