January 27, 2003
Bioethics and the Inevitability of Biotechnical Advances

The Winter 2003 issue of The Public Interest has some essays in response to the US Presidentís Council on Bioethics report entitled Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry. The head of the commission, Leon Kass, provides comments along with Diana Schaub, William A. Galston, and J. Bottum. The most interesting essay of the lot is written by Charles Murray and is entitled An opportunity lost.

If in 1939, when we already had the physics for the atom bomb, we didnít yet have a Hitler, it is quite possible that many physicists would have said, ďTake this cup from our lips. We donít want to spend the next five years building an atom bomb.Ē Yet biotechnology is different. The scientists in the field do not see themselves as engaged in the work of the devil; they see themselves as bringing incalculable benefits to mankind. They do not see Leon Kass and other members of the Presidentís Council as people who are trying to hold back and ponder at greater lengths extremely difficult moral questions. They see them as troglodytes.

Furthermore, hundreds of billions of dollars are to be made in biotechnology. If you take a group of scientists who think they are doing the Lordís work (even if most of them are not religious) and if there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made, I promise you, it will happen. It may not happen in the United States if we pass certain laws, but it will happen.

In this respect, there are a variety of ways in which the councilís report, much as I admire its tone and spirit, represents a missed opportunity. For once we realize that the development of this technology is inevitable, then our approach becomes quite different from the councilís. Most importantly, we would take steps to make sure that the United States remains the center of this research, that the top scientists in the world are socialized here, and that the best graduate students come here to learn how to do it. At least then the science would develop within an ethos of moral responsibility. Such will not happen if the center of research is in China, or if it is done under cover in Barbados.

I agree with Murray that the biotech advances to perfect human reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning will happen somewhere. These technologies will then become available in many countries regardless of what biotechnologies the United States government decides to prohibit within US borders.

What are needed are more practical arguments about likely effects of the use of various coming biotechnologies. For instance, reproductive cloning that produces many identical copies could make conventional police work much harder to do. Also, cloning that produces many identical copies could result in clones that feel like they share much in common distinct from the larger society. This could have effects similar to what is seen in societies where the widespread practice of cousin marriage creates family bonds that reduce loyalty toward the larger society in ways that make good government impossible to achieve.

Some who are opposed to therapeutic cloning take that position because they view that an embryo as a human life that it is entitled to all the legal protections granted to fully formed human. They haven't yet succeeded in winning that argument on the abortion issue. Now advances in biotechnology have made status of early stage embryos relevant to the development of new therapeutic treatments as well. That debate has such emotive force that its acting rather like a black hole in the realm of bioethical debate. There are a lot of other relevant observations, such as Charles Murray's argument about the inevitability of the biotechnical advances that will make treatments based on therapeutic cloning a reality, that are not getting the hearing they deserve.

Banning all kinds of human cloning will not eliminate the greatest dangers that likely biotechnological advances will pose to humanity. The cloning issue is simply not the most important bioethics issue if we look at it from the standpoint of threat to society and threat to the existence of the human race. We should be more concerned about sexual selection technologies creating imbalances between the sexes (the use of ultrasound for selective abortion is already having dramatic effect in sex ratios in China and India), the use of personality engineering to create everything from psychopaths to obedient drones, and the potential for genetically engineered bioweapons to kill or harm large portions of the human population.

Legal approaches are not even the most productive avenue of pursuit to reduce the incidence of therapeutic cloning. The opponents of therapeutic cloning ought to admit to themselves that it is going to happen no matter what law they manage to get the US Congress to pass. If they care strongly about minimizing the use of therapeutic cloning then the wisest course of action would be to lobby for increased funding to accelerate the development of alternative technological approaches.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 January 27 03:14 PM  Biotech Society

trevor said at December 19, 2005 11:12 PM:

I am not the smarts person in the world but I have a lot of commonsense. Which a lot of you science people do not have. Yes it is great from the therapeutic point and technology advances. But it should be under the microscope and watched extremely carefully. Because say if you do clone someone. Then they kill some one on purpose do you give him the death penalty? Because he is not human he is more like product from a store a and not conception person human? Or what if a clone kills another clone does he go to trial or to jail or death penalty can you insure them? Or say a cop fills threaten by one and kill it does he go to trial for murder? Or say some one in the future became another Hitler and clone a great army then would NATO allows government napalm, muster gas or torture the clones for information? How will we regulate the use for clones and who gets cloned. Do they still have human rights? These are just questions I have. Yes I think it would be great if you scientist could make a hart for a little girl that need one but you have to look at all the pros an cons and moral and every thing out there. Thanks for reading write back if you want to debate.

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