Over at First Things I get into how one of the most important questions of our time — how to maintain a moral biotech sector — is being ignored in this election season.
Human cloning is being perfected, we are already engaging in embryonic experiments into genetic engineering, and there is a great silence from the media and the candidates.
The last time the media cared about biotechnology was when it hoped to cost George W. Bush a second term for his modest embryonic stem cell funding policy by claiming Bush was keeping miracle cures from suffering people. (All these years later, and embryonic stem cell research still has nothing to show for the hype.)
With no Bush to bash, the media has gone relatively quiescent on these issues. But we need to be talking about these issues because they could materially impact family structures, the general trajectory of the human future, and indeed, our perceptions of what “being human” even means. From my piece:
Biotechnology is moving at such breakneck speed that the term “brave new world” has come to symbolize a particular mindset — nay, an ideology — that sees biology as applied through technology (“biotechnology”) in almost mystical terms.
A new bio-utopian mentality is emerging. As described by bioethicist Gregory Stock in Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, this mentality is “committed to the process of human enhancement and self-directed evolution,” which could not only embed “cultural distinctions…in our genetics” but ultimately “increase the biological differences among human populations.”
Some even foresee a future in which biotechnologists’ manipulations are so radical and widespread that they have blurred the genetic distinctions between some humans and animal species.
The piece was completed before the NIH announced it was thinking of funding research that will inject human stem cells into animal embryos, adding to the urgency of my concern.
In 1946, Huxley fretted that the fictional dystopia he had thought, when he first conjured his novel, would take six hundred years to develop would actually arrive much sooner. “Today,” he wrote, “it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century.”
It doesn’t have to be that way. We need not helplessly, passively, watch biotechnology’s power and influence surge. We can shape biotechnological advances to achieve moral ends. But that will require far more consideration of these issues than we have yet given them.