Ethical and Religious Dimensions of Personalized Genomics

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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About kayaerbil

I am a Berkeley educated chemistry Ph.D. who is moving into the area of working on developing appropriate technology for communities that are subjected to socio-economic oppression. The goal is to use simple and effective designs to empower people to live better lives. Currently, I am working with Native Americans on Pine Ridge, the Lakota reservation in South Dakota. I am working with a Native owned and run solar energy company. We are currently working on building a compressed earth block (CEB) house that showcases many of the technologies that the company has developed. The CEB house is made of locally derived resources, earth from the reservation. The blocks are naturally thermally insulating, keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Eventually, a solar air heater and photovoltaic panels will be installed into the house to power the home and keep it warm, while preserving the house off the grid. A side project while in Pine Ridge is a solar computer. I hope to learn about blockchain encryption software for building microgrids. In addition, it is an immediate interest of mine to involve local youth in technology education.
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