Genetics, Religion, and Social Ethics

Lisa Cahill
Boston College

Date: February 6, 2002

Event Recap

According to Lisa Cahill, Monan Professor of Christian Ethics at Boston College, public debate about genetic research and technology has tended to focus too narrowly on questions of individual rights—such as privacy, autonomy, and economic opportunity—and has neglected broader social justice questions about access to technology and the economic bases of health and disease. In a luncheon discussion at the Boisi Center on February 6, Cahill argued that religion has a role to play in enhancing this social justice dimension of public debate. This role demands that religions take a broad perspective that attends to the multiple dimensions of biotechnology issues. Exclusive focus on a single dimension, such as the status of the early embryo in debates about cloning and stem cell research, has the effect of marginalizing religious traditions and distorting public understanding of the ethical issues at stake in these technologies.

Cahill believes religion can expand, rather than constrict the scope of debate about genetics by introducing concepts like solidarity and the preferential option for the poor. She is particularly interested in how language about the common good—reinterpreted for a world where power is transnational and decentralized—can contribute to public debate.