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United Methodist leads new NCC human genetics committee


United Methodist leads new NCC human genetics committee

Feb. 12, 2004

By Carol Fouke*

NEW YORK (UMNS) - A multidisciplinary committee, working with a blue-ribbon panel of "Senior Sages," will lead the U.S. ecumenical community's work over the next two years on issues of human genetic technology.

The Human Genetics Policy Committee will work on replacing the National Council of Churches' outdated 1986 policy, "Genetic Science for Human Benefit," with a new policy. The council's General Assembly mandated the creation of the committee during an annual meeting in November.

Clare Chapman, a United Methodist and NCC vice president, is chairwoman of the policy committee. The committee's work will guide the council's educational outreach and public policy efforts in the field of genetics.

"I have long been interested in human genetics issues, going back to my time in law school, where I studied the legal aspects of these issues," said Chapman, who is a staff executive with the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns in New York. "This is one area where the secular and religious parts of our lives very significantly overlap. This surely is an important issue for the churches to have resources at hand to help them."

Chapman noted that the 1986 statement was pertinent at the time, "but so much has happened since then. We need new resources and a new way of having dialogue."

The Rev. Eileen W. Lindner, an NCC executive, will serve as staff for the committee. "Nearly everyone agrees that the use of biotechnologies to alleviate human misery, disease and suffering ought to be encouraged," she said. "Likewise, a majority of Christians would have some reservations about the unbridled application of technologies to human life in ways that alter the nature of human life itself - for example, the issue of 'designer babies.'"

The policy development committee will address moral and ethical implications of the whole range of applications of human genetic technology, along with such related issues as equality of access, regulatory issues and so forth, added Lindner, a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"With science moving so fast, at a time when church staffs are downsizing, few churches are able to keep up and develop policy relative to the emerging technology," she said. "For these reasons, the NCC's effort, with the outstanding expertise that we have been able to assemble, clearly is being welcomed.

"Whether you are talking about a Washington office advocating for regulatory standards or a pastor quietly counseling a couple in their home, the Christian church, writ large and small, has need of policy guidance. We hope to be able to offer that in some measure, with an eye toward both justice and pastoral care."

Funds for the committee's work include $15,000 from member communions, $25,000 from the CSFund and $35,000 from the Appleton Foundation.

In addition to Chapman, four other United Methodists are part of the 16-member committee. Members include ethicists, a pediatrics genetics counselor, a genetic scientist, educators, seminarians, theologians, clergy, and denominational and ecumenical leaders. Committee members represent diverse ages and racial/ethnic backgrounds, and include a person with disabilities.

Seven "Senior Sages" will serve as a consulting group to the policy development committee. The consultants include two United Methodists with extensive experience in addressing ethical issues related to the application of biotechnologies to humans.

The Human Genetics Policy Development Committee will build on work done by an earlier Exploratory Committee on Human Genetic Technologies. In 2002 and 2003, the exploratory committee reviewed NCC and member communion statements, studies and other materials concerning biotechnology, along with existing education, outreach and advocacy work related to biotechnology and public policy. That committee's report and recommendations were delivered to the council's 2003 General Assembly and resulted in the call for a new policy.

This spring, the NCC will make available a study guide for use by congregations, ecumenical councils, seminaries and other groups, based on the book Enough by Bill McKibben, which offers ethical reflection from a Christian perspective.

McKibben, a United Methodist, is one of the "Senior Sages" supporting the committee. The book and study guide offer an opportunity to gain a basic understanding of biotechnologies and the opportunities and challenges of their human application.

*Fouke is media liaison for the National Council of Churches USA.

News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 or

Names of members of the National Council of Churches' new Human Genetics Policy Development Committee and Senior Sages group follow.

Clare Chapman (chairperson), United Methodist Church, New York City, national denominational lay leader
Jacqueline Cho, Presbyterian Church (USA), Ardmore, Pa., seminarian
Blythe Crissman, United Methodist Church, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., pediatric genetics counselor
Donald L. Cronkite, Reformed Church in America, Hope College Science Center, Holland, Mich., professor/theologian
Father Demetrios Demopoulos, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Fitchburg, Mass., clergy
The Rev. James Fenimore, United Methodist Church, Christ Church, Troy, N.Y., clergy
Victor Franklin, United Methodist Church, Atlanta, seminarian
The Rev. Bill Gaventa, American Baptist Churches in the USA, the Boggs Center, New Brunswick, N.J., educator/disabilities advocate and chaplain
Christine Gudorf, Roman Catholic Church, Miami Beach, Fla., ethics professor
David Leslie, ecumenist, Portland, Ore., director, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
Gerald McKenney, Presbyterian Church (USA), South Bend, Ind., medical ethicist
Bishop Serapion, Coptic Orthodox Church, Los Angeles, Calif.
The Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, Progressive National Baptist Convention, Washington, pastor
Peter Sulyok, Presbyterian Church (USA), Louisville, Ky., denominational staff/theologian
Olivia White, United Church of Christ, Cleveland, genetic scientist/denominational executive, executive minister, Wider Church Ministries
Anne Wimberly, United Methodist Church, Atlanta, seminary professor

Senior Sages
Cynthia Cohen, Episcopal Church, Garrett Park, Md., academic sociologist
Troy Duster, African Methodist Episcopal Church, New York, academic sociologist
Christine Holland, United Church of Christ, Laytonsville, Md., retired, genetics/medical researcher/public health educator
Neil Lamb, United Methodist Church, Emory University, Lilburn, Ga., medical/genetic medicine
Bill McKibben, United Methodist Church, Middlebury, Vt., writer/thinker
Robert Pollack, Jewish, New York, professor of biology and genetics/science and religion
The Rev. Larry Rasmussen, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, New York, seminary ethicist

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