SharksWithLasers -- Seth Cooper

A CUTTING-EDGE BLOG FOR THE WORLD OF THE 21st CENTURY, Currently operated by Seth L. Cooper, a 27 year-old attorney in Seattle (sethlcooper at comcast dot net)

Monday, February 07, 2005

MICE WITH HUMAN BRAINS: A BAD IDEA. Wesley J. Smith, a man I greatly admire, has a recent article in Weekly Standard called “Animal-Human Hybrids,” subtitled “Is there a limit to how far bioscientists are willing to go?” Smith asks some important questions that must be asked as Americans and people across the world continue to grapple with bioethics’ issues of the utmost significance.

Smith describes the plans of Stanford Irving Weissman to create mice with human brains. Weird. And chilling. Weissman’s program is one that appears to have little or no regard for the inherent equality of human life—the very equality of human life ethic that our nation has been committed to since its beginning (however imperfectly that commitment has been made manifest over the years).

Notes Smith:
Weissman apparently believes that as a scientist he has the right to do just about whatever he wants. "Anybody who puts their own moral guidance in the way of this biomedical science," he told the National Geographic News, "where they want to impose their will . . . interfere with science that could save lives." In other words, Weissman can impose his will on the rest of us because he believes an experiment is worth conducting, but society has no right to impose its collective will on him.

An excellent point. It’s quite interesting how easily Weissman can exempt himself from his own condemnation of person’s informed judgments about proper and improper conduct and the boundaries of ethical experimentation. As Smith strongly argues:

None of us has the right to do what we want just because we want to do it--no matter how laudable our motives. We live in a society based on ordered liberty that protects individual freedom but prevents anarchic license. Thus every powerful institution has societal-imposed checks and balances placed upon them, including science.

Precisely.

Smith discusses such issues in his excellent new book, A Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World. I strongly recommend everyone acquire a copy and read it. But don’t just take my word for it, as there is an OUTSTANDING review of the book by none other than Hadley Arkes, in the most recent issue of National Review (available online here).

Arkes’ logical mind has always impressed me. He really captures what is at issue with the bio-engineering or remaking of humanity with the following words that echo Smith’s above-stated concerns:
The people who can conceive the remaking of human beings imply a vantage point from which they can view human beings with a wholesome detachment. After all, those who would remake human beings inevitably put themselves in the position of the remakers, not the remade. One way or another, with terms novel and subtle, they find another way of talking themselves out of the “proposition” that “all men are created equal.” Nowhere else outside the movements for eugenics and scientific racism are we likely to encounter convictions as emphatic on the disparities in human beings — on the need, not only to remove infirmities or diseases, but to remove people slow of wit, whose incompetence may drain and even threaten the rest of us. The prospect of bringing about a species far more sparkling in native wit merely brings out more sharply the contrast with the dim and the retarded. The prospect of “designer babies” promises to make us even less tolerant of the children who bear those shortcomings we had not foreseen and hadn’t the wit ourselves to correct...

Experimentation upon human beings without ANY ethical constraints is absurd and foreign to our thinking, despite the silly comments of some ethically-challenged folks engaging in weird science. As Arkes continues:
May we carry out experiments that are dangerous to human subjects without seeking their consent? The public recoils from the notion. If Nazi researchers wished to know how long pilots could withstand an immersion in the cold waters of the Atlantic, they could find out directly by dunking the Jewish prisoners who were available to them. As the saying went, those prisoners were “going to die anyway.” When that kind of procedure is rejected, both by the public and by scientists, we quite emphatically affirm...that there are indeed serious moral constraints on the way science is free to seek what science passionately craves to know.

Who can argue with that?

(Mystery Town, USA)

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