Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Dangers of Synthetic Life

Here is an excellent commentary on the recent news that scientists made the next step in creating synthetic life by inserting an artificial genome into a cell.  

Regulate Synthetic Life Science While the Horse is Still in the Barn

June 10th, 2010
By Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
The media was all atwitter a few weeks ago when scientists announced that they had created synthetic life.Technically, that isn’t true—if by synthetic life one means creating life out of non life. Rather, scientists took a living bacterium, removed its genetic content, and replaced it with a manufactured genome of a different species. The new genome took control of the existing cell and created a new species that acted like its natural counterparts, including cell splitting. Thus, it might be more accurate to say that scientists have successfully mimicked life rather than literally created it.
Semantics aside, it was an astounding scientific achievement that could lead, the scientists said, to man exerting “a new power over life.” They weren’t kidding. The potential safety and ethical consequences of learning to engineer new life forms—including eventually of the human variety—is hard to overstate.
That being so, we had better get about the task of erecting legally enforceable safety and ethical parameters around this field while we still have time to act deliberately. And here’s an important truth: If society doesn’t decide where we want the science to go—and not go—the amoral inertial imperative of technological advance will fill the resulting vacuum with potentially terrible consequences.
We have already seen the moral and social anarchy that flows from refusing to rationally regulate the awesome power of emerging life sciences. When in vitro fertilization (IVF) became a possible means of treating infertility, critics worried about ethical and practical consequences that could result when we took reproduction literally into our own hands. But IVF boosters scoffed at these concerns, assuring us that scientists could be trusted to exercise prudence and self control without the need to resort to government regulation. Thus in her 1980 syndicated column “Making Babies,” syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman wrote:
A fear of many protesting the opening of this [IVF] clinic is that doctors there will fertilize myriad eggs and discard the “extras” and the abnormal, as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar. But this fear seems largely unwarranted.
We now know that Goodman was wholly mistaken, that we do indeed “discard” the “extras,” and do view these embryos as “no more meaningful than a dish of caviar.” Worse, because we now have more than 400,000 embryos in hyper-frozen stasis, many view these nascent human beings not as potential babies, but instead, as a bounteous natural resource ripe for exploitation and destruction in medical treatments and various biological experiments, a matter that would have caused horror when Goodman wrote, but which she and much of the science sector now find perfectly acceptable.
Indeed by failing to regulate IVF, it has, in effect, regulated us, leading directly to tremendous changes in the norms of family life (e.g., Octomom and aged motherhood), the reemergence of eugenics values (for example, in embryo selection), and an overall utilitarian objectification of unborn life (human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and advocacy to permit fetal farming). If that was true of IVF—which, recall, had the original limited goal of helping infertile married couples have babies—imagine the potential epochal impact broadly synthesizing life could exert over the earth’s biology and human morality............

Read the rest here 


  1. 在莫非定律中有項笨蛋定律:「一個組織中的笨蛋,恆大於等於三分之二。」.................................................................

  2. No such thing as "the amoral inertial imperative of technological advance". The referenced developments in IVF practices are baldly capitalist, and don't really represent major technological advance at all. Researchers themselves are either moral or immoral. The laws are needed so that immorality doesn't become a livelihood, and so that public money doesn't go to illegal experimentation. Mad scientists - the only amoral category - are going to do whatever they can, no matter what the law says, and no one can really stop them.