Clerics seek ban on gene testing

Once again, a segment of the US religious community has entered the political arena to protest what it says is a vital issue to the survival of mankind. More than 60 Protestant, Jewish, and Roman Catholic church leaders signed a resolution asking Congress to ban genetic engineering experiments. Supporters range from Bishop A. James Armstrong, president of the liberal National Council of Churches, to the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founder of the ultraconservative Moral Majority.

This is perhaps the only issue recently on which the religious ''left'' and ''right'' have found common ground, Monitor correspondent Curtis J. Sitomer reports. Earlier this spring, US Catholic bishops took a strong antinuclear stand in a pastoral letter. Many Protestant and Jewish groups aligned themselves with this position. But conservative church groups tended to oppose it.

The church leaders' resolution is ''that efforts to engineer specific genetic traits into the germline of the human species should not be attempted.'' This adds fuel to a debate between scientists and others as to whether it is moral to try to alter genes that could affect inherited traits.

The theological letter continues: ''Genetic engineering of the human germline cells represents a fundamental threat to the preservation of the human species as we know it, and should be opposed with the same courage and conviction as we now oppose the threat of nuclear extinction.''

Recently, a presidential bioethics commission that studied the problem indicated there are no ethical or religious reasons to halt genetic research of this kind. But it warned against the temptation ''to play God.''

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