Karl Rahner and Genetic Engineering

Philosophy and Theology 9 (1/2):177-200 (1995)
Abstract
Karl Rahner’s analysis of genetic manipulation is found most explicitly in two articles written in 1966 and 1968: “The Experiment with Man,” and “The Problem of Genetic Manipulation.” The articles have received some attention in ethical literature. The present paper analyzes Rahner’s use of theological and ethical principles, comparing and contrasting the two articles. In the first article, Rahner emphasizes humankind’s essential openness to self-creativity. What has always been true on the transcendental level—-we choose our final destiny and thus create ourselves—-may now be possible as well on the categorial or historical level. Thus we Christians have no a-priori theological warrant for rejecting genetic manipulation.But there is a considerable difference in Rahner’s second article. Whereas in the first he makes no immediate ethical application, in the second he introduces both a normative principle—-there ought never be a fundamental separation of procreation and marital intercourse—-and a metaethical concept--his “moral instinct of faith”—-to enable him to deal specifically with artificial insemination by third party donor, a procedure he rejects. There is also a shift in emphasis in his anthropological approach from the first to the second article.A close analysis of his method here discloses some difficulties concerning the “moral instinct of faith” and forces us to ask how principles of theological anthropology are and ought to be applied to questions like genetic manipulation. I conclude with my own proposal for the use of theological principles in medical ethics
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