If the Terri Schiavo imbroglio did nothing else it should at least convince people that bioethics is not so abstract and distant after all. While the subject is deservedly associated with academic ivory towers, it is still amazing to me how little concern there is over the looming ethical train-wreck. From experience, I know with certainty that mentioning bioethics is the surest way to drive a house (or blog) guest to call it an early night.
I suppose that I must hazard that risk one more time.
This is a hazard worth bearing because science is moving us very far and very fast. If you are a regular reader and followed the links in my post entitled i, heretic, you probably already have an inkling of the profound issues being raised by current and imminent biological research. If you have not personally delved into bioethics or the very latest on what is happening in biology, you owe it to your kids to do so now.
Science fiction stories have nothing on the current experimental projects that can be found on our nation’s lab benches.
If you doubt the urgency of my plea, here is a short AP news story that might get your attention. While it is a continuing challenge to write about this stuff without striking a hyperbolic tone, frankly, if you can pass over the patent application for a humanzee with a wave of your hand, perhaps you have spent a bit too much time Tivoing sitcoms.
Though it may be offensive to our mass media induced instinct to classify and simply, some problems just will not succumb to that effort. I wish I could tell you that I can offer an easy solution to these pressing issues.
I certainly think that the definition of life that I have previously offered rooting humanness and life in the human genome is a starting place, but surely no more than that. Even if we have a sudden infusion of caution and prudence in such matters and pause this kind of research until our ethics, law and society catch up, there will still be those creations that get made by those unscrupulous souls that will inevitably place themselves above or beyond the law.
It would be comforting if I believed that our legal system is fundamentally robust and able to adapt easily to new developments. But the inadequacy of our law to deal with the issues was profoundly demonstrated by the fact that the humanzee patent application was denied on the basis of constitutional prohibitions against slavery. Yes, slavery. It is somewhat chilling that our legal system’s first response was to protect new life forms with the same tools as they would a human being.
The social and intellectual carnage that will be caused when an illegally created humanzee, or some other being resulting from a chimera project yet to be named, falls ill and seeks a human organ transplant makes me shudder in fear.
But there is little doubt that we will choose to continue to ignore our legal predicament regarding a definition of life though the price we will pay for the convenience of procrastination is clear enough. One only has to consider the Terri Schiavo circus to appreciate where we are headed if we fail to act proactively.
Honestly friends, do we really want that cast of characters haunting our lives indefinitely?
I didn’t think so.
But regardless of what thoughtful Americans might desire, I would recommend your girding your mind. Avoiding the national haunt would require leadership and will. Those who pass for leaders in America today are unfortunately politicians first and have much to gain by letting mere disagreements fester into crises. Until we are sufficiently aroused to collectively call bull-feathers on the usual suspects, we will continue to get what we voted for: a slick and well produced reality show.
This time the reality show affects the world in which our children will live in fundamentally different ways than we have never before even imagined.