“Ask a Priest: May I Work on a Project Whose Data Might Be Used by IVF Clinics?”

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Q: I work as a computer programmer and am interviewing soon for a new job. The position’s duty is to provide computer support to a research project on how genetics affects cancer development and especially how to improve treatments. I would mostly be building programs that researchers use to store and access clinical records, studies results and other medical and biological data. I have a bit of moral doubt not about the project itself, but about how others may use the research results. Once the data are published, in vitro fertilization clinics might use that knowledge to destroy some human embryos which are more likely to develop the illness based on their genetic material. The project itself is not aimed at this, but to clarify relations between genes and cancer and how to choose better drugs. Do you think it would be a sin for me to take this job? – J.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It is good that you want to avoid unethical work and that you recognize the evil of IVF techniques.

From what you describe, it sounds as though you could take this job if offered.

The reasons are varied. First, the project is at least morally neutral; it can also be seen as a positive good because it can lead to advances in the treatment of cancer.

Second, the research project isn’t aimed at promoting IVF.

True, the project data could be misused for bad things. But that is the case with lots of things.

Let’s say you worked in a cutlery factory that makes knives for food preparation. You wouldn’t be blameworthy if a customer later ends up using one of those knives to attack his neighbor.

It would be a different case if you find out later that this research project decides to do work specifically for IVF clinics. That would be a different situation since the project would be giving proximate material cooperation (and possibly formal cooperation) in evil.

In that case you could be morally required to drop the work.

I hope some of this helps. Count on my prayers.


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