The eminent communitarian scholar Amitai Etzioni has called upon President Biden to re-establish a bioethics commission to deal with the ethical and social consequence of genetic engineering. Since this can lead to germline modification, this is too important to be left to doctors and scientists, he says.
President Bush created the President’s Council on Bioethics. Although it was highly praised for its deep and humane philosophical analysis of major bioethical issues, it was also criticised as being unreasonably conservative. President Obama disbanded it and created The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Bioethics Commission), which offered more technical advice.
Etzioni says, however, that: “While this commission offers a much-needed perspective of the medical profession, it is also important to explore other moral, ethical, political and sociological implications of genetic engineering.”
He fears that genetic engineering could lead to social inequality, decrease genetic diversity, and “threaten the entire evolutionary process”. He even foresees the danger of government-mandated genetic changes.
“There should be a strong morally shared understanding and constitutional prohibitions against such government policies as they would indeed entail a return to eugenics and could permanently affect the gene pool due to the size and scope of such interventions.”
All of these scenarios call for robust debate amongst people from a variety of professional backgrounds within a bioethics commission.
Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge
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