Bioethicists have their job cut out for them. There are so many issues that need their input: stem-cell research, cloning, animal experimentation, organ sales on the Internet, human genetic selection, the right to die, weapons testing, genetic manipulation of plants and animals. All these issues are politically fraught, as clashing views buffet government and science from the left and the right. Bioethicists are taking up these conundrums issue by issue, but they should also be paying attention to the political rhetoric that goes with this territory, a rhetoric that's almost as dangerous as the issues themselves.
Listen, for instance, to Ron Reagan at the Democratic National Convention in Boston: "And another thing, these embryonic stem cells, they could continue to replicate indefinitely and, theoretically, can be induced to recreate virtually any tissue in your body. How'd you like to have your own personal biological repair kit standing by at the hospital? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine."
This is a classic example of the kind of political discourse fantasy that takes deep questioning completely out of the picture. I don't have an agenda myself, I am probably all for freeing stem-cell research from religious arguments against it, but there is danger in the rhetoric of the fantasy itself. This kind of fantasy can be equally used in the service of cloning: "How'd you like to have your personal clone standing by ready to provide you with organs that could prolong your life indefinitely? Sound like magic? Welcome to the future of medicine!"
And to the future, I might add -- of a new race of slave beings that exist only to provide us with organs for the perpetuation of our bodies. Here, I do have an agenda. Cloning human beings is wrong -- not only because most of what science has accomplished so far is a series of failed organisms, but because cloning is an antidemocratic tool to perpetuate a grotesque social class, i.e. the rich. I'm not saying that the poor are any less grotesque than the rich, only that it disturbs me profoundly that people with means should have the hubris to fantasize their self-perpetuation. Here is science, with its tendrils of utopia, turning good intentions into their evil twin. The politicians should leave fiction to poets and novelists. They should stick to the science and to the ethics of the research. Anything else, good intentions or not, leads directly to hell.