Gods and Monsters

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New at Reason: Is it true that we've never had our "societal conversation" about bioethics? Ron Bailey looks back at a debate that was already going strong when Lord Byron couldn't get treatment for his club foot.

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  1. Mike said: ‘Scientists may have been right to ignore them, but saying “we already talked about this” doesn’t hold much water when the universal conclusion of those conversations was “don’t do it.”‘

    I think it is a relevant point to bring up if you add, “…and all the apocolyptic predictions made about these biomedical technologies have been crap, so at some point the credibility of certain “bioethicists” has to be reconsidered.”

  2. J has an interesting point in questioning the credentials of soi-disant “bioethicists.” I’ve often heard people refer to Leon Kass as “brilliant.” What does “brilliant” mean in the context of something as subjective as bioethics? It certainly is not in the same league as calling Gallileo or Darwin brilliant because of their extraordinary insights into how nature works. Perhaps an artistic standard applies. Mozart was brilliant at creating complex, beautiful structures of sound. Ditto Monet for creating beautiful, complex structures from paint. Maybe Kass is “brilliant” for spinning intricate, complex structures from bullshit.

  3. “Horrifyingly, Princeton University bioethicist Paul Ramsey told the Magazine, ‘I’d rather every child were born illegitimate than for one to be manufactured.'”

    That’s very generous of Dr. Ramsey. I’ll return the favor by saying I’d rather he have a million pins jabbed into his eyeballs than for me to suffer through a mild headache.

    What exactly is the training or relevant qualifications to be a prominent “bioethicist”, beyond some minimal understanding of the science? A monumental sense of self-importance? A crippling fear of anything more technologically advanced than gun powder? I can’t believe Leon Kass and Jeremy Rifkin are considered more qualified to weigh in on the morality of cloning-related technologies than the thousands of scientists who actually perform the research or the millions of people who could actually benefit from it.

  4. Yes, we’ve been having this conversation for a long time. And from the looks of it, the consensus has always been “don’t mess with nature.” Opponents of modern bioengineering don’t recognize that they have always won the debate, it’s just that scientists have chosen to ignore them.

    Scientists may have been right to ignore them, but saying “we already talked about this” doesn’t hold much water when the universal conclusion of those conversations was “don’t do it.”

  5. “…despite the relentless efforts of a generation of prominent moral alarmists …25 years later, …IVF is widely applauded”

    Only this time we’re looking at federally imposed prohibition. By the time the blatant stupidity of the current Luddite paranoia becomes apparent, the world leader in first class health care will not be the U.S. If that were to inspire us to deregulate medicine on a larger scale, it would be worth it. I think it’s more likely to have the opposite effect.

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