An explosion of biological knowledge is promising earthshaking discoveries. Among them are genetic engineering, test tube babies, control of the aging process, suspended animation, and even the prospect of man-made immortality! But these prospects are raising a welter of ethical and moral questions.
THE WORLD HAS entered a new age of discovery — the biological revolution. With it comes the awesome prospect of holding power over life itself. Here is what many biologists promise humanity in the next 80 years:
1970s — choosing the sex of children before they are born 1980s — "creation" of life in a test tube 1990s — genetic microsurgery by radiation and laser beams 2000s — fetuses grown in artificial wombs 2010s — making carbon copies of animals from single cells 2020s — making carbon copies of human beings 2030s — complete control of human genetics, heredity, breeding of new plants, animals, manlike beings 2040s — suspended animation of life 2050s — complete control of the aging process, manmade immortality
Recently, a conference of about 100 scientists, politicians, and theologians from five continents met in Geneva, Switzerland. They explored the consequences of the biological revolution, genetic tailoring, and the future of man.
Facing an Awesome Future
Some of the explosive issues facing the world today came under discussion — sterilization of parents who would carry genetic diseases, sperm and ova banks stocked with reproductive cells from outstanding donors, sex determination, genetic tailoring and the transformation of human genes. Professor L. Charles Birch of the University of Sydney, Australia, concluded that recent discoveries are creating new sorts of ethical and moral problems with "enormous potential for both good and evil." The specter of man creating more tools for his own destruction hung over the conference like a ghostly pall. Professor Salvadore Luria, eminent American scientist, meanwhile has confessed to a feeling of "tremendous fear" of the potential dangers if man's new understanding of genetics is misapplied. Dr. W. H. Thorpe of Cambridge University, a leading expert on animal behavior, bluntly declared: "The ethical problems . . . raised by the population explosion and artificial insemination, by genetics and neurophysiology, and by the social and mental sciences are at least as great as those arising from atomic energy and the H-bomb." In spite of fears and unanswered questions, scientists are plunging ahead — increasing their knowledge at a fantastic pace.
Here is what scientists say will soon be possible. According to Dr. James Bonner of Caltech, "Biologists are on the verge of finding a way to eliminate senility, thus facilitating a human life span of 200 years." But others go much further... Dr. Jean-Bourgeois Pichat, head of the National Institute for Demographic Studies in France, predicted in 1966 that within 50 years some people might be able to live virtually FOREVER! A year later Dr. Augustus B. Kinzel wrote, "We will lick the problem of aging completely, so that accidents will be essentially the only cause of death" (The Second Genesis, p. 34). The doctors of tomorrow — we are told — will be able to replace broken, damaged or worn-out body organs with such special developments as plastic corneas for the eye, metallic bones, dacron arteries, artificial hearts, computerized electronic muscles. Perhaps even the brain ultimately will be replaceable. Gordon Taylor wrote in his book, The Biological Time Bomb, "In the future, you may be able to pick out the exact pair of ears you want from a tissue bank — a sort of medical supermarket." Such possibilities, of course, sound like science fiction. But they are not mere daydreams — such predictions are made in all seriousness.
Coming — Asexual Reproduction?
Even closer on the horizon are major changes in the method of animal and human reproduction. At Cornell University Dr. Frederick C. Steward has achieved asexual reproduction with the carrot and the tobacco plant. He has taken a single cell from an adult plant, treated it chemically, and then grown from this one cell a whole new carrot or tobacco plant capable of bearing seeds and reproducing itself. This method of asexual reproduction is called "cloning." Dr. J. B. Gurdon of Oxford University duplicated this feat with the African clawed frog. Taking an unfertilized egg cell from a frog, he destroyed its nucleus with radiation. He then took a body cell from another frog, removed its nucleus with tiny surgical tools, and implanted it in the egg cell. The new "cell" combination began growing and dividing, and produced a new tadpole which grew up to be an identical twin of the frog that donated the nucleus! How soon will such cloning techniques be applied to men and women? Dr. Kurt Hirschhorn, chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, thinks it may happen "perhaps much sooner than people think." Nobel Prize winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg and Kimball Atwood, professor of microbiology at the University of Illinois, both believe asexual reproduction in man, producing multiple copies of an individual, could occur at "almost any moment." With a crash program "it could be done now," claims Dr. Atwood. Even without such a program, he thinks it will take place "within a few years." Asexual reproduction among people? It may seem far-fetched, but scientists are discussing the possibility seriously. Said the eminent French biologist Dr. Jean Rostand, "This new technique of generation from the nucleus of a body cell would in theory enable us to create as many identical individuals as might be desired. A living creature would be printed in hundreds, in thousands of copies, all of them real twins. This would, in short, be human propagation by cuttings, capable of assuring the indefinite reproduction of the same individual — of a great man, for example" (Rosenfeld, The Second Genesis, p. 138.)
Thousands of Carbon Copy HITLERS?
Jokes have been told about seeing eight Albert Einsteins purchasing eight copies of The New York Times in a nightmare. But imagine a world where reproduction takes place by tissue cuttings — where "carbon copies" of particular individuals are run off by the hundreds or thousands. What if Adolph Hitler had ruled such a scientific age? Conceivably there would have soon been multiple thousands of identical Hitlers turned loose on the world. Would they have had the same base character? The very thought is repulsive. Or he may have developed a super-force of genius level physicists. Scientists tell us that in coming generations, we will have to face such possibilities. Cambridge physiologist Lord Rothschild in 1967 told scientists at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel that he regarded cloning people as a near possibility. But the very possibility brings up vital questions which demand answers: Who would be allowed to clone themselves? What kind of controls would be established? And who would control the controllers? And most basic: Should cloning be done at all?
Another avenue of current research involves the production of test-tube babies and generates the same important questions. Italian experimental scientist and surgeon Daniele Petrucci has taken a female ovum, immersed it in amniotic fluid and then admitted male sperm. One of the sperm fertilized the egg. The embryo lived for twenty-nine days, when the experiment was terminated. Will society one day in the not-too distant future have artificial "baby factories" so women will no longer carry their offspring in their wombs? Will the "bother" of pregnancy be avoided? Will the very words "Mother" and "family" — in the sense we use' them — become obsolete? Will we see computerized baby factories to produce babies, and computerized educational factories, so "parents" would no longer have to bother with teaching their "children," toilet training, feeding, diapering, nursing, clothing, or caring for their infants? These are some of the ideas held out as possibilities for tomorrow. But do any of us really want such a world as that? No doubt, unless something happens to stop it, sooner or later many women will prefer the comfort and ease of test tube pregnancies to the rigors of normal pregnancy and childbirth. No more morning sickness, no more kicking baby, no more labor pains. But with such "convenience" may also come a host of serious medical and social side effects which science hasn't even begun to recognize.
From Genetic Microsurgery
Another aspect of the biological revolution is man's growing ability to tamper with human heredity itself. Molecular biologists have already begun to crack the "code of life." They have studied the basic building blocks of all hereditary characteristics — the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule. Although scientists are as yet in the kindergarten stage of really understanding the structure of human DNA, and precisely what governs what in the sequence of genetic events, they are gathering knowledge at a rapid rate. British scientist Dr. James Danielli announced in 1970 that he and his colleagues succeeded in putting together a living cell from isolated parts. They removed the nucleus and some cytoplasm from an amoeba, and then inserted cytoplasm and a new nucleus from other amoeba, and about 80 percent of the reassembled organisms lived. On another frontier of biology, scientists at the University of Wisconsin announced recently they had assembled the first totally synthetic gene. Dr. H. Gobind Khorana, co-winner of the 1968 Nobel Prize for medicine, and his team built their gene from simple organic chemicals. According to him, the structuring of a gene opens the way for man to manipulate the biology of living things, including man. This could lead to future genetic planning of people, "tailoring people to fit patterns, turning out athletes or intellectuals." Already scientists are able to modify heredity by crude methods, such as x-ray bombardment, use of chemical mutagens — but invariably the resultant change is detrimental and often lethal to the organism. Though current techniques are crude, geneticists foresee the possibility of tinkering with genes and performing genetic surgery to delete unwanted genes, supply missing genes, or even to change existing genes. Such microsurgery may be achieved by pulsed X-rays, laser light beams or other radiation. Scientists hope that eventually they will be able to examine human embryos and to use such surgical techniques to eliminate specific genetic defects such as hemophilia.
... to Creation of NEW CREATURES
From the current embryonic knowledge of genetics, it is a long step to actually producing man-made genetic blueprints. But, says Albert Rosenfeld, "When this kind of biochemical sophistication has been attained, when man can write out detailed genetic messages of his own, his powers become truly godlike" (The Second Genesis, p. 143). Man is now considering the idea that he too can dabble in creation. He sees the possibility that test tubes and technology may make him more than just a passive recipient of what is. Does mankind have the collective wisdom to properly handle such knowledge and use such abilities? If"- man truly develops GODLIKE capacities to the point he can create at will NEW FORMS OF LIFE, what would he create? Who would decide? How would such knowledge be used? Asks Rosenfeld, "But who is it that we will appoint to PLAY GOD for us? Which scientist — which statesman, artist, judge, poet, theologian, philosopher, educator — and of which nation, race, or creed — will you trust to write out the specifications, to decide, like Huxley's Predestinators, which characteristics are desirable and which not?" (Page 153.) Man must soon face these questions and dilemmas. In the future computers will be used to enable scientists to completely map out the human hereditary blueprint. When that knowledge comes, would it become possible for scientists to draw up their own "programs," and use computers to devise entirely NEW ORGANISMS? Would biologists learn how to manufacture completely novel animals, creatures, beings — "improved" plants, "improved" animals for specialized agricultural purposes — perhaps even superhuman [?] creatures, far surpassing men in strength, intelligence, and abilities? This may sound like a Buck Rogers science-fiction drama, but it isn't. It's real. It's coming.... And its implications are frightening. But another sobering avenue of research deals with the prospect of man-made immortality.
Man Wants to "PLAY GOD!"
Clearly, scientists are beginning to tinker with awesome powers. The BIG question is, how will mankind USE such knowledge? The history of mankind is one filled with bloodshed, wars, and violence. Man has not learned to govern his violent impulses. In view of this, should geneticists continue playing with potential powers which could — and according to the testimony of history, would — be used amiss? The possibilities of "gene warfare" are terrifyingly real. They compare with the frightening potential of thermonuclear warfare. What are the possibilities such warfare would engulf mankind in the future? The prospects are not encouraging, considering the dismal record mankind has had in blundering into war in the past. The awesome new powers man is developing, or envisions, could accelerate all mankind toward an inevitable day of reckoning — a bone-chilling day of Frankenstein-like madness and catastrophe.
A Moral Dilemma
Although many voices have been raised in warning, most scientists tend to believe that man ought to do whatever he can do. And some theologians go along with this reasoning. Said one: "If man can breed better races by genetic engineering or by making babies in test tubes, why shouldn't he do it?" He added, "Basically, it is up to man to shape his own life." This conclusion is common. It may sound very convincing. But is it really valid? Should science do something simply because it can do it? Granted, there is nothing wrong with true knowledge itself, or knowledge per se. Devoting one's mind to the acquisition of knowledge is not in itself necessarily wrong. The basic error lies in man's approach toward knowledge and what he does with knowledge. For example, much of scientific and biomedical research goes toward transplanting worn-out or diseased organs, defective parts, rather than PREVENTING the defects or diseases in the first place. Shouldn't science apply its research and knowledge production to the PREVENTION of the diseases of mankind through perusal of preventative knowledge? Heart transplants provide a clear example of this approach toward knowledge. Burgeoning technology is making it possible for surgeons to do wonders in heart-transplant surgery. Says Stanford's Dr. Paul Shumway, "I think we'll probably be able to do about 2,000 to 3,000 heart transplants annually in America 10 years from now." But the real issue, pointed out by Dr. Thomas Gonda, acting director of the Stanford hospital, is: "Why aren't our priorities at the other end — on the PREVENTATIVE MEDICAL SIDE? . . . If we could pay 17 cents a day so that poor expectant mothers could have adequate nutrition during their pregnancies, we'd be doing more good in preventing major incapacities of their offspring. Unless these real problems are dealt with satisfactorily and promptly all this spectacular pioneering isn't going to make much difference." If science would devote its primary effort to PREVENTING these medical and health problems from arising in the first place, then great good could be accomplished. But too many are spending it searching for some "magic bullet" to cure cancer, some new breakthrough in immunology, some new surgical technique to alter defective genes. But there is even a more basic consideration behind modern biological science!
The Great Mistake
This involves the obvious danger of man steering his own destiny. Such a danger was very clearly discussed by Dr. Leroy G. Augenstein, chairman of the department of biophysics at Michigan State University: "Science marches on, fast and furiously, but all too often our ability to handle our new found powers does not keep pace. Increasingly, the advances being made in many areas of science and technology pose ethical and moral dilemmas which CANNOT be resolved by facts alone" (Come, Let Us Play God, p. 3). In many areas of science, says Dr. Augenstein, our knowledge is doubling every 7 to 10 years. As the pace quickens, the gap between our ability to discover new knowledge and to handle it wisely becomes increasingly greater in magnitude and peril. The gap steadily becomes an ever-widening chasm between knowledge and wisdom. To use this knowledge wisely, we must determine just what man is, and why he exists. Information itself is neither good nor bad — but how it is to be used will be either good or bad. Unless mankind obtains the moral and ethical wisdom to use his new knowledge rightly, the world faces the greatest imaginable peril.
MUST Man Play God?
Some scientists assume there is no divine purpose for human existence, and that man must play God — in fact, already has in many instances. Whether or not we want to play God, they tell us, we have no choice in the matter. For example, when a couple decide to abort a pregnancy, aren't they really playing God? When a surgeon performs a delicate operation, isn't he really playing God? Scientists therefore assume that man has no choice but to play God. This assumption that man must play God clearly involves the presumption that a Supreme Being does not exist. Few seem to realize this basic underlying philosophy motivating much biological research. It says: "Either there is no God, or if there is we cannot know Him. He has left us on our own. Therefore, we scientists must depend on scientific discovery to solve the world's problems. We must depend on biological and genetic research to learn to prevent birth defects. Rejecting any revealed knowledge as 'myth,' we must determine for ourselves what is good or evil, right or wrong, through experimentation and discovery." This philosophy is the way of trial and error. Bound up inextricably with this philosophy is the knowledge that many experiments will turn out badly, many mistakes will be made, and some men are bound to misuse whatever knowledge is gained. This philosophy flirts with ultimate disaster on an unparalleled scale.
What Price KNOWLEDGE?
For thousands of years mankind has lived according to this philosophy. He has continually sought knowledge by experimentation and experimentation alone. He has continually rejected revelation from any god and attempted to "play God." Only now he is on the threshold of "playing God" on a grander scale than ever before. The basic philosophy behind much of the current biological revolution is the same one that has motivated men since time immemorial. Rejecting revelation, modern science is seeking health and immortality through experimentation. What will the result of such massive experiments be? Look at the realm of physics, for a moment. Scientists experimented, and learned to crack the secret of the atom. This knowledge was used in the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima in World War II, and today the world teeters on the brink of a thermonuclear World War III. Mankind has partaken of the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil," and he has always — according to the record of history — ultimately used his newfound knowledge for EVIL. The result? Unparalleled suffering, chaos, cataclysm, and death. We candidly ask: Is this kind of "knowledge" really worth the price? We dare not delude ourselves that mankind has fundamentally changed, or that human nature is not fundamentally flawed. Man, in his present condition, cannot be trusted to wisely exercise great and awesome powers. To ignore the frightful and documented evidence of history is to invite disaster.