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Against Patenting Lifeforms



COLUMN: A SPIRITUAL CASE AGAINST PATENTING LIFE FORMS  5/19/95

By JOY THOMPSON
 Knight-Ridder News Service

So you want to be like God, eh? You want to patent life.

Admittedly, there are many benefits to being a creator: glory, honor, praise
for a job well done. And also, in this case, big money. But there is also an
immense moral and ethical responsibility. Do you really feel you're qualified
for the job?

I'm addressing the scientists and biotechnology companies seeking to patent
human and animal life forms. Patents give companies the right to produce or
sell inventions for 17 years, allowing companies to make money from research.

And that's the problem profit, which often fuels the appetite of greed. The
Bible teaches that the love of money is the root of all evil. The power to
create life could very well land into the hands of the rich and reckless,
because realistically, money talks louder than moral and ethical
responsibility. And in the case of genetic engineering, the potential for
abuses is ripe.

But what's even more frightening is the prospect of mere men and women
playing God. And that's why leaders from nearly every major religion in the
United States Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus and Buddhists are
objecting to this kind of patenting. God is the one true creator of life, and
he should be respected as such.

Today, scientists can do amazing things with genetic material, the road map
of life. They can produce disease-resistant grains, tomatoes that stay riper
longer than your common garden-variety, and cows that make amazing quantities
of milk. The potential benefits of such research: starvation in Third World
countries could be eradicated.

But what would the availability of cheap, plentiful food do to world economic
markets? How would profits be affected? I assure you, that will be the key
factor as to how this widely this type of technology is used.

Then, there's the current research with human genes. Scientists are regularly
discovering and isolating the genes that make us who we are: our hair color,
skin color, sex and height and even our potential to carry harmful diseases
and disabilities. They are discovering ways to manipulate those genes,
affecting the way they manifest themselves in the body.

The potential for good is encouraging. Genetic manipulation can spare a
person the pain and suffering from an inherited disease. It can be used to
combat cancers. But in an ethically controversial move, it can also be used
to genetically design families: ''Let's have a blond-hair, blue-eyed boy. No
girls, please.'' The genes are yours for the asking if the price is right.

Practically, huge amounts of capital are needed to continue gene research to
combat cancers and diseases. Morally, that need must be balanced against the
sanctity of life. And personally, I bristle at thought of someone claiming to
''own'' a certain life form, especially if that form is human.

As the ultimate creator, God's job is regulated by some of the highest and
strictest standards in the universe. A few of the qualifications are listed
in Job 38: ''Do you know the laws of heaven? Can you set up God's dominion
over the earth? ... Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they
report to you, 'Here we are?' Who endowed the heart with the wisdom or gave
understanding to the mind?''

The point of this passage: It takes an all-wise, all-knowing, just and
unbiased God to fill the shoes of creator, one will not be motivated by a
million-dollar profit. I'd urge the government to seriously reconsider
patenting life forms. Otherwise, like Mary Shelley's ''Frankenstein,'' you
might be creating a monster.


MERCURY CENTER CODE: L802   ID: me17760t


Transmitted:  95-05-19 03:08:12 EDT
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