Comment Visions, an international on-line debate forum, asked my view on the following question:
Biotechnology has been hailed as the wonder industry of the 21st Century, but are we capable of controlling it?Here is my reply:
Biotechnology offers tremendous promise and peril. The peril arises, in my view, from a general lack of humility within the sector and a professed unwillingness among some of its leaders to accept that there are any ethical lines that must be respected other than their own. More importantly, many have discarded the belief in the intrinsic equal moral worth of all human beings. As a consequence many in the field have come to look upon nascent humans as mere natural resources that can be used instrumentally. Most of this discussion now centers on early embryos. But the emerging predominate value system within the biotech sector—which denies intrinsic human worth and advocates for establishing moral value based on capacities—would just as easily justify using living fetuses in experimentation (which was done in the USA in the late 1960s), and even people born with profound cognitive impairments, a proposal already being voiced in some of the world’s most prestigious bioethical journals.The responses were supposed to be brief, and whole books could be and have been written on the subject, but that sums my thoughts up pretty well.
The problem isn’t that scientists and ethicists want to improve human health and wellbeing. We all want that (just not at any price). The problem, as I see it, is an emerging utopian attitude that threatens to make something of a religion out of science and accepts a utilitarianism that could devolve into a new eugenics. So, while we are certainly capable of controlling biotechnology, alas, I do not see a sufficient willingness among the leadership of the science and biotech sectors to do so. This not only bodes poorly for the weak and vulnerable but risks unleashing a popular backlash against science for refusing to adhere to reasonable societal norms.
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