Under our new system of belief, all avenues of research would likely be inherently “good” and “right” because Life uses knowledge to gain control of needed resources, and control opens new avenues of development and leads to evolutionary enhancements. Of course, new knowledge carries with it the potential for doing wrong, just as every iota of understanding has always done. But it also carries with it an equal and opposite potential for doing right.
Genes control almost everything in nature, from behaviour (fidelity, for instance, has been transferred from prairie voles to mice by gene manipulations at Emory University), to longevity (the average lifespan of a fruit fly has been doubled, from 37 to 70 days, with no apparent diminishment of life quality, by rearranging genes). Since many genes that perform basic functions are identical across different species (including between plants and animals) it will not be long before scientists will be able to manipulate human genes towards progeny exhibiting almost any trait desired.
Governments are grappling with where to draw the line when it comes to conducting genetic research. Some state that, for example, organs such as replacement ears or hearts may be grown from embryonic stem cells otherwise destined never to develop; others decry this. Most are inclined to say that embryonic cells should not be deliberately grown to obtain stem cells, presumably because they do not want to be forced to decide exactly when human life begins, or to reopen debates related to abortion.<ref.Politicians seldom like to discuss ethical or moral matters. This may be because they cannot predict how expressing possibly contentious views might turn voters’ opinions in the next election.</ref> Querying the universal purpose definition should advise us how to proceed.
Almost all countries, at the moment, seem to contend that cloning humans is wrong, but I do not understand why. We have never hesitated to clone other animals and plants; how, precisely, are humans different? The desire to support the attainment of a universal purpose should help societies determine the most appropriate standpoint to take. And, as has been pointed out earlier, if a single global law is needed to simplify enforcement, then our best chance of defining one that might be respected has to be through the development of a supported universal purpose.
Xenotransplantation (i.e., transferring cells or tissues from one species to another) will probably be considered dangerous for many years to come, on practical rather than moral grounds. Viral fragments from one species can combine with genes in another and have devastating consequences. For example, tissues preserved in Alaskan permafrost of a woman who died from the Spanish flu epidemic (which killed over forty million people in 1918-19) showed when analyzed that the flu was a virus formed when sections of two genes, one normally occurring in humans, the other normally occurring only in pigs, somehow became spliced together.
Another issue that currently presents moral challenges is gene patenting. Universities and organizations conducting biological research have been patenting gene-altered plants and animals for decades. Clearly, private investors and venture capitalists would generally not fund research if there were no prospects of financial gain. Sales of any resulting products or technologies return funds to investors, pay for past and future research, buy needed equipment, etc., but only while patents protect a company’s proprietary rights. This money comes from those who can afford to buy the product, and therein lies the rub. Drugs that help AIDS sufferers, for example, are expensive to create, and this effectively restricts their distribution and use to wealthy countries. This places two organizing systems, an economic one and a moral one, in direct conflict.
The world’s economic decisions are made to realize economic goals; the world’s moral decisions are made to realize religious goals. This dichotomy prompts demonstrations of protest when monetary policy conferences or the like are held. Much discord and conflict would be avoided if the two value systems could be integrated.
Economic goals are simple to understand and usually simple to compute—the bottom line says it all. Religious goals, on the other hand, are many, complex and varied. They also fight each other, vying for precedence. If our various religious objectives could be united to present one overarching goal (perhaps under the banner of a universal religion), then its priority versus the priority of an economic goal might be more readily assessed. Clearly no unification of moral and economic goals can be achieved while the current situation prevails.
- Adam Nash, born in the United States in 2000, has been called the first designer baby. He was conceived specifically so that his six-year-old sister, who would otherwise die from Fanconi anemia, could be given stem cells from his umbilical cord. Several eight-cell embryos were screened and one that matched the sister’s tissues but did not contain the disease-causing genes was implanted. (Geneticists find that 75% of all embryos screened for chromosomal disorders are abnormal; an explanation for why so many embryos abort spontaneously.)
- This debate may soon become unnecessary, because stem cells can now be grown from embryos created by parthenogenesis, whereby an egg cell is chemically induced to develop into an embryo (i.e., no sperm cell is required). Such embryos occur in nature but fail to live beyond a few divisions. Parthenogenetically created monkey stem cells have been used to grow functioning heart and brain cells.
- However, when the courts ruled that the Harvard Mouse (a genetically altered mouse much used in cancer research) was property, they were stating that companies can claim ownership of newly created living organisms, another potential moral minefield. Does a genetically altered human baby become a company’s property now?