Guest Post at CatholicMoralTheology.com – Biotechnology Needs More Attention

Recently, William Hurlbut, M.D., of Stanford University and formerly of the President’s Council on Bioethics came to Santa Clara University‘s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and gave the talk “Cloning, Stem Cells, and the Conscience of a Nation” (part of a larger speaker series this year on conscience).

It was a great talk, and I summarized it for CatholicMoralTheology.com. Here is an excerpt:

Contemporary biotechnology is developing a voracious appetite for humans and their parts – whether as embryos, fetuses, cells, tissues, or organs…

[Hurlbut] recounted that while visiting a lab he was shown a tiny human arm. This amazing laboratory product was collected as a bud from an aborted embryo and then implanted in a mouse with no immune system (to prevent rejection) and then allowed to grow before ultimately being harvested. Hurlbut recounted that his first response was amazement – now we can grow arms for people! Then, his second reaction was horror – that was going to be somebody’s arm!… Hurlbut mentioned that there are already discussions about whether to ask women to abort their fetuses later so that the parts are more well-developed before harvesting, and that some ethicists believe it is better to use unborn humans for medical experimentation than animals…

Experiments like these are going on right now. How many ethicists / moral theologians / members of the public even know about them? Who should have a say in whether or how experiments like these are conducted?  What kind of society are we where some lives are destroyed so that others may live?

There are more than enough problems in the world to occupy everyone forever, ethicists or not. But Hurlbut’s call is timely and time-sensitive. If we think bad choices are being made now, technology and institutions may become locked-in to those bad choices as time goes on. Now would be a good time to act, for changing course becomes much more difficult once institutional structures adopt regulations and become accustomed to the use of humans and their parts.

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One response to “Guest Post at CatholicMoralTheology.com – Biotechnology Needs More Attention

  • Vik Slen

    This is the kind of problem that I think has often gotten lost in the over-polarized controversy over abortion we have in this country, and there will only be lots more such issues as biotech progresses. These issues are not black and white, ladies and gentlemen! There are real human goods in conflict, and without question they are serious moral issues and ones that reflect and affect our understanding of who we humans are. Let’s find a way to increase knowledge about what is happening, and the appropriate ethical questions, whenever possible in ways accessible to lay people, without getting trapped in the tired absolutist arguments we have become accustomed to in the political treatment of “life.”

    The article in which the essay is posted mentions choices but doesn’t specify them, which is appropriate since it doesn’t develop the issue enough to make specific policy recommendations. Certainly I think the first step is to raise consciousness about what is happening, and this essay and article courageously begin to do so.

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