Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Anxieties about the Genetic Revolution

Over at Bioethics Blog Art Caplan (Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania) has an excellent post on “Science Anxiety”. I encourage readers to visit Bioethics Blog to read the whole article. Here is a brief excerpt:

The real battle - the battle that will come to occupy the moral center stage of American politics, morality, law, public policy, editorial pages, and water-cooler discussions - will be waged over where genetic engineering ought to take us and whether we are satisfied to leave it to scientists to guide us there.

Our present moment is seeing a host of scientific breakthroughs by which we are changing, modifying, inserting, altering or tweaking plant, animal and human genes.

Not everyone is thrilled.

…. Our society would be foolish and cruel to forbid or ban genetic research given the needs of the sick, starving, impaired and those of future generations for solutions and treatments. Will we really turn away from those who literally are dying before our eyes, or who will die before our children's eyes, simply out of fear of scientists guiding public policy?

....To ensure the future of this century, we must ensure sufficient education, dialogue, oversight, accountability and control over the industrialization, commercialization and financing of genetic science. In the hands of its practitioners, that science is very, very unlikely to take us anywhere we do not want to go. But ignorance, inattention or indifference to what governments, business and the military do with genetics could land us in places no one wanted to reach.

The process starts with education. It is up to each one of us to know enough about genetics to understand the possibilities, risks, opportunities and dangers. It is also up to each of us to insist that our educators make genetics a central part of the curriculum in our secondary schools and Sunday schools including the ethical issues genetics raise. Really. Starting now.

This is indeed sage advice that I hope we all heed. The better prepared we are for dealing with the challenges the genetic revolution brings the better the chances are that we can utilise these advances for laudable aims.