God is in the D(NA)-tails

Everything our bodies need to become whole, healthy, and unique arise from the grand plan contained within one molecule: DNA. The elegance, beauty, and power of God can be seen in the intricacies of human genetics.

Yet not everyone’s DNA is perfect—in fact, we all have flaws. Some flaws are not that serious—we may be bow-legged, or gain weight too easily for our liking. But other problems are more profound. Take, for instance, Huntington’s Disease. It’s caused by a change in the huntingtin gene that one inherits from a parent. Symptoms include a writhing and twisting of the arms, followed by dementia and inevitable death. The disease is not pretty, and there is no treatment.

This is where the dilemmas start. When genetic disorders arise, how far can we go in order to fix them? If we see God in DNA, is it sacred territory? Or are we allowed to approach, to investigate, and to make changes? These are not rhetorical questions. The entire human genome—every bit of DNA—has been mapped out by the Human Genome Project. It’s no longer science fiction to use genes to "grow" new organs for transplant, to design medicine that’s specific for each individual, or to replace bad genes with new, good ones. Of immediate concern is genetic testing—the ability to determine if a person has genes that will increase or guarantee their risk of disease.

Genetic testing holds so much potential for good—and, of course, for bad. A child who has a parent with Huntington’s Disease, for example, can be tested to see if he or she has the damaged gene—but there is no treatment. All the test yields is the certainty of a horrible, slowly progressing illness that kills at an early age. If there is no treatment, is making such a diagnosis really using the power of genetics to heal?

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2001
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