The American Journal of Bioethics 2.3 (2002) 57-61
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Revulsion Is Not Enough
This past April when President George W. Bush strode into the Rose Garden at the White House to urge a ban on all forms of human cloning, including the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of stem cell research, he declared, "Our age may be known to history as the age of genetic medicine" (Bush 2002). In expressing his optimism and awe at the implications of the genetic revolution, President Bush was echoing the sentiments of former President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Tony Blair, and many other world leaders who have also dubbed the twenty-first century as the "age of genetics." But, the rhetorical similarities between Bush's views and the views of other world leaders are deceiving. Something very different and far more sinister from the point of view of the health and well-being of our descendents was being announced when Bush made his views on cloning known.
Clinton and Blair had made the advance of genetics a core part of their domestic policies. By paying for basic research, most notably the human genome project, they hoped to secure an economic advantage for their nations by making them the world leaders in biotechnology. When Clinton and Blair expressed their concerns on the future course of genetics, their apprehensions centered on
- whether the science was moving fast enough to address the needs of those afflicted with diseases and disabilities; and
- whether the ownership and control of genetic technology should be concentrated in a small number of private companies.
Just after the announcement of the mapping of the human genome by teams of scientists at public and private institutions in the United States, along with a public group in the United Kingdom, Clinton and Blair managed to scare the bejeebers out of a Wall Street gaga over the prospects of biotech companies by wondering out loud whether patents on genetic information would be enforced. They quickly backed off this issue when the stock market made it clear that there would be no economic future for biotechnology without some form of ownership and patenting of genetic information. For Clinton and Blair there was never any doubt about their view of the value of genomics for the future of human prosperity. True, for a short time they indulged in some public rumination about how to divvy the profits. But that was about it. Not so for George W. Bush.
President Bush in his Rose Garden speech did acknowledge the power of genetics. He expressed enthusiasm about the potential of genetic technology to cure human ailments and ills. But, he also expressed grave concerns about other directions the genetic revolution might take.
He warned that in our zeal to find benefits and cures we could also "travel without an ethical compass into a world we could live to regret." Throughout the rest of his speech, were terms such as "products," "design," "manufacturing," "engineered to custom specifications" that connoted the worry that in addition to using genetics to heal ourselves we could easily run off our collective ethical tracks by using genetics to create and manufacture ourselves (Bush 2002).
This grave ethical concern about the prospect that genetics could easily run amok was not triggered simply by the specter of human cloning. The same unease over the new genetics was present in an earlier speech Bush gave indicating his unalterable opposition to human embryonic stem cell research (CNN 2001). Bush chose stem cell research as the first subject to talk about to the nation in a nationally televised speech...