[extropy-chat] RE: [wta-talk] CBC: A Manifesto on Biotechnology and Human Dignity

The Avantguardian avantguardian2020 at yahoo.com
Sat May 14 03:30:57 UTC 2005

--- "nvitamore at austin.rr.com" 

CBC: A Manifesto on
> Biotechnology and Human Dignity
>     "Our children are creations, not
> commodities."President George W. Bush

Except insofar as Bush can squander our children's
financial futures with deficit spending and
educational cut backs in order to finance a military
campaign to seize the few paltry oil reserves
remaining in the world. Oil reserves that are bound to
run dry before our children get driver's licenses. 

>     "If any one age really attains, by eugenics and
> scientific education,
>     the power to make its descendants what it
> pleases, all men who live
>     after are the patients of that power," slaves to
> the "dead hand of the
>     great planners and conditioners." C. S. Lewis

In a certain sense we are all slaves to the situations
left by our forebears, whether they practiced eugenics
or not. It is the harsh reality of the world that
children have no choice but to inherit their legacy,
but it is the responsibility of adults to leave them a
legacy worth inheriting. 

>      1. The Issue
>         The debates over human cloning have focused
> our attention on the
>         significance for the human race of what has
> been called "the
>         biotech century." Biotechnology raises great
> hopes for
>         technological progress; but it also raises
> profound moral
>         questions, since it gives us new power over
> our own nature. It
>         poses in the sharpest form the question:
> What does it mean to be
>         human?

That depends. Since we have had the ability to discern
our own nature, we have always differed from the beast
in spirit. Now that we have the power to change our
nature, we have the potential to differ from the beast
not just spiritually but in all ways. The question is
do we want to remain forever in limbo caught between
the worm and the divine or are we willing to let go of
the worm and embrace the divine. What does it mean to
be human? Whatever we want it to and whatever we allow
it to.  

>      2. Biotechnology and Moral Questions
>         Before long, scientists will also be able to
> intervene in human
>         nature by making inheritable genetic
> changes. Biotechnology
>         companies are already staking claims to
> parts of the human body
>         through patents on human genes, cells, and
> other tissues for
>         commercial use.

      In recent years, through some perverse logic,
biology has become the whipping-boy of the religious
right. Don't blame biotechnology for the
"commodification" of humanity. That has been happening
for thousands of years. Slaves, serfs, or labor, it
has been our own lust for wealth and power that has
commodified mankind. This condition is brought about
by consumerism and unregulated capitalism. Biology is
simply what its name means, "the words of life" from
Greek. It is a description of the processes which
govern the physiological processes of life. Capitalism
on the other hand, is the wholesale worship of money
and consumerism is the glorification of waste.
Biotechnology is no more responsible for the
commodification of humanity than fire is responsible
for war.    

 Genetic information about
> the individual may make
>         possible advances in diagnosis and treatment
> of disease, but it
>         may also make those with "weaker" genes
> subject to discrimination
>         along eugenic lines.

     Genetic information is just another realm of
perception. One of the lesser natures of man is his
tendency to discriminate against any differences he
can perceive between himself and others. Given sight
and skin color, he will discriminate on the basis of
that. Given religion and language, he will
discriminate on the basis of that. Again genetic
differences and the information that call these
differences to our attention are no more responsible
for prejudice than is skin color or any of the
thousand heritable traits that we can enumerate. To
deny ourselves the fruits of biology on this basis is
nearly as inexcusable as to infect all of mankind with
a virus that turns us all purple so that we can no
longer discriminate on the basis of skin color. 

>      3. The Uniqueness of Humanity and Its Dignity
>         These questions have led many to believe
> that in biotechnology we
>         meet the moral challenge of the twenty-first
> century. For the
>         uniqueness of human nature is at stake.
> Human dignity is
>         indivisible: the aged, the sick, the very
> young, those with
>         genetic diseases--every human being is
> possessed of an equal
>         dignity; any threat to the dignity of one is
> a threat to us all.
>         This challenge is not simply for Christians.
> Jews, Muslims, and
>         members of other faiths have voiced the same
> concerns. So, too,
>         have millions of others who understand that
> humans are distinct
>         from all other species; at every stage of
> life and in every
>         condition of dependency they are
> intrinsically valuable and
>         deserving of full moral respect. To argue
> otherwise will lead to
>         the ultimate tyranny in which someone
> determines who are deemed
>         worthy of protection and those who are not.

I agree fully with this. I do believe that every human
being is deserving of dignity and respect no matter
what their state of dependency. Yet being deserving of
dignity and actually possessing it are two different
things. An 86 year old man in a nursing home is most
certainly deserving of dignity and respect. But when
he is senile and calling for his mother while a nurse
changes his diaper only because she is paid to do it,
does he really have any? I and other biotechnologists
want to give that man BACK his dignity. How is this

>      4. Why This Must Be Addressed
>         As C. S. Lewis warned a half-century ago in
> his remarkable essay
>         The Abolition of Man, the new capacities of
> biotechnology give us
>         power over ourselves and our own nature. But
> such power will
>         always tend to turn us into commodities that
> have been
>         manufactured. As we develop powers to make
> inheritable changes in
>         human nature, we become controllers of every
> future generation.
>         It is therefore vital that we undertake a
> serious national
>         conversation to ensure a thorough
> understanding of these
>         questions, and their answers, so that our
> democratic institutions
>         will be able to make prudent choices as
> public policy is shaped
>         for the future.

Where is the conversation? These guys gather together
some big names with fancy degrees and pedigrees that
all believe the same argument. An argument that they
have not subjected to the purifying flames of reason.
Then they draft some blanket manifesto replete with
references to a guy who writes children's books about
a magic closet and they call this a national
conversation? Where is MY voice in this conversation?

>      5. What We Propose
>         We strongly favor work in biotechnology that
> will lead to cures
>         for diseases and disabilities, and are
> excited by the promise of
>         stem cells from adult donors and  other
> ethical avenues of
>         research. We see that around the world other
> jurisdictions have
>         begun to develop ethical standards within
> which biotech can
>         flourish. We note that Germany, which
> because of its Nazi past has
>         a unique sensitivity to unethical science
> and medicine, has
>         enacted laws that prohibit all cloning and
> other unethical biotech
>         options. We note that the one international
> bioethics treaty, the
>         European Convention on Human Rights and
> Biomedicine, outlaws all
>         inheritable genetic changes and has been
> amended to prohibit all
>         cloning.

I do not believe that the ethics of cloning has been
settled to my own satisfaction.

>         We therefore seek as an urgent first step a
> comprehensive ban on
>         all human cloning and inheritable genetic
> modification.

Banning all cloning is not going to help the condition
of the world one bit. The second part of the ban
against all heritable genetic modification is even
more ridiculous. After all it doesn't specify
artificial modification. Thus these guys want to pass
a man-made law to prohibit something that occurs by
natural means all the time. Thus it will be illegal to
evolve and adapt to changing enviroments or for that
matter to have inter-racial sexual relations for the
purpose of procreation.  

> This is imperative to prevent the birth of a
> generation of malformed
>         humans (animal cloning has led to grotesque
> failures).

I am thouroughly against the creation of quasi-human
abominations. I am reasonably certain that almost all
biotechnologists feel the same as I do on this point.
This is why we are perfecting our techniques in
animals so that this does not occur. In regards to
malformed humans, this occurs in nature from time to
time without any help from well-meaning scientists.
Also, if thalidomide is any indication, traditional
medicine and drug development can cause these problems
as well. I see no reason to single out cloning as
being responsible for this phenomenon, since to my
knowledge it has never occured in humans. . .  unless
the Raelians are hiding them in their basement or

> and the establishment of vast experimental embryo
> farms with millions of
>         cloned humans..

     Ok so these guys have read the bible (maybe),
C.S. Lewis, and Aldous Huxley. What about the
establishment of vast consumer farms, where the giant
corporations graze on us like herds of cattle? These
are called cities. Is this any more "human" or

>         We emphasize: All human cloning must be
> banned. There are those
>         who argue that cloning can be sanctioned for
> medical
>         experimentation--so-called "therapeutic"
> purposes. No matter what
>         promise this might hold--all of which we
> note is speculative--it
>         is morally offensive since it involves
> creating, killing, and
>         harvesting one human being in the service of
> others.

     No, it can be done ethically by not "creating"
one human being but "copying" one human being. I agree
with these jokers that intellectual property laws
SHOULD be reformed but not in the fashion that they
intend. Instead I would posit that every human being
should own a "de facto" copyright on their own genetic
code. If one takes this to be true, that a person owns
their own genetic blueprint, then therapeutic cloning
seems much less scary. If I were to conceive and grow
an embryo that was completely unrelated to me then
kill it to harvest its embryonic stem cells, then I
could see that that would be unethical. It would
indeed be growing one human being only to harvest it
so as to serve another.
     But on the other hand, if I were take a nucleus
from one of my own skin cells, implant it into an
unfertilized egg, wait for an embryo to form but not
waiting long enough for it to develop a nervous
system, and harvest the embryonic stem cells from it,
I don't see anything morally objectionable to that.
The cells are human yes, but the only specific human
that they can be traced to is me. And I willingly
agreed to the procedure in the first place. They are
built to the specifications of my genome and therefore
they are for all intent and purposes my cells. Yes
they are alive, but so are the thousands of skin cells
that you slough off me in the shower on a daily basis.
It is a sign of ignorance to decide that one clump of
cells deserves human rights while another clump does
not when in fact the cells have the identical genetic
information. They should be and are, in my opinion,
the same thing. Sure, one can say that given elaborate
conditions (such as implantation into some woman's
womb) that the ES cells might become become a fully
formed human but this argument is flawed because with
another set of elaborate conditions (the cells undergo
nuclear transfer into an egg cell) the skin cells can
become a fully formed human. Thus, I think that a
person's genome is their property. If they choose to
create a genetic copy of themselves in case the
original gets damaged, I don't see how the LAW can
justify preventing this. Of course by this argument it
is assumed that the cloned embryo must be harvested
before it develops a nervous system. Once this
happens, I could not swear that harvesting them would
NOT be taking a human life, but every technique for
therapeutic cloning now devised involves harvesting
these cells LONG before they develop a nervous system.
So until a nervous system is formed, the clump of
cells is not a human being. It is a potential human
being but so is every flake of dandruff you brush off
your collar every day. 

> No civilized
>         state could countenance such a practice.
> Moreover, if cloning for
>         experiments is allowed, how could we ensure
> that a cloned embryo
>         would not be implanted in a womb? The
> Department of Justice has
>         testified that such a law would be
> unenforceable.

Yeah, its funny how the civilized state won't
countenance cloning or other reproductive sciences but
the science of developing weapons of mass destruction
is countenanced, encouraged, and well funded.

>We also seek legislation to prohibit discrimination
>based on genetic information, which is private to
>the individual. We seek a wide-ranging review of the
>patent law to protect human dignity from the
>commercial use of human genes, cells, and other
>tissue. We believe that such public policy
>initiatives will help ensure the progress of ethical
>biotechnology while protecting the sanctity of human

I strongly support that all biological and medical
research be conducted in an ethical manner. I believe
most strongly that genetic information is private to
the individual. I would go one step farther and say
that all genetic information is the intellectual
property of the individual. I would not mind a FAIR
AND WELL THOUGHT OUT review of patent law. I have no
problem with legally protecting the rights and dignity
of human beings. If it were possible, I would advocate
developing cures for disease and human suffering free
of cost so that EVERYONE would benefit.
Unfortuanately, I don't make those decisions, the
politicans do. The same politicians that are making
all these intellectually lazy arguments against
cloning and stem cells because of some vague passages
in the bible and some science fiction story they read
in 4th grade.

>We welcome all medical and scientific research as
>long as it is firmly tethered to moral truth.
>History teaches that whenever the two have been
>separated, the consequence is disaster and great
>suffering for humanity.

There is NO gradation or prioritizing of truth. Truth
is truth. Falsehood is falsehood. No one truth is more
important than another truth. One cannot take a
scientific truth like the earth goes around the sun
and then make it conditional on some moral truth like
humans have rights. This is ridiculous. Are we to
believe that if there were no human beings than the
earth would stop revolving around the sun? I am so
sick and tired of these people! Its hard enough trying
to figure out how biology and ageing work without
having these armchair ethicists try to tell me what's
right or wrong when the majority have not even cracked
a basic textbook on biology since 6th grade let alone
prayed, meditated, and communed with the holy spirit
upon the technologies they have so summarily rejected.
    Natasha, I don't know if I know enough about
transhumanism to write a general manifesto about it.
But I do know enough about both biology and religion
to write a Biotechnologist's Manifesto that will blow
these turkeys away. I was hoping somebody else would
do this, but every article, editorial, and manifesto I
have come across seems to condemn what I have devoted
my life to on the basis of the same flabby moral
arguments. I am ready to fight back.

The Avantguardian 
Stuart LaForge
alt email: stuart"AT"ucla.edu

"The surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that they haven't attempted to contact us." 
-Bill Watterson

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