The Deconstruction of Death

By Ikle, Fred C. | The National Interest, Winter 2000 | Go to article overview

The Deconstruction of Death

Ikle, Fred C., The National Interest

The Coming Politics of Biotechnology

SINCE THE eighteenth century, a succession of technological revolutions has transformed the human condition and the course of history. First, the steam engine took center stage. By the end of the nineteenth century, the multifaceted applications of electricity had begun to change the world. During the second half of the last century, computer technology transformed scientific research, economic activity, military forces and nearly every aspect of human affairs. Now the mapping of the genome [1] signals that a new wave of technology-driven change is coming.

The genome project highlights the recent progress in genetics and the other life sciences, which in turn inspires and sustains continuing advances in biotechnology. By promising to satisfy the most elemental human yearnings--the desire for good health and for the postponement of death--biotechnology attracts the kind of deep-rooted political support and strong financial backing that few other fields of science enjoy. It can therefore maintain a momentum capable of generating a stream of scientific-technological developments that governments and international organizations will find hard to control. And there is now little doubt about where this is leading: to human intervention in the process of evolution itself.

Some of these developments, it can be safely predicted, will pose new and fundamental challenges to prevailing religious doctrines and teachings. Longevity, combined with good health, is a goal that democratic governments cannot oppose. Who would want to block the path to possible eradication of hereditary sickle cell anemia, or to medications that promise a cure to Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases? But when such universally acceptable goals have been reached, science will not come to a full stop, even if religious organizations, ethics advocates or politicians should want to draw a line beyond which human nature must not be altered.

The good and the bad that the era of the genome promises to bring will often be inseparable. Consider this simple example: experts predict confidently that progress in biotechnology will make it possible, probably well before the end of this century, to extend people's active life span by twenty years or more. This, most people would agree, will be a good thing. But if this prediction comes true, one consequence will be that entrenched dictators will live longer, thus postponing the leadership successions that until now have so often offered the sole means of relief from tyrannical regimes. Stalin, for one, comes to mind as a fellow who would not have volunteered to retire had his doctors been able to keep him active and fit to the age of, say, 120. If he could have benefited from the medical technology that seems likely to be available a few decades hence, he would have ruled his evil empire until just about now, and his unfortunate subjects would have suffered many more campaigns of terror. And if biotechn ology could have offered Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping the same extended life span, Deng would still be waiting in the wings for an opportunity to implement his reforms.

The Genome and Globalization

GLOBALIZATION can only hasten the era of the genome. The Internet is facilitating the spread of the latest scientific discoveries in genetics and biotechnology, while the pressures for free trade are breaking down the barriers that Luddite movements erect to keep out products derived from these discoveries. When legislators in one country pass a law to prohibit an application of biotechnology that they judge to be politically incorrect, they will have to contend with the virtual certainty that other countries will happily exploit the new application. For instance, should the U.S. Congress decide to prohibit implants for human patients of organs derived from cloned sheep or pigs, Britain and Japan might allow the production and use of these "lifesaving" implants. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Deconstruction of Death


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.