Hoofdstuk V: The status of the human genome: is it ever licit to modify an individual’s genome?

4. Analysis of moral agency according to the means-end model
Even an exhaustive taxonomy of ‘target-tissues’ and ‘objectives’ will not provide an analysis of the acting person or his/her acts. To make such a ‘moral’ assessment we must overlay our two dimensional taxonomy with a framework for the analysis of moral agency.

Indeed, Gormally touches upon one aspect of this dimension when he comments upon enhancement genetic engineering by suggesting that: ” …. even if the suggested mode of carrying out the modification were not in breach of other moral principles and did not involve unwarranted risks, it would still be unacceptable as involving a wrong attitude to a particular living human being in the particularity of his or her bodily existence.” (ll)

The proposed engineering on the human genome will be adjudged licit only if both the methods and the intentions, of the researcher, parent or other agent, are morally acceptable. In the words of Pope John Paul II: “I approve and support your worthy researches. I reaffirm that they must all be subject to moral principles and values which respect and realise in its fullness the dignity ofman.” (12)

A year later, addressing the World Medical Organisation, the Pope distilled the principles which would have to be respected if genetic engineering was to be licit.
1) The dignity of the human person must be respected by safeguarding man’s identity as corpore et anima unus.
2) The methods used must not affect the bodily and spiritual union of the parents in procreation.
3) Manipulations to create genetic under-classes must be avoided.
4) Fundamental motives must not aim at a reductionist and materialist conception of man.
5) The ‘liberty and autonomy’ of the human person must not be violated. These paraphrased guidelines are simply the seeds from which a more complete analysis of the liceity of genetic engineering may emerge. Eijk observes that these guidelines do not explicitly rule out all enhancement genetic engineering, but he goes on to remind us that the document Donum Vitae admits of no exceptions, and rejects every attempt at enhancement of human qualities by genetic engineering: “such enhancement manipulations are contrary to the personal dignity of the human being, his integrity and his identity. Thus they can by no means be justified by the eventual beneficial consequences for future mankind. Every person has to be respected for himself: in this the dignity and the right of every human being consists from his origin.” (13)

All such stipulations amount to limitations on the range of genomic modifications which may be deemed licit. In any particular proposal it will be necessary to evaluate methods, intentions, attitudes and effects to arrive at a judgment. This caseby case analysis is well suited to the rapidly altering science of genomic modification.

5. The new Genesis: self-creation
Another fruitful approach is persued by Ronald Cole-Turner. (14) He surveys and summarises the writings of six prominent theologians on genetic engineering, subdividing them into two broad groupings: “Karl Rahner, Paul Ramsey and Robert Brungs, who are discussed first, are apprehensive about the direction in which this new technology might take us. Roger Shinn, J. Robert Nelson and Hans Schwarz, by contrast, mix caution with a greater openness to the important benefits that this technology promises.” (15)

That Karl Rahner finds his way into the litany of conservatives will come as a surprise to many readers. This judgment of Rahner is a reflection of Cole- Turner’s own perspective which is adequately summed up in the last sentence of his book: “Only in the most recent moment of creation have we appeared, and already our technology is giving us the power to add to this great work of creation.” (16)

The hermeneutic difficu1ties involved in the interpretation of texts are always considerable, and one aspect of this is brought out most clearly if we compare the views of Cole-Turner and Eijk on the subject of Rahner’s writings on theological genetics.

Cole-Tumer begins by praising Rahner’s work as “in some ways the most thoughtful theological engagement with genetic engineering,” but he later adds the judgment that while the theme of self-determination might appear to lead in the direction of a highly positive stance towards genetic intervention, the theme of the ‘givenness’ of the individual human ‘existentiale’ leads in the opposite direction, for what is given is precisely the genetic make-up at birth. (17) And by way of support for this assessment Cole- Turner quotes from Raher’s seminal article on genetic manipulation (18): Genetic manipulation, however, does two things: it fundamentally separates the marital union from the procreation of a new person as the permanent embodiment of the unity of married love; and it transfers procreation, isolated and torn from its human matrix, to an area outside man’s sphere of intimacy.” (19)

It is, of course, important not to be misled by the phrase ‘genetic manipulation’ whihch for Rahner, writing in 1966, was practically confined to artificial insemination by donor (AID), and while he is prescient of subsequent technological advances his remarks must be interpreted against this backdrop.

Eijk, analyzing the same Rahnerian material forms the judgment that: “The conclusion of this reasoning is that self-manipulation, considered to be an essential new manner of man’s essential freedom of man, must not be rejected as immoral.” (20)

According to Eijk, Rahner, like Häring, does not accurately indicate the limits of genetic manipulation, but simply mentions a few extreme forms of it which are clearly immoral – as when they destroy the ‘vital substrate for genuine human intercommunication.’

Interestingly, before going on to excoriate Rahner for his analysis, Eijk does unearth a useful heuristic from Rahner’s, previously mentioned ‘The Problem of Genetic Manipulation’ and according to this there are four elements for determining the moral quality of any proposal in genetic manipulation. (21)

These elements we may paraphrase as follows:
1) The subject: it is quite different whether this is done by a married couple or the state (who is the acting person or party?).
2) The moral quality of the act depends on the premeditated result on the whole human being (intentional outcome).
3) Moral quality depends on method of employment (means).
4) Each available step 1), 2), and 3) must be undertaken only if it is appropriate to the true nature of man (reference to underlying anthropology/theology).

To avoid the charge of begging the question, and in order to flesh out the true nature of man, one must either deliver a systematic anthropology or admit, as Rahner does, that the question about the liceity of genetic engineering is ultimately unanswerable. This is because, according to Rahner, any theologian wishing to proceed by way of ontological categories must admit that most of the characteristics of any man are merely contingent and not necessary to his substantial self. Rahner himself gives the examples of hair colour and quantity, but Eijk simply charges that: “Rahner, however, fails to provide more concrete criteria to distinguish whether genetic manipulation is at variance with man’s nature or not.” (22)

That Cole-Turner and Eijk see Rahner’s works from such radically contrasting perspectives provides a valuable insight; namely, that an individual writer’s gen-ethics depends completely upon his basic theological and anthropological beliefs. At one level this is trivially obvious, but at another level it warns us to be circumspect about the evaluations gen-ethicists make of each other’s writings. Stated more bluntly – the hermeneutic problems associated with reading secondary sources are particularly acute in this area, and the cautious reader will want to carefully consult the original texts upon which judgments have been passed.

In fact, there must be as many answers to the question, how much genetic modification of a human genome is licit, as there are theologies and anthropologies in the minds of men. Rahner’s achievement lies in predicting and formulating many of the questions which need to be asked, while Eijk’s achievement, it seems to me, lies in providing us with a beautifully clear taxonomy of bio-medical possibilities coupled with an anatomy for the beginning of moral inquiry in this field.