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New genetic findings raise many ethical questions

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on July 03, 2000:

Senator Dyson In what President Clinton called ďa stunning, humbling achievement,Ē at a White House news conference, a group of scientists presented a first: the entire human gentic code. This is as major scientific news as it gets. The president and the scientists were all smiles. I got over my initial awe, I was amazed at what the human mind can attain. I was proud that in my lifetime, I lived to see something so momentous in the history of science. And I was concerned, too.

There is no question in my mind that this knowledge will save countless lives and is as exciting a scientific breakthrough thatís come along in a long time. Some say its tantamount to manís walking on the moon. Others say itís as momentous as the discovery of the atom that helped produce the atomic bomb. The former event was a tribute to manís genius to do something awe-inspiring while the latter was a scary reminder that we can also produce something catostrophic.

Cracking the genetic code offers all kinds of ethical questions that will no doubt come before the Congress, Maryland General Assembly and federal and state agencies. For instance, prescription drug manufacturers and scientists will be able to use this new genetic code to come up with various new ways to fight diseases such as diabetes, cancer and AIDS. The Food and Drug Administration will then have the formidable duty of approving or banning these new drugs. Congress and state legislatures will have to consider laws whether to allow scientistsí experiments.

The ethical questions are mind-boggling, especially when it comes to cloning. Already, I have received a call asking me to introduce legislation banning the cloning of humans in Maryland.

Thereís no question that scientistsí abilities to clone a human being are close at hand. Theyíve already done it with mice, rats, now sheep. We all know who Dollie the cloned sheep is. Thereís nothing to make me believe we canít clone ourselves.

The very idea is intriguing, but is it ethical? Is it right? Who is to say if the technology is there that we canít clone ourselves so our genetic being may live for hundreds of years? Or so that we may have a constant companion? Or that we may be able to resurrect a dead loved one? This is a debate for which there are no ready answers.

What if we were able to resurrect Hitler, Stalin or Ivan the Terrible? There are plenty of neo-Nazi organizations all over the world that would love to clone and raise another Adolph Hitler. And yet it would also give scientists a unique opportunity to analyze the brain of the man who demanded the deaths of 12 million people. We would get a rare chance to understand if there is a gene that causes the type of behavior Hitler exhibited.

On the positive side, we could clone Beethoven -- or Elvis if you wish Ė so that we may enjoy many more years of wonderful music we have been deprived of since their deaths.

Genetic manipulation may also allow scientists to permit parents to choose what sex their baby will be. Thereís a reason why the percentage of boys and girls born is about equal. Choosing sexes will change that balance immensely.

I have voted in the past to limit abortion funding. Yet millions of young lives are snuffed out each year by this heinous practice. Imagine how many more abortions will be allowed if a fetus is deemed to have any kind of birth defect. Itíll happen.

Iím a man of deep faith who believes in God and the way He created the world. Man is only one of Godís creations, not God himself. By breaking this genetic code, man, in all his hubris, may just believe he is God. We must always we wary of this type of arrogance.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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