The Tao of Biotechnology

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Of Men and Monsters

A March 2001 newspaper article stated that Arthur Peacocke, latest recipient of the Templeton prize, “believes scientists must be given broad freedom to work toward the eradication of disease and other forms of human suffering.” I’d like to ask, what freedoms do scientists not have?They were free when they created a mouse with a human ear on its back.

They were free when they created frogs with no heads, rabbits that glow, lambs with human genes. In short, they have enough freedom to create any kind of monster they want. (I don’t use that term in a pejorative sense. The word “monster” means “any animal, plant or thing of abnormal form or structure.”) They are free, in many cases, to place transgenic crops into the field, thereby making surrounding crops and organisms vulnerable to gene pollution and horizontal gene transfer, the long-term effects of which no one can say.

Where are the checks and balances to restrain the scientists and make them accountable? The large corporations give them limitless amounts of money and resources. The Biotech industry is represented in the highest levels of government. The FDA won’t even require labeling of genetically modified food. And the public is complacent and uninformed. Where are the impediments?

Certainly genetic engineering has the potential for enormous good, but it also has the potential for enormous, irrevocable harm. Arthur Peacocke had a bully pulpit upon receiving his million dollar prize. I wish he had used that pulpit to advocate more circumspection in the pursuit of scientific advances instead of elaborating positions that can only serve to strengthen the cause of untrammeled technology and big business.(March 2001)


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