Courage for a Brave New World: Medical Genetics, Evolution, and a Roman Catholic Approach to Human Gene Transfer

Defense Date


Graduation Date

Summer 1-1-2006



Submission Type


Degree Name



Health Care Ethics


McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts

Committee Chair

David F. Kelly

Committee Member

Aaron L. Mackler

Committee Member

James P. Bailey


biological evolution, biotechnology, Catholic bioethics, evolution, gene therapy, genetic engineering, genetic enhancement, genetic medicine, health care ethics, human gene transfer, medical genetics, moral methodology


This dissertation answers the question, "How does one know what forms of human gene transfer are morally permissible from a Catholic perspective, within an evolutionary worldview, and in the context of genetic medicine?" This is a study of moral methodology applied to a particular form of genetic engineering (i.e., human gene transfer, HGT) in the Catholic tradition. It includes a brief survey of the state of the art of HGT, a survey that concludes at the end of 2004. It defines HGT as well as identifies accomplishments and obstacles of the technology. The study also examines biological evolution and how this process relates biological information (e.g., genes) to a concept of normality. Here, particular attention is paid to variation and adaptation. Next, the study places the normative question of HGT in the context of genetic medicine by exploring the philosophy of medicine. It connects interpretations of HGT to the goals of medicine by examining and expanding the four-quadrant division of HGT (i.e., therapy, enhancement, somatic cell, and germ-line cell interventions). To formulate a Catholic perspective, this study examines the hermeneutic framework of theological anthropology by describing the five Christian themes of creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and eschatology. Moreover, the Catholic perspective includes specific approaches of moral theology and Christian ethics. Here, this study examines natural law ethical theory at the metaethical and normative levels, in particular proportionalism. The study concludes by identifying key ethical issues involved in making a moral judgment on HGT interventions. These are organized under deontological, axiological, and ethological issues. Deontological issues include issues of obedience to civil law and regulations, Church teaching, and professional codes and moratoria. Axiological issues include issues involved in determining the rightness or wrongness of actions by reference to value or disvalue (e.g., life, health, social justice, etc.). Finally, ethological issues include those associated with acting with integrity of conscience (responsibly forming a conscience) as well as integrity of character (acting in a manner consistent with virtue).





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