Clones, Gays, and the Elderly

Fukuyama is overestimating the threats posed by technology, and underestimating the threats posed by regulation.

I'm glad Francis Fukuyama agrees that sex selection here poses no serious threat. To me, this means it should not be regulated. Moreover, we should also hold off on passing legislative protections against other such technologies until actual problems show up. Fukuyama may worry about rapid "population-level effects with serious social consequences," but his example of Korea's success at handling the sex-ratio imbalances that arose there is not an invitation to regulate, but evidence that we can afford to wait.

Outlawing a whole realm of benefits not injurious to others -- namely enhancements -- would be tyranny. Potent regulatory structures that pass judgment on the morality and social cost of future technologies would move us in this direction. Judging from the composition of President Bush's Bioethics Advisory Commission, many potential regulators would be less moderate than Fukuyama and quite willing to abridge people's choices.

Consider Fukuyama's argument about cloning. It is one thing to worry about the obvious medical dangers of so unproven a technology, another to justify a complete ban with stories about a future father's possible sexual attraction for his wife's budding clone-daughter. Kids hardly need to resemble a parent to inspire incest, as many adoptees and stepchildren can no doubt confirm. If we start regulating families on the basis of hypothetical sexual attractions and perversions -- and we can conjure ones more lurid and likely than Fukuyama's clone love -- we will ultimately damage rather than protect the family. We have laws governing child abuse; let's content ourselves with enforcing them.

As to gays, if there are fewer in the future because of people's choices about the genetics or rearing of their kids, so be it. But I am not at all convinced it would play out that way. Fukuyama asserts that gays can't reproduce, but they do so all the time using donor eggs or sperm, surrogate mothers, and partners of the opposite sex. Moreover, such reproduction will get ever easier. If we want to be sure to maintain our gay population, additional AIDS research would accomplish more than bans on embryo screening.

I'm glad to hear that Fukuyama doesn't oppose anti-aging interventions; I've previously heard him say only that government would be unable to block such enhancements. He is right, of course, that advances in health care bring many challenges, and that the needless prolongation of a dying loved one's pain and decrepitude is nothing to boast about. But my reaction is not to deny the value of the good added years that modern medicine has brought so many of us, but to recognize that we must find better ways for individuals to reach death with dignity when it draws near. Why must so many of our elderly try to squirrel away a stash of lethal drugs in case they might be captured by a medical system that would torture them for their final few weeks or months? The issue of cloning pales alongside this cruelty.

Fukuyama says he is urging only a harmless extension of existing institutions. I disagree. The relegation of decisions about human reproduction to a political process typically driven by impassioned zealots on either side would invite disaster. New agencies with the power to project abstract philosophy, social theory, and even religious dogma into family life would be a frightening development. And when lawmakers on Capital Hill start telling medical researchers not to do certain types of embryonic stem cell research because adult stem cells will work just as well, something is very wrong. These legislators are micromanaging a realm they do not understand, assaulting our freedom of inquiry, and ignoring the entreaties of those afflicted with serious diseases. These steps are not small.

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