[Paleopsych] Ronald Bailey: Hurray for Frankenstein!
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Tue Apr 12 19:57:16 UTC 2005
Ronald Bailey: Hurray for Frankenstein!
4.3.30 (note year)
British parliamentarians welcome the biotech future
The "Frankenstein Report," is what outraged critics are calling a
new report, Human Reproductive Technologies and the Law, that
signals welcome sanity on the cloning front in Western world politics.
The report was issued on March 24 by the cross-party Science and
Technology Committee of the British House of Commons.
What's got the critics' knickers in a twist?
First, the U.K. Members of Parliament (MPs) dare to suggest that a
wide range of current and potential interventions in human
reproduction can, in fact, be done ethically. For example, the MPs
find "no adequate justification for prohibiting the use of sex
selection for family balancing." Family balancing means using
pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to select and implant embryos
of a specific sex to ensure the desired proportion of girls and boys
among your children.
The report also says it's OK to create cloned human embryos for
research aimed at producing immune-compatible transplant tissues and
cells. British regulatory authorities have already approved human
cloning research proposals. The Brits even go as far as suggesting
that cloning for human reproduction might be ethically acceptable.
For example, what would be wrong with this scenario? An embryo with a
defective gene is created by normal in vitro fertilization. Stem cells
are taken from the embryo and the faulty gene is replaced with a
healthy one. A nucleus from the corrected embryonic stem cells is then
installed in an enucleated egg, which matures into an embryo that is
then implanted into his mother's womb. An instant healthy child,
thanks to cloning technology.
The MPs' report notes, sensibly, "If there is to be a total
prohibition of any form of reproductive cloning, it is important that
it is supported by principled arguments why such a technique should be
banned even if it were shown to be safe, effective, and reliable."
In contrast, here on the other side of the pond, the U.S.
President's Council on Bioethics--dominated by bioconservatives--wants
a flat ban on all human reproductive cloning.
And in further contrast to these British parliamentarians, our own
U.S. Congress saw bills reintroduced on March 17 to criminalize
research on both therapeutic (to produce transplant tissues) and
reproductive (to produce babies) cloning.
And while the Brit MPs conclude that "embryos can be created
specifically for research," the Republican leadership in our Congress
is doubtful, although it has just promised to let our representatives
vote on the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2005 which would
at least allow federal funding for research on embryos left over from
The report does take note of the concerns of biotech critics,
including the eugenics fears expressed by anti-biotech activist groups
like Human Genetics Alert: "With the ability to select the
characteristics of and even genetically engineer children according to
consumers' desires comes the concern that human beings are becoming
just another designed object/commodity within the industrial market
system." The MPs tartly reply, "If ensuring that your child is less
likely to face a debilitating disease in the course of their [sic]
life can be termed eugenics, we have no problem with its use."
Finally, and most importantly, the U.K. report rejects the pernicious
precautionary principle, which is slowly gaining a foothold in
bioethical thinking. The precautionary principle basically argues that
nothing should be done until it can be proven absolutely safe. "We do
not see why the area of human reproductive technologies should do
anything other than proceed under the precautionary principle
currently prevalent in scientific, research and clinical practice.
This means...that alleged harms to society or to patients need to be
demonstrated before forward progress is unduly impeded," write the
MPs. In other words, highly speculative fears that sex selection will
lead to sexism, or genetic engineering will socially marginalize the
disabled, or clones will suffer psychological maladjustments, should
not trump the known and sought-after benefits of biotechnological
The good news is that even if the United States does succumb to
bioconservatism, you might still be able to seek cutting-edge biotech
treatments abroad in Britain. Of course, when you come back, you might
be sent to prison for up to 10 years for "importing" illegal biotech
treatments, such as a new liver created from stem cells derived from
cloned embryos. -------------------------------------
Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His new book,
Liberation Biology: A Moral and Scientific Defense of the Biotech
Revolution will be published in June by Prometheus Books.
24. mailto:rbailey at reason.com
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