Playing God: The Challenges of Human Biotechnology for Spiritual Progressives


Oct 22, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Playing God: The Challenges of Human
Biotechnology for Spiritual Progressives
Marcy Darnovsky, PhD
Center for Genetics and Society
July 2005Center for Genetics
and Society
[Note the language and framing]
Mission statement: “working to encourage
responsible uses and effective societal
governance of the new human genetic
and reproductive technologies”
CGS programs
 Biotechnology Accountability Program
 Gender, Justice, and Human Genetics
 Reframing the DebateCenter for Genetics
and Society
CGS works in a context of support for
 the equitable provision of health technologies
domestically and internationally
 women’s health and reproductive rights
 the protection of our children
 the rights of the disabled
 precaution in the use of technologies that could
alter the fundamental processes of the natural
worldPlaying God?
 What do people mean when they voice their
unease about new and emerging human
biotechnologies with the phrase “playing God?”
 Are they anti-science?
 Anti-abortion?The terms of
debate todayScience as religion
What about the framing and language of
biotechnology enthusiasts?
 The Human Genome Project as quest for the “Holy Grail”
 The genome as “the Book of Life”
 James Watson: “We used to think that our fate was in the
stars. Now we know, in large part, that our fate is in our
 “Miracle cures” – gene therapy in the 1990s; stem cell
research today
 John Edwards during the 2004 presidential campaign:
“People like Christopher Reeve are going to get up
out of that wheelchair and walk again.”Life extension and
 A new ideology: transhumanism
 Extropy Institute
 World Transhumanist Association
 Immortality Institute
 A fringe phenomenon?Recent books by
journalistsRecent books by
scientistsComment on
science as religion
“Traditional religious cosmologies place eternity on
some other plane of existence. Biotechnological
fantasies locate immortality here on earth…we
might want to start paying more attention to how
biotech enthusiasts prey upon deep-rooted fears and
anxieties and offer familiar messages about how
death shall be no more. ”
-- Leigh Turner, McGill UniversityMore on “playing
Inheritable genetic
modification will
allow “us” to “seize
control of human
evolution”Lee Silver
Remaking Eden
“…the economy, the media,
the entertainment industry,
and the knowledge industry
[will be] controlled by
members of the GenRich
class….Naturals [will] work
as low-paid service providers
or as laborers…. Religious right on
human biotechnology
 Moral status of human embryos
 Human dignity (“Center for Bioethics and Human
 Sample statement: The Pontifical Academy for Life
condemning human cloning: It would violate a number of
ethical norms and turn the human being into an "industrial
product." It would exploit women, bring suffering to the
cloned person and lead humanity further down the road
to eugenics, or selective breeding.The challenge for
 The political danger of letting the Right
“own” these issues
 The spiritual danger of failing to know our
own valuesSecular progressives on
human biotech: Stem
cell research
Health equity vs “designer medicine” (allocation of
funds; affordability of treatments)
Responsible governance (public oversight, effective
regulation, avoiding conflicts of interest)
Publicly funded research as subsidies for the biotech
Protection of research subjects and of egg providers
Commodification of eggs and women’s bodies as egg
Risk to and exploitation of young and low-income
womenSecular progressives on
human biotech: Today’s
selection technologies
 Disability rights critique of prenatal and embryo
 Expansion of uses since introduced in 1990 for serious
genetic disease
 Will people with disabilities be seen as “mistakes” who
should not have been allowed to be born?
 Critique of sex selection by some feminists
 Gender discrimination
 Sex ratios in Asia; first-born sons in U.S.
 Gateway technology
 Largely normalized: “genius sperm” and “doctoral
egg donors”Secular progressives on
human biotech:
inheritable modifications
 Human rights
 Council of Europe: Convention on Biomedicine and Human Rights (1997)
 UNESCO: Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human
Rights (1997)
 Improving the lives of children – no need to
manipulate genes
 Instrumentalization / objectification of human life
and relationships
 Precautionary principle
 A new eugenics: “techno-eugenics”
 New forms of discrimination and inequality
 Genetic castes / “genetic genocide”What about spiritual
 “Science and spirit”
 “Common humanity”
 “Ethics of care”
 “Playing God”
 What else?More information
Center for Genetics and Society