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Kingdom of Priests

Do you ever notice how religious believers are always cited by the media as “devout” precisely when they are equivocating on basic Judeo-Christian moral and theological tenets? Dr. Francis Collins has some startling ideas on abortion. Startling, that is, from an Evangelical Christian who is Obama’s choice to head up the National Institutes of Health. He’s a favorite church speaker with Evangelical audiences, especially on how Darwinism poses no threat to their faith.
My colleague Bruce Chapman notes, “When the confirmation hearings take place I would not be surprised to hear some sharp questions about Dr. Collins’s less known views on subjects that have not come out on his pulpit tours.” The following was shared with me. So I’ll share it with you.

Q: [S]ometimes when parents learn that their child has Down Syndrome, they terminate the pregnancy. What is your opinion of that sort of scenario?

A: I’m troubled that the applications of genetics that are currently possible are oftentimes in the prenatal arena. That is not the reason I went into this field.

The reason I went into this field was to figure out how to treat illnesses, rather than try to stop such individuals from even being born. But, of course, in our current society, people are in a circumstance of being able to take advantage of those technologies. And we have decided as a society that that choice needs to be defended.

From a 1993 New York Times profile of Collins:

“It is difficult to say you can’t abort, but for overall cultural mores, you run into problems,” Dr. Collins said. “It’s the classic slippery slope. You have a gray scale going from diseases like Tay-Sachs disease that cause death in early childhood all the way to the other end of the spectrum with abortions for sex selection, which most people would say is a misuse of technology. In between is a gray zone. Where do you draw the line?

In a 1998 book he co-authored, Principles of Medical Genetics, he considers a bioethical situation where a genetic counselor is discussing with a (married) mother, 8 weeks pregnant, whether to abort her child because there’s a 7 to 8 percent chance the child will have a mild learning disability. Should the mother indicate an interest in aborting, Collins and his two co-authors commend to the counselor a stance of “respect for [patient] autonomy” and “nondirective counseling.” In other words, the medical professional in this context should be morally neutral.
You’ll find a link to the page in the book on Google Books here.
In an appendix to his bestselling The Language of God (2006), he questions “the insistence that the spiritual nature of a person is uniquely defined at the very moment of conception.” He also defends “therapeutic” human cloning in these terms:

I would argue that the immediate product of a skin cell and an enucleated egg cell fall short of the moral status of the union of sperm and egg. The former is not part of God’s plan to create a human individual. The latter is very much God’s plan, carried out through the millennia by our own species and many others.

NPR has a wonderful photo of Dr. Collins “all smiles” at a White House ceremony where President Obama signed an Executive Order giving a green light to research performed on human embryonic stem cells.
You might want to take a look at my post from last week on Abortion & “Worldview-Induced Blindness.”
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