Science alone cannot provide guidance for a bioengineered future
Would-be cloners like Dr. Richard Seed demonstrate need for ethical standards
When the world was introduced to Dolly, the Scottish ewe cloned from the udder cell of a 6-year-old sheep, I vowed never to eat mint jelly again. I also promised to educate myself about the mysteries of this new type of reproductive technology, one that has profound implications not just for the Scottish sheep industry but for the future of all humanity.
AM I OVERSTATING? Getting a little carried away? Hardly, if you read two books recently published in the wake of Dolly‚s „miraculousš birth: Gina Kolata‚s „Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Beyond,š and „Remaking Eden,š by Princeton University professor Lee Silver.
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One of the strengths of Kolata‚s book is her description of the bioethics movement that emerged in the 1960s as an effort to construct some ethical parameters for scientific inquiry. While Kolata reports on the ethics hullabaloo that arose immediately after Dolly‚s birth became public (President Bill Clinton, for example, directed the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to review the ethical issues associated with human cloning), she shortchanges the reader by displaying a reporter‚s caution in making her own judgments.
Lee Silver, on the other hand, has no such reservations: he‚s unabashedly in the pro-cloning, pro-genetic engineering, pro-tinkering-in-the-Petri-dish camp.
Silver has the annoying habit of injecting his own political and religious biases (it‚s clear he can‚t stand Republicans and dismisses the Roman Catholic hierarchy as a bunch of dim-witted kooks). But his book is a far more satisfying read than Kolata‚s as it continually dares the reader to disagree, which I frequently did.
From the now-common practices of surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization to cloning, the genetic engineering of human embryos and the horrific technique known as fetal mating ų creating life from eggs and sperm of aborted fetuses ų Silver maps the latest developments in reproductive technology and offers a snapshot of the future.
In fact, Silver speculates that this technology will become so advanced ų you guessed it ų that men will be able to become pregnant, using their abdomens as makeshift wombs for embryos created through in-vitro fertilization.
Silver even predicts that the genetic enhancement of embryos will become so technically proficient and culturally accepted that we will, perhaps inadvertently, create an entirely new species (or several new species) of man separate and apart from the „naturalš homo sapiens who do not have the financial wherewithal to undergo genetic enhancements. This process of „self-evolution,š Silver speculates, will develop not over a period of millennia, but mere centuries.
Has Silver accurately described our future? That‚s anybody‚s guess. But he‚s right when he suggests we spend far too little time in the present contemplating the implications of the dizzying advances in the science of reproduction.
We have ceded the field to the scientists. If science can make it happen, it will make it happen, regardless of ethics, morality, or any other possible constraint. After all, Ian Wilmut created Dolly for the most prosaic of reasons: Money. For Wilmut, Dolly was a simple business proposition, not an introduction to a thorny series of ethical questions.
So, too, for the wacky Dr. Richard Seed, the Chicago scientist and failed businessman, who sees big bucks in his future as his off-shore laboratory churns out thousands of cloned human beings each year.
In the wake of Seed‚s explosion on the national scene, Clinton was right to call upon Congress to pass legislation banning human cloning. Yet, in the long-run, I‚m not optimistic about our ability to set enforceable limits on the development and use of new reproductive technologies. After all, in a society that sanctions abortion on demand and countenances nearly 1.5 million abortions each year, it‚s hard to imagine any type of restriction on embryo and fetal experimentation that will have staying power.
If the principle of reproductive liberty trumps everything, as it now does under our current legal system, how can we expect to say „noš to someone who claims he wants to expand the range of „reproductive choicesš available to us all.
Dennis Shea, an attorney in Washington, D.C., is a former advisor to Sen. Bob Dole.