Category Archives: Bioethics

Ethicists Generally Agree: The Pro-Life Arguments Are Worthless

(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, May 17, 2016.)

Abortion continues to make political news, but a question rarely asked by politicians or other interlocutors is: what do professional ethicists think about abortion? If ethicists have reached a consensus about the morality or immorality of abortion, surely their conclusions should be important. And, as a professional ethicist myself, I can tell you that among ethicists it is exceedingly rare to find defenders of the view that abortion is murder. In fact, support for this anti-abortion position, to the extent it exists at all, comes almost exclusively from the small percentage of philosophers who are theists.  And even among theists opposition to abortion is far from unanimous. Yet few seem to take notice of these facts.

To support the claim that the vast majority of ethicists reject the pro-life position, consider the disclaimer that appears in the most celebrated anti-abortion piece in the philosophical ethics literature, Don Marquis’ “Why Abortion Is Immoral.” Marquis begins:

The view that abortion is, with rare exceptions, seriously immoral has received
little support in the recent philosophical literature. No doubt most philosophers
affiliated with secular institutions of higher education believe that the anti-abortion position is either a symptom of irrational religious dogma or a conclusion generated by seriously confused philosophical argument.

Marquis concedes that abortion isn’t considered immoral according to most ethicists, but why is this the case? Perhaps professional ethicists, who are typically non-religious philosophers, find nothing morally objectionable about abortion because they aren’t religious. In other words, if they were devout they would recognize abortion as a moral abomination. But we could easily turn this around. Perhaps religiously oriented ethicists oppose abortion because they are religious. In other words, if there were not devout, they would see that abortion isn’t morally problematic. So both religious and secular ethicists could claim that the other side prejudges the case.

However, it is definitely not the case that secular ethicists care less about life or morality than religious ethicists. Consider that virtually all moral philosophers believe that murder, theft, torture, and lying are immoral because cogent arguments underlie such prohibitions. Oftentimes there is little difference between the views of religious and secular ethicists regarding moral issues. Moreover, when there is disagreement among the two groups, perhaps the secular philosophers are ahead of the ethical curve with their general acceptance of abortion, homosexuality, and certain forms of euthanasia.

How then do we adjudicate disputes in the moral realm when ethicists, like ordinary people, start with different assumptions? The key to answering this question is to emphasize reason and argument, the hallmarks of doing philosophical ethics. Both secular and religious individuals can participate in rational discourse to resolve their disputes. In fact, natural law moral theory—the dominant ethical theory throughout the history of Christianity—claims that moral laws are reasonable, which means that what is right is supported by the best rational arguments. Natural law theorists argue that by exercising the human reason their God has given them, they can understand what is right and wrong. Thus secular and religious philosophers work in the same arena, one where moral truths are those supported by the best reasons.

That ethicists emphasize rational discourse may be counter-intuitive in a society dominated by appeals to emotion, prejudice, faith, and group loyalty. But ethicists, secular and religious alike, try to impartially examine the arguments for and against moral propositions in order to determine where the weight of reason lies in the matter. Ethicists may not be perfect umpires, and the truth about moral matters is often difficult to tease out, but ethicists are trained to be impartial and thorough when analyzing arguments. Some are better at this than others, but when a significant majority agrees, it is probably because some arguments really are stronger than others.

Now you might wonder what make ethicists better able to adjudicate between good and bad arguments than ordinary people. The answer is that professional ethicists are schooled in logic and the critical thinking skills demanded by those who carefully and conscientiously examine arguments. They are also trained in the more abstract fields of meta-ethics, which considers the meaning of moral terms and concepts, as well as in ethical theory, which considers norms, standards, or criteria for moral conduct. Moreover, they are familiar with the best philosophical arguments that have been advanced for and against moral propositions. So they are in a good position to reject arguments that influence those unfamiliar with positions that oppose their favored ones.

All this education doesn’t mean that the majority of ethicists are right, so individuals who disagree with them may choose to follow their own conscience. But if the vast majority of ethicists agree about an ethics issue, we should take notice. It might be that the reasons you give for your fervently held moral beliefs don’t stand up to critical scrutiny. Perhaps they can’t be rationally defended as well as those reached after conscientious, informed, and impartial analysis. This doesn’t mean that you should ignore your conscience and accept expert opinion, but if you are serious about a moral problem you should want to know the views of those who have thoroughly studied the issue.

At this point you might object that there are no moral experts because ethics is relative to an individual’s opinions or emotions. You might say that the experts have their opinion and you have yours, and that’s the end of it. Perhaps our view of behaviors in the moral realm are similar to how we view carrots—some people like them and some don’t. This theory is called personal moral relativism. However, not only do most ethicists reject moral relativism, so must pro-lifers. After all, pro-lifers don’t think that the moral prohibition against abortion is relative;  they thinks it’s absolute. They believe that there are good reasons why abortion is immoral that any rational person should accept. However these reasons must be evaluated to see if they are really good ones; to see if they convince other knowledgeable persons. Yet so far, the pro-life arguments haven’t persuaded many ethicists.

Lacking good reasons or armed with weak ones, many will object that their moral beliefs derive from their God. To base your ethical views on Gods you would need to know: 1) if Gods exists; 2) if they are good; 3) if they issue good commands; 4) how to find the commands; and 5) the proper version and translation of the holy books issuing commands, or the right interpretation of a revelation of the commands, or the legitimacy of a church authority issuing commands, and more. Needless to say it is hard, if not impossible, to know any of this.

Consider just the interpretation problem. When does a seemingly straightforward command from a holy book like, “thou shalt not kill,” apply? In self defense? In war? Always? And to whom does it apply? To non-human animals? Intelligent aliens? Serial killers? All living things? The unborn? The brain dead? Religious commands such as “don’t kill,” “honor thy parents,” and “don’t commit adultery” are ambiguous. Difficulties also arise if we hear voices commanding us, or if we accept an institution’s authority. Why trust the voices in our heads, or institutional authorities?

For the sake of argument though, let’s assume: that there are Gods; that you know the true one; that your God issues good commands; that you have access to those commands because you have found the right book or church, or had the right vision, or heard the right voices; and that you interpret and understand the command correctly—even if they came from a book that has been translated from one language to another over thousands of years, or from a long ago revelation. It is almost impossible that you are correct about all this, but for the sake of the argument let’s say that you are. However, even in this case most philosophers would argue that you can’t base ethics on your God.

To understand why you can’t base ethics on Gods consider the question: what is the relationship between the Gods and their commands? A classic formulation of this relationship is called the divine-command theory. According to divine command theory, things are right or wrong simply because the Gods command or forbid them. There is nothing more to morality than this. It’s like a parent who says to a child: it’s right because I say so. To see how this formulation of the relationship fails, consider a famous philosophical conundrum: “Are things right because the Gods command them, or do the Gods command them because they are right?”

If things are right simply because the Gods command them, then their commands are arbitrary. In that case the Gods could have made their commandments backwards! If divine fiat is enough to make something right, then the Gods could have commanded us to kill, lie, cheat, steal and commit adultery, and those behaviors would then be moral. But the Gods can’t make something right, if it’s wrong. The Gods can’t make torturing children morally acceptable simply by divine decree, and that is the main reason why most Christian theologians reject divine command theory.

On the other hand, if the Gods command things because they are right, then there are reasons for the God’s commands. On this view the Gods, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, command things because they see certain commands as good for us. But if this is the case, then there is some standard, norm or criteria by which good or bad are measured which is independent of the Gods. Thus all us, religious and secular alike, should be looking for the reasons that certain behaviors should be condemned or praised. Even the thoughtful believer should engage in philosophical ethics.

So either the Gods commands are without reason and therefore arbitrary, or they are rational according to some standard. This standard—say that we would all be better off—is thus the reason we should be moral and that reason, not the Gods’ authority, is what makes something right or wrong. The same is true for a supposedly authoritative book. Something isn’t wrong simply because a book says so. There must be a reason that something is right or wrong, and if there isn’t, then the book has no moral authority on the matter.

At this point the believer might object that the Gods have reasons for their commands, but we can’t know them. Yet if the ways of the Gods are really mysterious to us, what’s the point of religion? If you can’t know anything about the Gods or their commands, then why follow those commands, why have religion at all, why listen to the priest or preacher? If it’s all a mystery, we should remain silent or become mystics.

In response the religious may say that, even though they don’t know the reason for their God’s commands, they must oppose abortion because of the inerrancy of their sacred scriptures or church tradition. They might say that since the Bible and their church oppose abortion, that’s good enough for them, despite what moral philosophers say. But in fact neither church authority nor Christian scripture unequivocally oppose abortion.

As for scriptures, they don’t generally offer specific moral guidance. Moreover, most ancient scriptures survived as oral traditions before being written down; they have been translated multiple times; they are open to multiple interpretations; and they don’t discuss many contemporary moral issues. Furthermore, the issue of abortion doesn’t arise in the Christian scriptures except tangentially. There are a few Biblical passages quoted by conservatives to support the anti-abortion position, the most well-known is in Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” But, as anyone who has examined this passage knows, the sanctity of fetal life isn’t being discussed here. Rather, Jeremiah is asserting his authority as a prophet. This is a classic example of seeking support in holy books for a position you already hold.

Many other Biblical passages point to the more liberal view of abortion. Three times in the Bible (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 22:20–21) the death penalty is recommended for women who have sex out-of-wedlock, even though killing the women would kill their fetuses. In Exodus 21 God prescribes death as the penalty for murder, whereas the penalty for causing a woman to miscarry is a fine. In the Old Testament the fetus doesn’t seem to have personhood status, and the New Testament says nothing about abortion at all. There simply isn’t a strong scriptural tradition in Christianity against abortion.

There also is no strong church tradition against abortion. It is true that the Catholic Church has held for centuries that activities like contraception and abortion which interrupt natural processes are immoral. Yet, while most pro-lifers don’t consider those distributing birth control to be murderers, the Catholic Church and others do take the extreme view that abortion is murder. Where does such a strong condemnation come from? The history of the Catholic view isn’t clear on the issue, but in the 13th century the philosopher Thomas Aquinas argued that the soul enters the body when the zygote has a human shape. Gradually, other Christian theologians came to believe that the soul enters the body a few days after conception, although we don’t exactly know why they believed this. But, given what we now know about fetal development today, if the Catholic Church’s position remained consistent with the views of Aquinas, they should say that the soul doesn’t enter the zygote for at least a month or two after conception. (Note also that there is no moment of conception, despite popular belief to the contrary.)

Thus the anti-abortion position doesn’t clearly follow from either scripture or church tradition. Instead what happens is that people already have moral views, and they then look to their religion for support. In other words, moral convictions aren’t usually derived from scripture or church tradition so much as superimposed on them. (For example, American Christians used the Bible to both support and oppose slavery.) But even if the pro-life position did follow from a religious tradition, that would only be relevant for religious believers. For the rest of us, and for many religious believers too, the best way to adjudicate our disputes without resorting to violence is to conscientiously examine the arguments for and against moral propositions by shining the light of reason upon them.

It also clearly follows that religious believers have no right to impose their views upon the rest of us. We live in a morally pluralistic society where, informed by the ethos of the Enlightenment, we should reject attempts to impose theocracy. We should allow people to follow their conscience in moral matters—you can drink alcohol—as long as others aren’t harmed—you shouldn’t drink and drive. In philosophy of law, this is known as the harm principle. If rational argumentation supported the view that the zygote is a full person, then we might have reason to outlaw abortion, inasmuch as abortion would harm another person. (I say might because the fact that something is a person doesn’t necessarily imply that’s it wrong to kill it, as defenders of war, self-defense and capital punishment claim.)

But for now the received view among ethicists is that the pro-life arguments fail, primarily because the fetus satisfies few if any of the necessary and sufficient conditions for personhood. The impartial view, backed by contemporary biology and philosophical argumentation, is that a zygote is a potential person. That doesn’t mean it has no moral significance, but it does mean that it has less significance than an actual person. An acorn may become an oak tree, but an oak tree it is not. You may believe that your God puts souls into newly fertilized eggs, thereby granting them full personhood, but that is a religious belief not grounded in science or philosophical ethics.

As for American politics and abortion, no doubt much of the anti-abortion rhetoric in American society comes from a punitive, puritanical desire to punish people for having sex. Moreover, many are hypocritical on the issue, simultaneously opposing abortion as well as the only proven ways of reducing it—good sex education and readily available birth control. As for many (if not most) politicians, their public opposition is hypocritical and self-interested. Generally they don’t care about the issue—they care about the power and wealth derived from politics—but they feign concern by throwing red meat to their constituencies. They use the issue as a ploy to garner support from the unsuspecting. These politicians may be pro-birth, but they aren’t generally pro-life, as evidenced by their opposition to policies that would support the things that children need most after birth like education, health-care, and economic opportunities. But what politicians and many ordinary people clearly don’t care about is whether their fanatical anti-abortion position is based in rational argumentation. And, according to most ethicists who have carefully examined the problem, it does not.

“The Case against Perfection”

I have vigorously defended transhumanism in this blog but I like to hear from some dissenters. Michael J. Sandel dissents in his article, “The Case against Perfection.” Here is a brief outline of the piece with some of my own parenthetical remarks.

Genetic engineering will improve the species, but some of it seems yucky. To understand why we need to consider “the moral status of nature, and …the proper stance of human beings toward the given world.” (Does nature have a moral status? Is there a proper stance toward it?)

Why is genetic engineering so bad? “The problem with eugenics and genetic engineering is that they represent the one- sided triumph of willfulness over giftedness, of dominion over reverence, of molding over beholding.” (What does this mean? This is all very cryptic.)

With genetic engineering:

  • we won’t be humble (about our gifts): “If bioengineering made the myth of the “ self- made man” come true, it would be difficult to view our talents as gifts for which we are indebted rather than achievements for which we are responsible.” (Is this true? And if it is, is it bad that it’s true?)
  • we will be too responsible (for human fate): “As humility gives way, responsibility expands to daunting proportions. We attribute less to chance and more to choice… The more we become masters of our genetic endowments, the greater the burden we bear for the talents we have and the way we perform… A domain once governed by fate has now become an arena of choice.” (Is this true? And if it is, is it bad that it’s true?)
  • We will feel less solidarity (with others): “…genetic enhancement, if routinely practiced, would make it harder to foster the moral sentiments that social solidarity requires.” (I don’t see why this is true.)

Objections

1)”Some may complain that it is overly religious; others may object that it is unpersuasive in consequentialist terms.” Response – “These various understandings of the sacred all insist that we value nature and the living beings within it as more than mere instruments; to act otherwise displays a lack of reverence, a failure of respect.”

2) “But those who care more about gaining a competitive edge for their children or themselves may decide that the benefits to be gained from genetic enhancement outweigh its allegedly adverse effects on social institutions and moral sentiments.” Response – “My concern with enhancement is not as individual vice but as habit of mind and way of being.” Sandel concludes:

The bigger stakes are of two kinds. One involves the fate of human goods embodied in important social practice–norms of unconditional love and an openness to the unbidden, in the case of parenting; the celebration of natural talents and gifts in athletic and artistic endeavors; humility in the face of privilege, and a willingness to share the fruits of good fortune through institutions of social solidarity. The other involves our orientation to the world that we inhabit, and the kind of freedom to which we aspire. ..But changing our nature to fit the world, rather than the other way around, is actually the deepest form of disempowerment. It distracts us from reflecting critically on the world, and deadens the impulse to social and political improvement. Rather than employ our new genetic powers to straighten ‘the crooked timber of humanity,’ we should do what we can to create social and political arrangements more hospitable to the gifts and limitations of imperfect human beings…

(Nothing about genetic engineering excludes changing social institutions for the better, and if we had followed Sandel’s advice throughout history we would still die young.)

“Moral Status of Cloning Humans”

(reprinted in the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, May 18, 2015)

Michael Tooley’s article “Moral Status of Cloning Humans” defends human cloning. I am in complete agreement with it. Cloning, despite the viceral reaction it raises, is a tool in the arsenal of the transhumanist once it is understood. Here is a brief outline of the article with a bit of commentary identified by parenthesis.

SECTION 1 – Is it Intrinsically Wrong to Produce a Person by Cloning?

Cloning might be wrong intrinsically because: 1) the right of a person to a genetically unique nature; and 2) the right of a person to a future that is, in a certain sense, open.

Regarding 1 – is it important to be unique? If there was another you on a distant planet does that diminish your worthiness?

Two persons could be identical because of deterministic law (genes and environment), or by chance (identical twins). Most people aren’t bothered by the latter, but by the former. If bothered by the former, is that because such persons would not be unique, or is one bothered because they don’t like determinism? Tooley thinks its determinism they don’t like, not the lack of uniqueness. But they should have no worries since cloning—even less than identical twins reared together—doesn’t imply genetic determinism (and doesn’t produce identical people.)

Do persons then have a right to a unique genome? The case of twins suggests they do not, as no one worries that there are twins or thinks it wrong to have twins. But is there some right violated by being a clone? It seems not.  One’s individuality is not threatened because someone else shares your genome. (Again that implies that genetic determinism is true, but we aren’t genetically determined.)

Or consider that if the gods had to choose between 1) evolution; 2) an original pair who would mate, or 3) an original pair who would reproduce perfect clones of themselves forever. Might not the gods have rejected the former as too random, and chose the latter instead? Would this last world be worse than the others, or much better?  Tooley thinks it would have been better. This suggests there is nothing crucial about genetic uniqueness.

Regarding 2 – we might think certain futures aren’t open to us because someone who preceded us did or did not do certain things. Tooley suggests such knowledge would be helpful, since we wouldn’t attempt to do impossible or extremely unlikely things based upon knowledge of our genome.  Or, if one thought themselves constrained by their genome, they would be wrong, as the case of identical twins shows. (Again, genetic potentials, dispositions, propensities, or proclivities do NOT imply genetic determinism.) Thus the arguments against cloning are unconvincing.

SECTION 2 – Considerations in Support of Cloning

In support of cloning Tooley offers the following:

1) We would gain scientific knowledge about nature vs. nurture debate. Such knowledge would be potentially beneficial to society and child rearing;
2) We could clone persons who have made significant contributions to society;
3) We can increase the chances that one will be happy and healthy;
4) It will improve and inform the relationship for both children and parents—since the parent will better recall what it was to be that child;
5) It would help infertile couples who could not otherwise have children;
6) It will allow homosexual couples to have their own children; and
7) It would save lives (primarily by the ability to clone perfectly compatible organs.)

SECTION 3 – Objections to the Cloning of Humans

Still, even if the arguments against cloning are weak—as the first section demonstrated—and there are multiple benefits to cloning—as the second section argued—cloning might still be wrong because of some bad consequences that might follow its adoption.

Arguments against cloning and responses to those arguments

1) Creating mindless organ banks is wrong because you are killing a person, or because you are not allowing a person to have a brain or soul, or because it is killing a potential person.

Response – Tooley rejects all of these objections. There are no convincing reasons to think that embryos, brainless organs, or potential people are people. Furthermore, while some may think organ banks are ghoulish, not using them allows innocent people to die who would otherwise not die. Thus to advocate against cloning is to recommend a course of action that will result in the death of many innocent people. (Remember also that in practice we’re talking about cells being directed to develop into a pancreas, liver, heart, etc. Not whole bodies hanging on hooks in chambers as in the movies.)

2) Cloning violates the rights of clones to a genetically unique or open future.

Response – This objection has already dealt with.

3) Brave New World scenarios such as human beings will cloned to serve as slaves, soldiers in the dictator’s army, etc.

Response – Such scenarios are not plausible.  Would society suddenly change their mind about the immorality of slavery because of genetic engineering? Would a dictator who couldn’t conscript his own army undertake a cloning project so that in twenty years he had the army he wanted? Not likely. (Remember you must show not that something is possible but that it’s plausible.)

4) Cloning will cause psychological distress because clones will think their uniqueness compromised or future constrained.

Response – The beliefs that give rise to such distress are, as we have seen, false; and they are also irrational since, as we have seen, genetic determinism is false. But we should not be constrained by the irrational beliefs of others. Moreover, these irrational beliefs will cease when cloning becomes familiar.

5) We use children—treat them as means to an end—when we clone them to save another child.

Response – Tooley thinks it unlikely that parents would be less likely to care or love their offspring in such situations.

6) Cloning interferes with autonomy.

Response – If my child is cloned with a genetic capability or potential to be intellectuals, that doesn’t mean they have to be. The same if they are disposed to be intellectuals; they still don’t have to be. In addition, is it really wrong to want children who won’t suffer from genetic diseases?  Finally, If cloning to produce children with certain traits is wrong, then so are almost all child rearing practices.

SECTION 4 – Conclusion

“My overall conclusion, in short, is that the cloning of human beings, both to produce mind-less organ banks, and to produce persons, is both morally acceptable, in principle, and potentially very beneficial for society.”

“The Morality of Killing Human Embryos”

Here are bullet points which summarize “The Morality of Killing Human Embryos”  by the philosopher Bonnie Steinbock:

  • Are embryonic stem cells persons? Do they have moral status?
  • Some things don’t have moral status—rocks—some things have more status than others—people than fish.
  • People have moral status because they’re homo-sapiens.
  • But when do they become human organisms?
  • Some say at conception, but this is at odds with the facts of modern biology.
  • Biologically, a genuine and unique organism presents itself at implantation—at about 14 days.
  • And biological humanity does not imply moral status—as the examples of extraterrestrials and persons in vegetative states show. Some humans aren’t people, and some people aren’t humans.
  • One could object to #7 by asking why should we limit moral status to persons.
  • Might there be a middle ground between the biological and personhood views of moral status?
  • We may think of moral status as corresponding with having interests or a stake in something.
  • A being must have interests to have moral rights and status.
  • Non-conscious beings do not have interests, nothing matters to them.
  • And we do have a good idea of what it’s like to be conscious—conscious beings have interests.
  • Embryos do not have consciousness or interests and hence no moral status.
  • What about the argument that it was in one’s interest not to have been killed as a fetus?
  • Steinbock counter that one never was an unconscious fetus, one comes to be when one is conscious.
  • Steinbock also argues that it does not matter to you if you are aborted before you are conscious.
  • At any rate, embryos outside of bodies have no future.
  • Most of these embryos have no future even if implanted.
  • Cloned embryos have no chance of have a future, hence they are even less morally problematic.
  • It is morally acceptable to use embryos in research because they have no moral status.

“Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Human Improvement”

I believe that of all the authors I’ve encountered during my 30 year university teaching career, none was more painful to read than Leon Kass. Kass, among his many roles, served as the chair of the President’s Council on Bioethics after being appointed by George W. Bush.

When I read an enemy of the future like Kass, a quintessential lover of suffering and death, I wonder: a) what is wrong with this person? b) how can he believe what he believes? and c) why does he want to force his views on others?

In some ways these questions are easy to answer. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with loving death and dying; perhaps suffering and death are good things. And many people like to influence other people, I suppose all writers do, but I always found something particularly disturbing in Kass’ writings. It’s no so much that he believes stem cell research is immoral—although that position is nearly indefensible—is it his desire to control others that is so repugnant. Of course a lot of old conservatives are like this. They see the world they lived in receding into the past, and they want to stop the tide.

In 2003, Kass published: “Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Human Improvement.” He begins his article by granting that biomedical science and biotechnology have made contributions to society, but he worries that our children and grandchildren might succumb to technologies’s “seductive promises of a perfect, better-than-human future, in which we shall all be as gods, ageless and blissful.”

Hold it right there. Of all the things to worry about, he worries about the perfect, the better, the ageless, the blissful. I’m reminded of H. L. Mencken’s remark that a Puritan is someone who just can’t stand that somebody somewhere is having fun. But Kass isn’t through. He also worries that “the likely ends that these powers and techniques are destined to serve: ageless bodies, happy souls, better children, a more peaceful and cooperative society, etc.”

Wow! He opposes happiness, good children, peace, and cooperation, but he loves death. Surely something is wrong with this man; you wonder if he has ever smiled except when he knows that others are suffering. I mean, is all this perfection, agelessness, happiness, peace, cooperation and love really bad? Evidently according to Kass. I wonder how a traveller from another planet, who saw the pain and injustice of this world would respond to such a supporter of the status quo?

Kass does express some legitimate worries with pursuing these technologies: (1) issues of safety and bodily harm; (2) issues of unfairness and distributive justice; and (3) issues of freedom and coercion, overt and subtle. And “to put this disquiet into words,” and elucidate his “wisdom of repugnance,” Kass advances some further objections: 1) that the attitude of mastery displays an unwise hubris; 2) there is a morally relevant way in which biotech is an unnatural means; and 3) some of the goals of biotech are dubious. In the end, all this stuff makes Kass feel yucky.

But of course I don’t feel yucky when contemplating biotechnology or most other futuristic technologies, I feel hopeful. I want to be more happy and peaceful and cooperative. If Kass doesn’t want to, then he is welcomed to be as unhappy as he likes. And I don’t like suffering and death. If Kass likes them, he is welcome to die at anytime. In fact autonomy demands that we be allowed to die when we want. But I resent his trying to keep new technologies from those of us who want them. And that’s exactly what he was trying to do as chair of the Ethics committee; he wanted to make sure that stem cell research did not proceed. I resent such paternalism, as any autonomous being would.

But Kass and his ilk will ultimately fail. When safe biotechnology becomes available, it will be wildly popular, just like the in vitro fertilization that Kass once opposed. The march of the future is inexorable and will only be delayed, not stopped, by lovers of death and enemies of the future like Kass.