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Reproductive Genetic Technologies
March 31, 2005

The annual Bouma Lecture at Calvin College will be on a timely topic: religion and human reproductive genetics.

John Evans, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, will deliver the talk on Friday, April 8 at 3:30 p.m. at Calvin in Science Building 010.

The title is "What Religious People Think of Reproductive Genetic Technologies."

Says Evans: "I believe that religion will be the axis of conflict on reproductive genetics, like it has become on the abortion debate. Understanding the roots of this conflict is imperative."

Evans says that the religious beliefs of average Americans are central to predicting their attitudes about these technologies.

"People who know nothing about reproductive genetics reach to the religious parts of their mind, so to speak," he says, "when struggling to form an opinion, often saying these technologies are playing God."

Evans is currently completing work for the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Genetics and Public Policy Center on how the religious laity - the people on the pews - feel about such things as cloning, embryo screening, in vitro fertilization and more.

The Genetics and Public Policy Center is engaged in an ambitious qualitative research project to map out both what various stakeholder groups (physicians, people with genetic disease), and subsets of the general public (African Americans, women) think about reproductive genetics. One of the subsets under investigation is the religious public.

Evans' interviews cut across a wide variety of religious lines, including Catholics, Protestants and Jews. And he found that there were differences in the ways that different groups both draw the lines and defend the lines they have drawn.

Calvin sociologist Jeff Tatum worked on the research project while a graduate student at the University of Virginia, doing data gathering. Since those efforts he has both stayed in touch with Evans and expanded his own research into the intersections of law and ethics, particularly as they relate to assisted suicide. In fact, during Calvin's recent spring break, Tatum (who spent eight years in full-time legal practice in New Mexico, after completing B.A. and J.D. degrees at Texas Tech University) spoke at a conference at Georgetown University where his topic was be the right to die, including the implications of the Florida Terri Schiavo case.

Meanwhile, in his lecture at Calvin, Evans will give preliminary findings from his nation-wide study.

He will give examples from the interview data about topics such as whether different religious traditions hold different notions of suffering, which in turn lead to different conclusions about the need for these technologies. He will also present findings on how the public thinks we should debate these topics: whether we should use our religious language in debates about these most religious of topics.

In 2002 Evans wrote "Playing God? Human Genetic Engineering and the Rationalization of Public Bioethical Debate."

Journal articles he has written include: "Commodifying Life? A Pilot Study of Opinions Regarding Financial Incentives for Organ Donation" and "A Brave New World? How Genetic Technology Might Change Us."

The Bouma Lecture is sponsored annually by the department of sociology and social work in honor of former professor Donald Bouma.