Study of morality of biotechnology gets lift

of morality of biotechnology gets lift
$1 million Ford grant to fund Rice, Baylor collaborative


Rice News Staff

Religious questions
concerning 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 through 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 titled “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.

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

The study is
directed by Andrew Lustig, who also is the director of the
Program on Biotechnology, Religion and Ethics. Baruch Brody,
Rice professor of philosophy and the director of the Baylor
Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, is chair of
the advisory committee.

often describe biotechnological advances as natural or unnatural
interventions,” Lustig said. “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 developments.

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 reflection.

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.”

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