interesting Reason article: criminalizing science

From: Reason (
Date: Sat Oct 27 2001 - 21:54:15 MDT

A good Virginia Postrel article. Well worth the read and of relevence to us.
There's more than would be acceptable to post. Visit the URL for the whole
thing including the responses.


riminalizing Science

Leading thinkers and commentators respond to a left-right alliance to outlaw
"therapeutic cloning" and stigmatize genetic research

In late August, I received an email from writer Michael Lind, forwarding a
striking document. It was a request that he add his name to a petition
against basic biomedical research. The lead signatories included not only
well-known technophobe Jeremy Rifkin and others on the anti-technology
fringes of the left but William Kristol and Francis Fukuyama, two pillars of
the respectable (and more-or-less secular) intellectual right. Lind himself
had refused the petition with a typically tart reply. He forwarded it to me
because he knew of my concerns that such de facto intellectual alliances
were coalescing against biotechnology, particularly biomedical research.
Like many who have seen the petition, he and I were surprised to see this
left-right alliance become so explicit. Clearly, these neoconservative
intellectuals had decided that human genetic research was so threatening to
their concept of human nature that it justified just about any political

The specific bill supported by the Rifkin-Kristol petition would make
cloning human cells a criminal offense, punishable by up to 10 years in
prison and fines of $1 million. It would also make it a criminal offense to
import and use any treatments developed through this technique in countries,
such as the United Kingdom, where it is legal. The clones involved are not
people but tissues, matches of donor cells. But, like reproductive clones,
these cells "could," under just the right circumstances, be implanted to
produce babies. So the bill has the political advantage of gathering votes
from lawmakers afraid of cloned humans. Before the September 11 attacks, it
had passed the House overwhelmingly. Under today's changed circumstances, it
may not reach the Senate for a vote this year. If so, it will almost surely
return in next year's session.

As the petition's signers realize, there is more at stake here than just a
specific piece of legislation or the question of cloning cells. The bill
marks a nearly unprecedented attempt to make basic scientific procedures,
which harm no one, not just illegal but criminal. It thus departs from the
normal regulatory structure governing much biological research, a
distinction many scientists still do not entirely grasp. Unlike, say, Food
and Drug Administration regulations, these provisions could not be revised
as more information became available or risks changed. As Lind was quick to
note in his reply, this is not "regulation" but prohibition.

The fundamental issue is not whether there will be cloned cells but whether
individuals will be allowed to change their bodies at the genetic level.
This is what the petition means when it opposes "efforts to reduce human
life and its various parts and processes to the status of mere research
tools, manufactured products, commodities and utilities." For its signers,
genetic medicine is interference with human nature. For individuals with
genetic conditions they would like to change, genetic medicine is the hope
for a better life.

In response to the petition, and as a way of educating scientists and the
general public about the threat this coalition poses to basic medical
research, I asked thoughtful individuals from a variety of disciplines for
their responses. (In all cases, individuals speak for themselves, and
affiliations are for identification purposes only.) Unlike a
"counterpetition," this approach allows for diversity of political and
philosophical views. And, unlike the original petition, this collection of
responses is designed to clarify the questions involved, rather than simply
sow fear of the future.


[There are then many more pages of good responses].

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