Ethics and Biotechnology

Ethics and Biotechnology

Ethics and Biotechnology

Ethics and Biotechnology

Synopsis

The development of biotechnology has produced nothing short of a revolution, both in our capacity to manipulate living things from single plant cells to human nature itself, but also to manufacture brand new life forms. This power to shape and create forms of life has sometimes been described as the power to "play God" and this book is about the ethics of "playing God" in the field of biotechnology. International scholars cover moral dilemmas posed by biotechnology, from the smallest cells through animals to the engineering of human beings.

Excerpt

The development of biotechnology has produced nothing short of a revolution in our capacity not only to manipulate living things from single plant cells to human nature itself, but also to manufacture new life forms almost 'from scratch'. This power to shape and create forms of life has sometimes been described as the power to 'play God'. In this sense the power is not radically different from powers which humans have always possessed and exercised. The dilemma of power is not whether to exercise it-we literally can't help ourselves-but how to exercise it.

Some would dispute the claim that we cannot help ourselves, but there is an important sense in which all changes to the world from 'the fall of a sparrow' to the creation of a new life form make an irrevocable difference. Since we cannot avoid making a difference, it is our moral responsibility to decide what difference to make. This book is about the ethics of deciding what difference to make in the field of biotechnology. It is a vast field, ranging from plant breeding, agriculture, animal breeding and experimentation to human genetics and genetic engineering. We have not tried to be comprehensive, but in the essays that comprise this book we hope to have illustrated both the extent of the dilemmas posed by biotechnology and their fascination and importance.

Finally and equally importantly we hope and believe that the essays in this volume go some way to helping in the resolution of the moral dilemmas posed by biotechnology or at least to showing why some of them are so intractable.

In 'Modern errors, ancient virtues', Stephen Clark deals with a very important preamble to human biotechnology. Having noted the way in which biotechnology may eventually be used to tailor-make human individuals to our specification Clark points out that

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