Human genetic intervention could be considered a microcosm of the larger field of bioethics. According to James Peterson, "it raises almost all the basic issues addressed in a standard bioethics course, from informed consent to the goals of medicine." Peterson argues that it is imperative to view human genetic intervention from an ethical framework, particularly as the technology in that intervention advances at an exponential rate.
Peterson's goal in Genetic Turning Points was to tie together some of the various questions related to human genetic intervention (better known, perhaps, as genetic manipulation or genetic engineering). He begins with a look at medical technology and moves on to major issues including genetic research, genetic testing, genetic drugs, and genetic surgery (physical manipulation of human genes in the body). The issues are raised in a progressive approach. Genetic research is the foundation for genetic testing and genetic drugs, thus issues related to genetic research are looked at first, and then issues related to genetic testing and drugs. Since genetic surgery techniques are still being perfected, and are not as available as the other technologies, Peterson looks at this vital issue last.
Christians, according to LeRoy Waters, have tended to view human genetics from one of two positions (not usually both): cosmic theology and casuistic analysis. Cosmic theology simply means looking at the grand scheme of God's plan for humanity; casuistic analysis is that which addresses the questions of practice. Peterson hopes to bring the two positions together in a cogent and effective manner. He feels that one's understanding of God's plan for humanity (our purpose) shapes the concrete decisions of life (the practice). Ideally, Christians should be aware of both how purpose shapes practice and how practice questions purpose. Thus, Peterson sees the medical and ethical issues as eminently practical, but defined and shaped by one's metaphysical beliefs.
Genetic Turning Points is laid out in a progressive manner, but topics can stand on their own. Chapters are generally short and the indexes and cross-references allow one to find a particular topic quickly and easily. Since there are fifteen chapters, the book easily lends itself to undergraduate or postgraduate study (one chapter a week), but is not solely for students. It is also for professionals (doctors, clergy, etc.) and for educated lay people. Its information is timely and its answers practical and relevant.
This timely volume clearly lays out the central ethical questions raised by today's rapid advances in biotechnology. James Peterson sorts through the maze of clinical decisions occasioned by human genetic intervention, organizing the range of moral considerations that now face us and exploring their practical impact on individuals, families, and communities.
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