In 1932, a prophetic young novelist warned with cautioning irony, of a genetically engineered dystopian society. He warned of a world where man had conquered nature, where individualism had fallen to conformity and where political power had achieved total social control. He warned of an age where God, poetry, passion and most of all freedom had disappeared from right under humanity's nose. And finally, he warned of a time when civilization had seemingly turned into robotic life forms, lacking any clear understanding of morals or ethics - it had become essentially soulless.
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In this make-believe universe, mankind had succeeded in eliminating disease, aggression, war and suffering. This Brave New World had achieved community, identity, stability and a near universal contentment only to be inhabited by creatures of human shape but stunted humanity. Esteemed colleagues of the scientific world, I am here to inform you that this once distant future has now arrived right at our very doorstep. The question I propose is: What do we do about it? The Pill. Invitro Fertilisation. Bottled embryos. Surrogate wombs. Organ harvesting.
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Brain implants. Ritalin for the young, Viagra for the old and Prozac for everyone in between. But, out of all these scientific innovations, I proclaim that genetic engineering poses the greatest threat to our way of life. Genetic engineering is what I see as an unbridled journey down an incredibly slippery slope. I warn you today, that human procreation is steadily being replaced by the idea of 'manufacturing' our progeny. Unless this concept is reversed, mankind's movement toward Aldous Huxley's Hatcheries and Michael Bay's Island must surely prove irrevocable.
Given the intricacies of the human mind, we doubtless possess the potential for reproducing, someday, to the exact specifications, a human person. But should we? Should we really take the first step? Should we really abandon the old-fashioned genetic roulette of sexual reproduction and replace the variegated human race with identical replicas of carefully chosen, ideal human genotypes? So far the scientific world has said no. Moreover, we have witnessed an enthralling revolution in history, in which the rapid advancement of technology has allowed us to push back the constraints of human existence.
I am of course, talking about the birth of Dolly the sheep. Now Dolly is no ordinary sheep. Yes, she may look like one and act no different to her fellows in the flock, but Dolly was cloned - cloned only nine short years ago. They said for centuries that it could never be done; that it was just not possible, and tampering with DNA would only lead to expected failure. But we did it barely seven decades after the publication of Huxley's frightening foresight. After Dolly's conception, the whole world was thrown into a raging whirlpool of fear and anxiety, enquiring just how long it would be before humans were subjected to the same fate.
For now, ethicists have taken the reigns in this debate and have stood firm against any form of human genetic engineering support. But the colossal wheel of science is forever turning and this breakthrough scientific sensation has reminded us that it cannot simply be stopped. Thus, the importance of ethical boundaries must be continually stressed and highlighted. As a man of science, I am not here to dissuade you from pursuing scientific grandeur. I am only here to alert you of the abhorrent effects that will no doubt present themselves to humanity should the unrestrained research of cloning continue.
Now, what is at issue is nothing less than whether procreation is going to remain human, whether children are going to be made rather than begotten, and whether it is the right choice, humanly speaking, to say yes to the road which leads, at best, to the dehumanized rationality of Brave New World. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is not business as usual, to be fretted about for a while and then given our seal of approval; not the least because it appears to be different. Instead, the future of humanity may hang in the balance.
I am talking to you about a decision whose consequences will undoubtedly affect your children and your children's children. The debate regarding genetic engineering is much more than just an argument about one more step in assisted reproduction. This is in actuality one of those critical moments where the human race gets a chance to think about the bigger picture - the much bigger picture. I'm not just speaking of genetics and what is the meaning of mother and father or kinship, but also the whole relationship between science and society and our future attitude towards technology.
Cloning provides an occasion as well as the urgent necessity of deciding whether we shall be slaves of an unregulated process and ultimately its artefacts or whether we shall remain free individuals to guide our techniques towards the enhancement of human dignity. After all it was Huxley himself who quoted: 'Every discovery in science is potentially subversive; even science must sometimes be treated as a possible enemy'. You may disregard this speech as nothing more than mere scare-tactics, but am I really that foolish to question a world built on the foundations of totalitarianism and complete control.
Ladies and gentlemen, have you forgotten the rise and fall of Communism, the movements of both Nazism and Stalinism as well the 'one-child policy' enforced by the Chinese government? In this age of entertainment, when philosophical and theological questions are pushed aside as too difficult or too deep, cloning brings us face to face with our perception of what it means to be human and makes us confront both the privileges and limitations of life itself. We live in a consumerist society where the relentless pursuit of youth has already enslaved the minds of the Western world.
We want to live longer, be happier, appear more 'beautiful' and own as much materialistic 'junk' as we possibly can. The idea of 'ageing gracefully' is thrown out the window and replaced by the new and improved concept of cosmetic surgery and designer babies. Truly, we do seem to have accepted the Brave New World belief that "ending is better than mending". What we have is never enough. We say that globalisation within the last fifty years has become the pinnacle agent of socialisation, but at what cost to our future?
It looks as though the Big-Brother style binding of the mass media has only aided in making us feel lonelier and more dissatisfied with our very existence. This dog-eat-dog world has wrongly underpinned the notion that each man is in control of his own universe. As people of science, it is essential we realise who has the authority to control who. A most memorable Huxley quote is: "The greater a man's talent, the greater is his power to lead astray".
I strongly urge you to look at these past examples of repression and tyranny as valuable lessons on what eventuates when substantial power is given to only a select few. Finally it must be said, that at the end of the day, I find cloning morally and aesthetically completely unacceptable. Perhaps at the heart of my repugnance is a curious paradox, asking why it is that although it would be fun to have a Beethoven, Marilyn Monroe or Einstein living on my block, the idea of having hundreds or thousands of their replicas in town is an absolute nightmare?
The reason, I propose, is the generally shared belief in the uniqueness of our human soul. Even though the soul is incorporeal and in truth has little relevance to the laboratory, its value to the majority of humankind, is still of utmost importance. By perfecting the technique of genetic engineering you are unfairly playing the role of God. Who are you to decide which genetic sins are capital offences against the Holy Ghost of Health?
And yet, those in favour of cloning claim that it is nothing more than an extension of what breeders of plants and animals had been doing for thousands of years and, indeed, what nature itself did through evolution. They argue that to oppose human genetic engineering, is to betray the western dream of the City of God. All utopian visionaries, from Thomas More to Karl Marx, think of their perfect societies as being populated not by men but by angels that embody all of the best and none of the worst human attributes - comparable to that of an Alpha Plus.
So I shall leave you to think of this: Today we are quick to notice dangers to life, risks of discrimination or exploitation of the poor and the interferences with anyone's pursuit of pleasure, but we are obliviously ignorant to recognize threats to our own human dignity and to ways in which the very sanctity of life is placed in danger. The future possibilities in the world of science are incredible; however the need for caution in the field of genetic engineering research is essential if we want to continue owning personal freedom.
It was established by Aldous Huxley that "it is only by means of the sciences of life, that the quality of life can be radically changed". Even though our Prozac is not yet the Brave New World's 'soma', our dividing of human embryos is not exactly 'Bokanovskification' and our MTV is not quite the 'feelies', the similarity between Huxley's fictional world and ours is disquieting, especially since I believe that our technology has not yet reached its bio-technological peak. Just remember, the admirable actions that men perform can be made complete only by the actions they refuse to pursue.
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