Monitoring the gene-splicers

The rapid commercialization of bio-technology - gene-splicing - and the equally rapid spread of genetic research make wise public scrutiny a necessity. It has been encouraging in recent weeks to have fresh governmental and religious attention brought to bear on such genetic engineering, through which the characteristics of living organisms can be altered. The result appears to be a stage of increasingly informed concern - following early overblown alarms about the danger of monsters let loose and the subsequent period of complacency.

First came a report from the National Council of Churches stressing the need to consider human values and social consequences in this controversial field.

Then came the call by a presidential commission on biomedical ethics for a federal body to ensure continued and careful oversight of genetic engineering. The commission reported that the council's and other religious groups' early doubts about lack of sufficient oversight were well-founded.

It is important now that the government follow through on satisfying both the religious and secular public that genetic-engineering ethics will be safeguarded. The technical capabilities of manipulating the genes of human beings - creating identical ''clones,'' for example - may today be limited. But the commission saw fit to take up even such remote possibilities as the development of subhuman slave creatures through transplanting human genes into animals.

An opportunity for developing a sound monitoring mechanism is provided by legislation proposed by Representative Gore, chairman of a House subcommittee that recently heard testimony from the commission.

It's not just the bizarre misuses of knowledge that must be guarded against. The apparently more benign prospects of ''improving'' species or eliminating defects also have to be evaluated against the highest concepts of freedom, privacy, and morality.

Thus, without any violation of the constitutional separation of church and state, it is well for government and religion to keep working together on these widening ethical frontiers.

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