New Genes for Old

Scientists have finally discovered how to do therapy on our genes. Until now, science has been busy uncovering the genetic basis for several diseases: the gene that causes sickle-cell anemia, the gene that causes cystic fibrosis, the gene that causes colon cancer. But actually fixing all these defective genes remained an elusive dream. That is, until a few months ago. The case involved Francine, a young Canadian woman who suffers from an inherited disease causing superhigh cholesterol levels, often leading to early death. The culprit is a gene that codes for the production of a particular protein in the liver—a protein that pulls cholesterol from the blood stream and breaks it down. In Francine's body that gene is defective; as a result, her liver cannot produce the crucial protein to break down cholesterol. Doctors decided to insert functioning genes into Francine's liver cells. They removed a slice of the liver, broke it down into individual cells, then injected the cells with laboratory-grown genes. The engineered cells were fed back into Francine's liver through a tube. Only a fraction of the engineered cells were taken up by the liver, but that was enough: They began producing the missing protein, and Francine is on her way to a more normal life. Genetic engineering is one of the fastest-growing new technologies today, and Christians need to understand both its promise and its perils. Genetic technology—like all technology—is sanctioned by what Christians call the "cultural mandate": the command in Genesis to fill the earth and subdue it. Learning how to work with genes is one way to subdue the earth. Genetic therapy has additional biblical justification in the doctrine of the Fall. Historical Christian doctrine teaches that the world was created good, and that death and disease began with Adam and Eve's fall into sin. Hence the Bible sanctions efforts to relieve suffering and reverse the destructive effects of the Fall. The life of Jesus gives us a model: He not only pronounced forgiveness of sins, He also healed the sick and raised the dead. From the early church until our own day, Christ's ministry of healing has inspired Christian work among the sick and suffering. Today that work can include genetic therapy. But genetic technology also raises frightening possibilities. There's the danger of genetic reductionism, which regards people as merely walking DNA. There's the threat of eugenics, which treats people with genetic diseases as though they had no right to live. There's the strange issue of patenting, which reduces life to the legal status of a machine. There's the eery prospect of cloning—and mix-and-match children. Genetic technology is raising new and sometimes dangerous issues that we as Christians have an obligation to understand, so that we can take moral leadership in a confused culture. You and I can make the difference in whether genetic engineering is used for a ministry of healing—or for creating a brave new world of scientific manipulation of human life.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary