13. Genetic engineering,
existential issues, with form. The last issue, nuclear, is an issue because many
people, and not only corporations, are for it. They want the U.S., or their own
country, to have a lot of atomic bombs and/or nuclear power plants. Similarly,
many people are absolutely for such things as genetic engineering and even human
cloning. What we should realize, then, from the lesson of nuclear, is that these
are technologies that should not even exist: they should not be developed at all.
Determinists, of course, with the backing of chaos, will say that there is no
stopping them. Indeed, we better hurry if we want to make some money from them.
(And they do!) But more reasonable (and less greedy) people will counter that
we should not be in such great haste. We have been through this many times before.
What we should do is slow things down, put some controls in place, and then consider
carefully what is at stake and what we really want to do.
An excellent present-day example of this dialogue, or conflict, is the issue of
labeling genetically modified food. Without such labeling, this is dictatorship.
We have a right to know what we are consuming. Fortunately, in January 2000, an
international Biosafety Protocol was finalized, which among other things will
initiate some labeling. Genetically modified food that is exported from one country
to another will have to be labeled, although the same food, when it is consumed
domestically, will not have to be. Therefore, such food that is exported from
the U.S. to Europe will be labeled, but not when it is sold in the U.S. itself.
(Needless to say, this failing must be corrected.)
The Protocol also does not address the biotheft of genetic material, nor of the
patenting of genetically modified life. But these are issues with great existential
implications. It is immoral to steal life (it should be made criminal), and to
manipulate it without its approval. Indeed, the latter is as bad as killing it.
This is actually the starting point for the analysis. While we have the ability
- the power - to manipulate life, we do not have the right. Power does not imply
or infer right! We do not have the right to manipulate other individuals and species,
for any reason. The Supreme Court ruling in 1980 that allowed the patenting of
life forms made by the hand of man, was an atrocious decision.
It must be reversed.
It is worth noting that anytime a government or corporation is mapping
the genome of a species, it means it is doing so to eventually manipulate
the genetic make-up of that species. (Militants Splice Animal Geneticists
in Twin Cities, Earth First! Journal, September-October 2000, page
As another example of such manipulation, we do not have the right to use other
species as living factories. Currently, a number of species
are being genetically modified and then used as organ or drug factories. In addition,
the animals are killed when their useful lives are over.
(Cures of the future are growing on 'pharms' today, Andrea Knox, Philadelphia
Inquirer, June 4, 2000, bold added)
Is this what we want: to extend rather than reverse the carnivore precedent,
and use it to justify what really does constitute animal murder, and a crime against
[As with Homo sapiens, all the other forms of life on earth have struggled
for ages to survive and to evolve. We do not have the right to tamper with the
fruits of their evolution, including with their genetic sequences, and through
this to reduce their species survivability, and evolvability. Nobody
knows the purpose of life, but one thing we do know is that organic life is the
rarest thing in the entire universe. As such, it is also the most valuable. Life,
in all its forms, may be evolving not only to survive, but to satisfy some higher
purpose, perhaps directly linked to the purpose of the universe itself. We do
not have the right to interfere with the efforts of other forms of life to fulfill
their purpose, to fulfill their destiny, including as part of the universes
Furthermore, not only is genetic engineering fundamentally unethical, it also
entails the greatest of risks. And the first of these, regarding humans, is that
it will degrade our species gene pool, which has actually already started with
the development of effective medicines and vaccines. Such medicines and vaccines
enable people to survive, including people with recessive genes who without them
would be selected not to. Genetic engineering continues this trend,
and likely will increase it, although in a different way. In somatic cell
gene therapy, scientists convey genes into an individuals blood supply,
usually via genetically engineered viruses. But in germline gene therapy
(which has not yet been tried with humans - although it has been with monkeys)
new genes are spliced into embryos, in the process completely replacing existing
genes. Further organism development takes place with the duplication of these
new genes. However, the genome is an ecology: most genes have multiple effects,
and work together in numerous ways. And we are for the most part ignorant of this,
of all of the effects of any particular gene. Therefore, if we change one gene,
one part of the ecology, it is likely that there will be other changes as well,
changes that (including through the effects of chaos) it will be impossible for
us to predict.
We do not know what the long-term consequences of such degradation of our gene
pool will be. In this case it is absolutely appropriate to fear what we do not
know. Such scientists and corporations are gambling, for their own ends, with
our species survivability.
(Technically, the first germline modification of a human has taken place. In May
2001, doctors took material from a donors fertile egg and put it in the
infertile egg of another woman. The inserted material included some DNA. The result
of this is that the baby has one father and two biological mothers.)
In addition, all of the hype notwithstanding, research efforts at gene therapy
have not lived up to their expectations. For instance, effective delivery mechanisms
have not been developed. For somatic cell gene therapy to work, scientists have
to deliver enough healthy genes, one billion or more, to the appropriate spot
and get them to stay there long enough to alleviate the disease. Also,
an NIH committee [National Institutes of Health] set up to review
gene therapy concluded that problems remain in all basic areas of the technology.
(Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1999)
Progressing from decoding the genome and understanding some of the functions of
some of our genes to developing effective gene therapies for a variety of illnesses
will likely be as difficult as moving from putting a person on the Moon to sending
someone to Mars.
And then, even if such problems can be solved, there is the consequence of genetic
engineering leading to eugenics, the purposeful design of humans, and cloning.
Such designs, either positive (to improve certain characteristics)
or negative (to eliminate undesirable traits), will fail. We will
not get it right. And this will have catastrophic consequences, starting with
the individuals involved. For example, consider cloned humans: it is likely that
a high percentage of such individuals would commit suicide. The reason for this
is the issue of personal identity. It is already hard enough trying to think of
yourself as being original, much less unique, and having personal value. Think
of the problem that would be faced by a clone: you are not yourself; youre
In any case, we already have cloning. Thats what happens when form is so
strong that stereotypes become accurate. The question is: do we want more?
Also, it is not only clones. Children who receive germline gene therapy will be
born in test tubes: no sex will be involved. They will not have parents
in the traditional sense: they will not receive a complete set of their parents
DNA. The overall consequence of this is that people will become manufactured things.
It will be the death of parenthood and individuality, and the creation of a new
determinism: a new barrier to free will.
The unethical basis of genetic engineering, not to mention its uncertainties and
guaranteed negative outcomes, makes it clear that it must be opposed, although
given conditions as they now stand, with corporations in a seemingly invincible
position (who is going to police their labs), it will certainly be an extremely
difficult battle. (One viable defense against cloning, though, is that the doctors
involved should be prosecuted for the mutations and deaths that result.)