Ethics conference discusses genome project

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    By Sarah Stuart

    Ethical considerations of the Human Genome Project were discussed at a medical ethics conference at Utah Valley State College Wednesday, Nov. 1.

    The Human Genome Project is an international research program to distinguish the genomes of human and selected model organisms through inclusive mapping and sequencing of their DNA, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute Web site.

    “We shouldn’t put the genome in an iron lock box,” said Dr. Val Sheffield, a genetics scientist from the University of Iowa.

    Sheffield said while there are concrete ethical issues involved in the project, increasing options through technology would be beneficial to society.

    Sheffield discussed five possible areas of concern, but with each showed the benefits of the project.

    The first item was the privacy and confidentiality issue. Sheffield said there is the possibility that insurance companies will want to use genome testing to see who is genetically susceptible to certain diseases, and then deny insurance to those people.

    Sheffield said insurance companies need to accept that all humans have risk factors, so laws should be passed to protect people from this discrimination.

    The next area was genetic determinism and how environment plays a role in people’s lives.

    “It is similar to the LDS look at foreordination vs. predestination,” Sheffield said.

    There is an overestimation of the genetic component for disorders, he said.

    A personal example was when Sheffield gave his children a blood test. The youngest son’s results revealed he was not the real father, but Sheffield trusted his wife.

    “I decided to laugh it off,” Sheffield said.

    The third point was whether genomes should be patented.

    Sheffield said he was against patenting a genome because it is the makeup of an individual. However, patenting objects or applications developed from the genome research is a good idea.

    Human geneology was the next area discussed. Sheffield said all humans are more alike than different.

    “You are 99.9 percent identical to your neighbor,” Sheffield said.

    The similarities of each person’s DNA ties into the religious idea that there is one creator, he said.

    “Religion has been right all along,” Sheffield said.

    Finally, he discussed modifying human genetic code to alter the DNA mapping of a fetus.

    This provides the potential to avoid disease such as cancer, or even to clone the parent. Sheffield was in favor of banning this kind of adjustment.

    “We don’t know enough about the genome to make wise choices – it’s ignoring the designs of a wise creator,” Sheffield said.

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