Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine Bioethics Program receives $1 million for research

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EMAIL: ellenc@rice.edu



Religious questions
about how understandings of nature affect moral judgments about biological
advances will be analyzed by researchers at Rice University and Baylor College
of Medicine, thanks to a $1 million grant from the Ford Foundation.

The research will be
conducted by the Program on Biotechnology, Religion and Ethics, which is
sponsored by the departments of history, philosophy and religious studies at
Rice and the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor. The grant
will fund a study entitled “Altering Nature: How Religious Traditions Assess the
New Biotechnologies,” which will research ways religious responses are shaped by
different views of nature and how the views influence public policy.

The researchers will
study moral issues raised by five areas of biotechnology — assisted
reproduction, human enhancement, hybridization, biodiversity and
agriculture/human husbandry.

The study is directed by
Dr. Andrew Lustig, who is also the director of the program at Rice. Dr. Baruch
Brody, professor of philosophy at Rice and the director of Baylor’s Center for
Medical Ethics and Health Policy, is chair of the advisory committee.

“People often describe
biotechnological advances as natural or unnatural interventions,” said Lustig.
“Nevertheless, it is unclear how those labels, in and of themselves, influence
moral judgment about particular issues.”

The grant money will be
used to convene groups of scholars at annual conferences, publish three books
summarizing the research, provide briefing documents for the media and develop a
new Web site focusing on the ethical issues raised by biotechnology

The program was created
in July 2000 and is committed to fostering academic and public discussion of the
deeper conceptual issues posed by recent developments in biotechnology. It seeks
to place current debates within larger traditions of religious and ethical

The funding from the
Ford Foundation is the first grant award the study has received.

“The national debate
about biotechnology research and policy is profoundly influenced by Western
religious and cultural understandings of nature,” said Constance H. Buchanan,
senior program officer for religion, society and culture at the Ford Foundation.
“Until now, these have not been the subject of rigorous, comparative study. This
undertaking promises to produce important new insights into the moral
implications of biotechnology.”


Rice University is consistently ranked one of America’s
best teaching and research universities. It is distinguished by its: size-2,700
undergraduates and 1,500 graduate students; selectivity-10 applicants for each
place in the freshman class; resources-an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio
of 5-to-1, and the fourth largest endowment per student among private American
universities; residential college system, which builds communities that are both
close-knit and diverse; and collaborative culture, which crosses disciplines,
integrates teaching and research, and intermingles undergraduate and graduate
work. Rice’s wooded campus is located in the nation’s fourth largest city and on
America’s South Coast.

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