"….The power to tamper with our humanness, of course, presupposes that the current dispute over germ line versus somatic cell gene therapy is resolved in favor of germ line. One cannot hope to influence the course of evolution without altering the genes not only of a large and diverse segment of humanity but of their descendants as well. Otherwise, the intervention will not "take" . But assuming that germ line techniques become permissible, not to mention successful, then a startling array of possibilities is opened up.

It might, for example, become possible to create specialized subspecies of humans-‘metahumans"- who are better adapted to certain tasks. Astronauts on interstellar voyages would benefit if they were able to subsist on a plentiful, nonperishable food supply. Thus we might want to outfit them with termite digestive genes so that they could live on a diet of cellulose. People who work in desert climes might weather the dryness better if their if their genome were judiciously enhanced with certain key genes from the camel or the prairie dog. The list could go on, of course, but the point is that it is almost assuredly going to be possible to produce human hybrids with capacities far beyond the norm. Clearly, such a technology will involve ethical questions that dwarf virtually anything we have had to deal with before. Begin with the question of consent. Who would be subject to such procedures-only those who volunteered? If their germ lines were altered, would their children be considered "volunteers" as well? What about status? Would underwater farmers with webbed feet and gills be considered as fully human as the rest of us?

Beyond such novel questions lie the possibilities for misuse. One can easily imagine armies of genetically engineered soldiers with hides impervious to shellfire, or with aquiline eyesight and gorilla like strength. How can we ensure that the ability to hybridize people does not get into the hands of an unscrupulous chief of state?

On a broader level, suppose as a species we deemed it desirable to hasten the wholesale evolution of homo sapiens into a still more sapient form by seeding today’s population with the genes for greater intelligence. Presumably, and without the tedious process of natural selection, the entire species would become vastly brainier in several generations. Or we might imagine similar programs to make us taller, more agile, more resistant to disease. For that matter, a host of chimeric possibilities come to mind. Why shouldn’t humans realize the dream of flight? The addition of a set of bird genes-or the stimulation of latent avian genes already within our genomes-might provide us with wings, feathers, lightweight bone structure, a more aerodynamic shape-indeed, the full array of organic paraphernalia necessary to fly. Fanciful, but certainly possible.

It is to be hoped, however, that those who may someday control the managed evolution of humankind will put the technology to worthier use than to turn us into a race of ospreys. We might, for example, want to banish from our essential natures the "reptilian brain," a hangover from our distant past that is thought responsible for much of our aggressive and bestial behavior. Or we might well consider it useful to eliminate on a macro scale the potential for disease. We could in a few generations do away with certain mental illnesses, perhaps, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or almost any affliction we selected.

The important thing to keep in mind is that the quality of decision making dictates whether the choices to be made are going to be wise and just. True, most nightmarish scenarios ignore the innate good sense of people; common sense and an instinct for fair play, backed by the power of federal laws, it is assumed, will enable us to do good and protect us from doing ill. Nevertheless, the body politic still works its will through its representatives in government and the judiciary. These representatives in turn are influenced by powerful forces in the professions, business, and academe. The rather inglorious way that the scientific and administrative elite are handling the earliest fruits of gene therapy is ominous. Can our leaders be trusted in the years ahead to steer the spirited steed of molecular biology in the right direction? Will they handle the wisdom about to be entrusted to them with the high-mindedness and noble idealism that it deserves? Or will they be unable to clamber out of the low, crass bayous of the spirit so familiar in leadership circles nowadays.

It is a problem that, interestingly enough, is genetic. We humans have evolved intellectually to the point that, relatively soon, we will be able to understand the composition, function , and dynamics of the genome in much of its intimidating complexity. Emotionally, however, we are still apes, , with all the behavioral baggage that brings to the issue. Perhaps the ultimate form of gene therapy would be for our species to rise above its baser heritage and learn to apply its new knowledge wisely and benignly. It calls to mind once again Jim Watson’s unabashed desire to wield gene therapy as a tool to improve on the evolution of human nature. As he said, only half kiddingly , when asked what the future holds, "We’ll make ourselves a little better. That’s what we’ll do. We’ll make ourselves a little better."

            Jeff Lyon & Peter Cosner
            WW Norton Pub


"Cloning is the first serious step in becoming one with God."

            Richard Seed


"Last year Dolly the cloned sheep was received with wonder, titters and some vague apprehension. Last week the announcement by a Chicago physicist that he is assembling a team to produce the first human clone occasioned yet another wave of Brave New World anxiety. But the scariest news of all-and largely overlooked-comes from two obscure labs, at the University of Texas and the University of Bath. During the past four years, one group created headless mice; the other, headless tadpoles.

For sheer Frankenstein wattage, the purposeful creation of these animal monsters has no equal. Take the mice. Researchers found the gene that tells the embryo to produce the head. They deleted it. They did this in a thousand mice embryos, four of which were born. I use the term loosely. Having no way to breathe, the mice died instantly.

Why then create them? The Texas researchers want to learn how genes determine embryo development. But you don’t have to be a genius to see the true utility of manufacturing headless creatures: for their organs-fully formed, perfectly useful, ripe for plundering.

Why should you be panicked? Because humans are next. "It would almost certainly be possible to produce human bodies without a forebrain," Princeton biologist Lee Silver told the London Sunday Times. "These human bodies without any semblance of consciousness would not be considered persons, and thus it would be perfectly legal to keep them ‘alive’ as a future source of organs.

"Alive". Never have a pair of quotation marks loomed so ominously. Take the mouse-from technology, apply it to humans, combine it with cloning, and you are become a god: with a single cell taken from, say, your finger, you produce a headless replica of yourself, a mutant twin, arguably lifeless, that becomes your own personal, precisely tissue-matched organ farm.

There are, of course, technical hurdles along the way. Suppressing the equivalent "head" gene in man. Incubating tiny infant organs to grow into larger ones that adults could use. And creating artificial wombs (as per Aldous Huxley), given that it might be difficult to recruit sane women to carry headless fetuses to their birth/death.

It won’t be long, however, before these technical barriers are breached. The ethical barriers are already cracking. Lewis Wolpert, professor of biology at University College, London, finds producing headless humans "personally distasteful" but, given the shortage of organs, does not think distaste is sufficient reason not to go ahead with something that would save lives. And Professor Silver not only sees" nothing wrong, philosophically or rationally," with producing headless humans for organ harvesting; he wants to convince a skeptical public that it is perfectly O.K.

When prominent scientists are prepared to acquiesce in or indeed encourage-the deliberate creation of deformed and dying quasi-human life, you know we are facing a bioethical abyss. Human beings are ends, not means. There is no grosser corruption of biotechnology than creating a human mutant and disemboweling it at our pleasure for spare parts.

The prospect of headless human clones should put the whole debate about "normal" cloning in a new light. Normal cloning is less a treatment for infertility than a treatment for vanity. It is a way to produce an exact genetic replica of yourself that will walk the earth years after you’re gone

The headless clone solves the facsimile problem. It is a gateway to the ultimate vanity: immortality. If you create a real clone, you cannot transfer your consciousness into it to truly live on. But if you create a headless clone of just your body, you have created a ready source of replacement parts to keep you-your consciousness-going indefinitely

Which is why one form of cloning will inevitably lead to the other. Cloning is the technology of narcissism, and nothing satisfies narcissism like immortality. Headlessness will be cloning’s achievement.

The time to put a stop to this is now. Dolly moved President Clinton to create a commission that recommended a temporary ban on human cloning. But with physicist Richard Seed threatening to clone humans, and with headless animals already here. We are past the time for toothless commissions and meaningless bans.

Clinton banned fed4eral funding of human-cloning research, of which there is none anyway. He then proposed a five-year ban on cloning. This is not enough. Congress should ban human cloning now. Totally. And regarding one particular form, it should be draconian: the deliberate creation of headless humans must be made a crime, indeed a capital crime. If we flinch in the face of this high-tech barbarity, we’ll deserve to live in the hell it heralds."

            Charles Krauthammer
            "Of headless Mice…and Men"
            TIME Jan 19m1998


© 2001




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