Re: SOC/BIO: Reason Magazine article on "Petri Dish Politics"
Tue, 23 Nov 1999 21:15:01 -0800

Greg Burch writes:
> I cannot recommend strongly enough the article you'll find at:
> Although written by someone with very extropian values in a magazine that
> also has a very extropian editorial policy, the article portrays the
> significant and GROWING opposition on both the "left" and the "right" to
> almost all forms of advanced biotech in the U.S. That opposition is already
> well-rooted in Europe. If the biotech companies don't get up off their asses
> and start fighting back in the media BIG TIME, we're going to have real
> trouble.

It is an interesting article, but I felt that the author was arguing against straw men to some extent, exaggerating the nature and scope of the opposition.

> The most influential conservative bioethicist, Leon Kass of the University
> of Chicago and the American Enterprise Institute, worries both that our
> quest for ever-better mental and physical states is too open-ended and,
> contradictorily, that it is utopian.

An Altavista search for "Leon Kass" got only 327 hits. For comparison, "Max More" got 1229, "Robin Hanson" got 1017, "Hans Moravec" got over 1500. Granted, the web is not the most fertile ground for a hidebound reactionary like Kass, but still if he is the most influential person with this view, we have little to worry about.

The author also spent much time on the debate over using embryonic cells for stem cell research, but it seems to me that he got it backwards. There was a key phrase missing from the article, which is part and parcel of the opposition to embryo research: "moment of conception". This is the moment at which God imbues the fetus with a soul, in the mind of many of the religious people opposed to abortion. After this point, abortion is murder.

There is no moment of conception in the construction of a mammallian stem cell from an adult. And there is no reason to expect (as the author seems to assume) that anti-abortion politics will carry over into opposition to the creation of human stem cells.

It is true that the opposition to abortion is a practical problem today, by restricting research on embryonic human cells. This is a valid point and something to be concerned about. But it is a great leap to conclude that there is a significant movement that will oppose tissue engineering for medical purposes. In fact the author did not offer any quotes from anyone opposing the creation of stem cells from adult human cells.