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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"The ethical issues are clear" - really?

So, we might be able to use gene therapy to eliminate mitochondrial disease. Sounds good to me! Surely research on this should go ahead, yes? Well, not so fast - of course there is opposition to it and a law against it.

It would be nice if journalists would spell out what exactly the ethical issues are when they insert lazy wording such as, "The ethical issues raised by the procedure are clear but for many doctors these are overridden by the chance to prevent life-threatening disease."

Presumably the issues are as per the previous sentence, "While gene therapy (inserting healthy genes) has been used to treat patients in the past, this marks a new level of human genetic modification, and sets a precedent by introducing genetic changes that pass down to future generations." But why is that a problem in itself? Why should anyone imagine that there is something intrinsically bad about that? If it's used for some harmful purpose it's a bad action, but just describing the action without reference to its purpose or its consequences seems to leave the issue of what the "ethical issues" might be entirely opaque.

It seems like a nice case to discuss in my forthcoming book, Humanity Enhanced, although I actually propose to defend more radical uses of biotechnology than this.

1 comment:

Dreas said...

Interesting. We clearly do seek to suppress factors that cause genetic changes, such as cosmic rays. I wear sun tan lotion. But all these measures are to prevent an early death.

Are the ethical concerns perhaps that we might introduce genetic changes that albeit beneficial to one individual are harmful to the species at large? What might they be? A medical cure causing a new breed of superhumans that wantonly destroy their inferior heritage?

Or is it just about the dangers of the unknown? Better to live with the problems we know than the problems we haven't yet anticipated! Should we then prevent all factors that might cause genetic changes? Earth bubble?

Ah, probably just a case of lazy cut-and-paste journalism.