Human embryos have been produced asexually, as with the cloning of Dolly the Sheep. Scientists are getting ready to manufacture “three parent” babies. Chinese reproductive engineers have developed the technology to alter the genes of any cell or organism. There is talk of “fetal farming” to grow fetuses so as to harvest their organs.
Wesley J. Smith reports on the latest developments in genetic engineering and reproductive technology. Huge bioethical questions are being raised, but the only ones answering them are academic philosophers and the scientists themselves with a vested interest in pushing research with no limits.
He proposes instead a broadbased “populist” bioethical commission that could study the issues and develop guidelines for this new technology before it’s too late.
Read what Smith has to say after the jump.
From Wesley J. Smith, Time for a “Populist” Bioethics Commission | First Things:
On one bioethics issue, abortion, the administration has moved vigorously—reinstating and expanding the so-called Mexico City Policy, and issuing an executive order permitting states to defund Planned Parenthood. But the crucial bioethical and biotechnology questions we face extend far beyond abortion. Take human cloning. Little noticed by the public, scientists have created human embryos asexually, through the same process that was used to clone Dolly the sheep. The purpose of the experiments was to obtain embryonic stem cells that would be genetic matches to the person cloned. But the potential uses of “reprogramming” technology (as it is often called, to avoid the C-word) extend beyond stem cell therapies. They include the creation of organs or cell lines for drug testing; so-called “fetal farming” (gestating fetuses in artificial wombs as sources of special-order organs); and birthing babies engineered to possess a predetermined genome. This is important stuff. As the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush once put it, human cloning “touches fundamental aspects of our humanity,” including “identity and individuality, the meaning of having children, the difference between procreation and manufacture, and the relationship between the generations.” More, it is a key that opens the door to genetic engineering and the potential to redesign ourselves.As cloning techniques are being perfected, the means to reengineer ourselves have already been invented. The technique known as CRISPR allows technologists to alter genetically any cell or organism, creating fundamental biological changes that could in certain circumstances continue down the generations. Chinese scientists have already conducted CRISPR experiments on normal human embryos, and scientific committees have given the “yellow light” to pursuing such studies as a means of overcoming genetic disease. Meanwhile, scientists are preparing to create “three-parent children.” The potential to manufacture “synthetic embryos” presents itself as a darkly surrealistic dream from which we cannot wake, as reproductive technologies—such as egg freezing, surrogacy, and quality control of IVF embryos—proliferate almost daily.
One would think that such portentous research would engender intense democratic debate and regulatory concern. There is much to ponder—balancing the importance of free scientific inquiry and the potential goods to be derived from futuristic research with its feared material and existential harms. Instead, a great silence has descended. The discussions, such as they are, remain contained within the rarified atmosphere of scientific symposia, where they are conducted by the very people intent on pursuing these technologies.