Friday, February 08, 2002


The Daily Standard ran another piece on the horrors of cloning research and the terrible folly we risk if we make possible genetic enhancements to humans. Here's my reply.

Well, the opposition to cloning and embryonic stem cell research finally comes clean. The real horror is not the techniques of this nascent science (though those techniques are quite terrible, Smith hastens to point out, having decided for all of us that the soul attaches at conception -- has he brought other stone tablets down from on high?), but the result that will follow if this science is not stamped out, and now: people might actually be able to choose for their children the potential of longer lives, abetted by bodies and brains that are genetically predisposed towards greater abilities and fewer limits. How horrible! God forbid that a Steven Hawking might be born without a wracked shell for a body. Let's make sure that the lottery of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and slow-wittedness continues unabated. Don't deny parents the thrilling chance to have their own Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, blind, or other special child. After all, it builds character. And let's for sure keep the chance of passing on sparks of genius in the arts, athletics, the professions, science and every other field of human endeavor totally random, as God intended. We wouldn't want a bunch of Picassos, or Ruths, or Darrows, or Curies, or Churchills running around. Who'd be left to watch Oprah and Rosie?

Not so my God. He created us in the midst of this universe of infinite size, infinite danger, and infinite possibility, and He gave us just one weapon to match against that vastness: the human mind. Our long ascent from the caves, through barbarism, to our current semi-civilized state, we owe to that tool. And we owe Him, and ourselves, continued striving towards something better. It's not necessary that we have mapped out what that something is. What is needed is a commitment to continue the struggle, unburdened by irrational fear, sometimes referred to as "the wisdom of repugnance." New science always offers possibilities, not promises. We should trust ourselves, and our essential humanity, which is surely resilient enough to withstand changes in the vessel which houses it (remember, Yoda teaches: "Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter [flesh and blood]").

Before we buy the bogeyman of Brave New World, mustn't we recognize that the horror of that world lies not in the genetic techniques that are such an instrument of oppression, but in the fact of oppresssion? Try thinking of an open, democratic society governed by the rule of law, where genetic enhancement is an available choice, not a totalitarian requirement.

Of course, this science is coming, no matter what the President and congress do. All they can do by enacting prohibitions is: 1) delay things, so the lottery grips a couple more generations and 2) make sure that America follows, not leads, the charge. And the leaders might well be nations who don't share our libertarian institutions and unwillingness to see science used for oppression.

No comments: