Last week, the Supreme Court ruled that naturally-occurring DNA may not be patented. The methods by which genes are isolated may be patented, as may applications of knowledge gained from genetic research. But the Court found that genetic materials themselves are "products of nature" that may not be patented. However, synthetically created "strands of nucleotides known as composite DNA (cDNA)" are "patent eligible," since they do not occur naturally.
Why does this ruling matter to you today?
Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health and arguably America's best-known scientist, calls genetic medicine "the greatest revolution since Leonardo." In his view, research based on human genetics will soon transform the practice of medicine. I serve as a trustee for the Baylor Health Care System, where I have been working on the ethics of genetic medicine. I find this field to be enormously exciting and challenging at the same time.
Our genetics can tell doctors if we are susceptible to certain cancers or other diseases, enabling us to take preventive steps (as Angelina Jolie famously did last month). Genetics can help doctors prescribe chemotherapies or other medicines which will be especially effective for us. Gene therapy will soon be much more common as well.
But enormous ethical questions are in our future as well. As genetics are increasingly used in the process of conception, will gender selection and "designer babies" become common? Will advances in neonatal testing motivate even more abortions? Will new embryonic stem cell procedures escalate the creation and destruction of embryos for scientific purposes? Will human cloning become a reality? What about life insurance and family implications for those discovered to be at higher risk of disease?
Now that the Court has ruled that naturally-occurring genes cannot be patented, observers expect the cost of genetic tests, scientific research, and medical testing to go down. Pharmaceuticals and other businesses may be more willing to invest in genetics. And a medical future transformed by genetics may be closer than ever.
The best news is that none of this is news to our Creator. The God who made us with six billion base pairs of DNA in 400 trillion cells in our bodies knows us better than science ever will. If he can call each of the 70 thousand million, million, million stars in the observable universe by name (Psalm 147:4), he knows your name and mine. The Father who knit you together in your mother's womb while his eyes saw your unformed body (Psalm 139:13, 16) knows that you're reading these words now.
Why is his omniscient love good news for you this morning?
Jim Denison, Ph.D., is a subject matter expert on cultural and contemporary issues. He founded the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, a nonsectarian "think tank" designed to engage contemporary issues with biblical truth in 2009 and is the author of seven books, including Radical Islam: What You Need to Know. For more information on the Denison Forum, visit www.denisonforum.org. To connect with Dr. Denison in social media, visit www.twitter.com/jimdenison or www.facebook.com/denisonforum.
Publication date: June 17, 2013