Blank Check Ethics: Here Come the "Manimals"
Get ready for the "manimals." In Sunday's Washington Post, Will Saletan describes how some scientists have cut themselves loose from the tether of self restraint and are busily planning the creation of human/animal chimeras with increasingly human attributes. From his column:
So far, our [human/animal] mixtures are modest. To make humanized animals really creepy, you'd have to do several things. You'd increase the ratio of human to animal DNA. You'd transplant human cells that spread throughout the body. You'd do it early in embryonic development, so the human cells would shape the animals' architecture, not just blend in. You'd grow the embryos to maturity. And you'd start messing with the brain.Of course we are. Too many of "the scientists" have decided that curiosity, the laudable desire to achieve increasingly miraculous scientific and medical advances, and/or the drive to gain fame and fortune with the newest biotechnological breakthrough justifies their doing whatever they decide is necessary to achieve their desired ends. And so, they zoom along, heedless of the ethical objections that society might have to their biological manipulations, bitterly denigrating anyone who might express doubts as "anti-science."
We're doing all of these things.
This intimidates some people, but not everyone. Reading Saletan's piece brought to mind one of my favorite essays on the subject, written for the Weekly Standard several years ago by my good friend Joseph Bottum (now the editor of First Things) in reaction to a probably false news story that "the scientists" had created a human/pig embryo through cloning. "The Pig Man Cometh" is a wonderful, if hyperbolic, expression of wholly justified righteous rage by one of our best thinkers and writers. Here's a sampling:
You can't say we weren't warned. This is the island of Dr. Moreau. This is the brave new world. This is Dr. Frankenstein's chamber. This is Dr. Jekyll's room. This is Satan's Pandemonium, the city of self-destruction the rebel angels wrought in their all-consuming pride...We have reached the logical end, at last. We have become the people that, once upon a time, our ancestors used fairy tales to warn their children against-and we will reap exactly the consequences those tales foretold.
Like the coming true of an old story-the discovery of the philosopher's stone, the rubbing of a magic lantern-biotechnology is delivering the most astonishing medical advances anyone has ever imagined. You and I will live for many years in youthful health: Our cancers, our senilities, our coughs, and our infirmities all swept away on the triumphant, cresting wave of science.
But our sons and daughters will mate with the pig-men, if the pig-men will have them. And our swine-snouted grandchildren-the fruit not of our loins, but of our arrogance and our bright test tubes-will use the story of our generation to teach a moral to their frightened litters.
Saletan doesn't think any of this can be stopped. He concludes:
If you want permanent restrictions, your best bet is the senator who tried to impose them two years ago. He's the same presidential candidate now leading the charge against evolution: Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican. He thinks we're separate from other animals, "unique in the created order." Too bad this wasn't true in the past -- and won't be true in the future.I'm not so pessimistic. It isn't just Senator Brownback who opposes these agendas. Even most scientists don't want to take things as far as Bottum's metaphorical "swine-snouted grandchildren." And a big push back is coming. At some point either common sense will prevail and scientific freedom will be exercised responsibly or society will finally say, "Enough!" and apply the appropriate corrective. If that leads to the over regulation of science, the anything goes crowd will only have themselves to blame.
Labels: Anything Goes Science.