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ss triple helix - summer 2002,  Human Genetics - Fabricating the Future (Book Review)

Human Genetics - Fabricating the Future (Book Review)

Human Genetics - Fabricating the Future - Robert Song - Darton, Longman & Todd 2002 - £8.95 Pb 143pp ISBN 0232523932

This book by a lecturer in Christian ethics at the University of Durham is a scholarly work, providing an accurate and realistic evaluation of the current and future promise of molecular technologies in health care. There are some excellent sections, particularly the review of the twentieth century eugenics movement and the current research in behavioural genetics. There are clear accounts of the issues involved in gene patenting, genetics and insurance, and throughout, the author reflects a positive attitude to disability.

Why has so much attention been paid to the potential dangers of the new genetics? Song argues that such fears are not based on ignorance, prejudice, the 'yuk factor' or a fear of the future but rather on concern about 'interfering with nature'. Whilst pharmacogenomics and somatic gene therapy do not raise distinct moral issues, Song highlights pre-implantation diagnosis, germline therapy, reproductive cloning and stem cell research for detailed discussion. He rehearses the arguments in all of these areas and concludes with the most important moral consideration in these debates, namely the status of the embryo.

Song argues that the desire to have a healthy child genetically related to oneself, coupled with the desire to give one's child the best possible start in life will inexorably lead to the acceptance of genetic enhancement, as the technology becomes possible - so is it wrong? Is there a Christian alternative perspective? He reminds us that the Christian hope is not based on efforts to improve our individual genomes but on the transformation of our bodies into a resurrection body. He calls for the church to witness to an abundant life freed from the compulsions that make genetic enhancement seem inevitable.

Could genetic knowledge widen the gaps in society? The Christian community is called to carry one another's burdens. Song places this view alongside the potential for discrimination on the basis of a person's genetic make-up. This subject is timely, given the recent report from the WHO commenting that poor countries could lose out on the benefits of genome research. Although there are occasional grammatical errors, these are only minor irritations in an otherwise well structured and thought provoking book that I fully recommend.

Reviewed by:
Alan Fryer
Consultant Clinical Geneticist in Merseyside

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