Wednesday, March 27, 2002


There's a piece in the New York Timeswhich points out the strange bedfellows on the right and left aligning against cloning research. Here's a letter I wrote to the author:

I read your piece in the Times today with great interest. I classify myself neither as an environmentalist -- I have serious questions about whether science truly supports many theses of the movement and suspect it is driven much more by a desire to dictate "natural" living to the society at large on aesthetic grounds than is let on -- nor a social conservative -- the imposition of controversial moral strictures on ones fellows to me is a vile repudiation of everything American.

Thus perhaps it will not surprise you that I'm for cloning research, emphatically including steps that might improve the human animal. Moreover, I'm angered to the point of distraction by those on the left and right who oppose the idea. In your analysis of the strange bedfellows of cloning opposition you miss, perhaps because it's quite unflattering, the philosophical principle, much broader than unity in opposition to this science, which these disparate elements share: a willingness to tell others what they may and may not do in their personal pursuit of health, long life, and happiness. That anyone had the right to tell me I may not seek, through all available means which do not directly injure my fellows, to extend and expand life, health, abilities, resistance to disease and other adverse conditions, for myself or my children, I reject totally. It's widely, and correctly in my view, predicted that if Roe vs.. Wade were overturned and a significant number of states moved to seriously restrict abortion, major civil unrest would follow. I think that disturbance would be nothing compared to the reaction to prohibitions on genetic enhancement of humans, once the possibilities are more closely within our technical grasp and more widely understood.

I think opponents realize this last proposition and are therefore all the more determined to keep the science from reaching the place where dramatic changes are possible. I brand this thinking as cynical and morally bankrupt.

Even the debate on genetic enhancements is being unfairly spun by opponents by resort to comparisons to the Nazis and Brave New World to describe the risks. In addition to their total lack of resemblance to modern Western culture, both of these comparisons suffer as predictors of what could happen because they are based on what is being proved every day to be a false paradigm: that development of this science and its application will be state-controlled and mandated. Much more likely is that these technologies will be harnessed by private institutions, yes even some for profit, and the benefits, and risks, will be available to those that choose them, and that they will penetrate society, or the market, if you prefer, gradually. This scenario drains all the horror out of the genetically enhanced future, from where I sit.

It comes down to whether you are really willing to shoulder the moral burden of telling me I may not, for example, pursue measures that might enable me to live healthily and happily into my second, or even third century, based on unknown and ultimately unknowable costs. I hope you have a strong back.

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