The Southern Baptist Convention is America's largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 16.2 million members in over 44,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC's ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.
The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention is on record in support of genetic research aimed at the treatment and cure of the approximately 4,000 genetically linked diseases which afflict humankind. But while we have been generally supportive of the advance of genetic science, lauding its potential for good, we are equally concerned about the potential for abuses. We view the patenting of human genes as a particularly egregious abuse of genetic technology.
Our candid presupposition is that human beings are more than the sum of their DNA. Our opposition to patenting human beings and their genetic parts is grounded in the unique nature of Homo sapiens. Human beings, alone among living organisms, bear the imago Dei. "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him" (Genesis 1:27). Human life is therefore sacred and possesses unique value derived from the Creator. The patenting of human genetic material attempts to wrest ownership from God and commodifies human biological materials and, potentially, human beings themselves.
Marketing human life is a form of genetic slavery. Instead of whole persons being marched in shackles to the market block, human gene sequences are labeled, patented, and sold to the highest bidders. That researchers and biotechnology companies are applying for the patents clearly signals the shocking direction of current genetic technology. That the U.S. Patent Office would grant such applications is absolutely chilling.
When the framers of the Constitution established congressional power "to promote the progress of science and the useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries," it was impossible to envisage the patenting of human genetic materials. Even in 1952, when Congress passed the Patent Act, intending patentable subject matter to include "anything under the sun that is made by man," it is unlikely that they foresaw human "biopatents."
We, therefore, stand with the ACLU and PUBPAT in concluding that human genetic materials should not be patentable matter.