Frankenstein's Minister

The future of technology.
Dec. 10 1998 3:30 AM

Frankenstein's Minister

Ethicists fiddle while biotechnology remakes human beings.

65000_65332_neubecker_bnwbodyparts1
(Continued from Page 1)

Ethicists also have trouble recognizing the new issues because they're trained to look for moral problems in technology's costs, not in its benefits. Dr. Arthur Caplan, the only ethicist at the hearing who betrayed any awareness of the new issues, focused instead on the morality of "trade-offs." "We should seek to achieve the most good or benefit, with the least harm and destruction of things that we value," he argued. But the benefits of the new technologies--ultimately, immortality and the rewriting of the recipe for human beings--are precisely what philosophers ought to ponder. Where are we going? What are we becoming?

Advertisement

The immediate threat posed by the unraveling of the old physical and moral distinctions--between human beings and human parts, organisms and nonorganisms, subjects and objects--is that private interests will come to own the stuff of which we're made. As the hearing ended, Harkin expressed alarm that biotech companies were claiming licenses and patents to human stem cells. He said this concern had to do with the law, "not with ethical and moral implications." But if ethics is relegated to peripheral and obsolete questions while industry deconstructs, redesigns, and manufactures human components just like any other commodity, laws that exempt these components from patenting, licensing, and other property rights will lose their moral basis. And critics who object that human life is sacred won't have a leg to stand on.

If you missed the link about biotech companies' sham "ethics" codes, click here.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The NFL Has No Business Punishing Players for Off-Field Conduct. Leave That to the Teams.

Meet the Allies the U.S. Won’t Admit It Needs in Its Fight Against ISIS

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Medical Examiner

How to Stop Ebola

Survivors might be immune. Let’s recruit them to care for the infected.

History

America in Africa

The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.

New GOP Claim: Hillary Clinton’s Wealth and Celebrity Are Tricks to Disguise Her Socialism

Why the Byzantine Hiring Process at Universities Drives Academics Batty

Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 3:29 PM The Fascinating Origins of Savannah, Georgia’s Distinctive Typeface
  News & Politics
History
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM America in Africa The tragic, misunderstood history of Liberia—and why the United States has a special obligation to help it fight the Ebola epidemic.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Education
Sept. 23 2014 11:45 PM Why Your Cousin With a Ph.D. Is a Basket Case  Understanding the Byzantine hiring process that drives academics up the wall.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?