I am, I must confess, no great romanticist. If I were to ever become one in fact, in some far off stretch of the imagination, I am quite sure that I would be a petty one at best, lacking for the most part all manner of conviction and adherence to such beliefs. I do not look to the lifestyles of centuries gone by with a wistful longing, though I do hold select members of their populous in the highest esteem. I do not envy generations deprived of running water, of electricity, of modern medicine, of computers and the digital age, of revolutionary forms of transportation, and the almost endless other improvements and comforts to which we owe the insight and innovation of our scientists and inventors with the misguided assumption that natural simplicity is inherent in virtue. I do not consider the ignorance, though by no means self-imposed, but rather fought bitterly at times, and the needless suffering at the hands of beast and nature, of wind and rain and the perils to which mortal flesh may fall, to which these men and women were subject by any means desirable. I am glad indeed that we have moved at least a single step away from these days.

As it is the principle force which has delivered us from such an era, I feel no shame in admitting that the chief blessing bestowed on humanity by our Creator, besides that of course of life and free will, is the gift of reason. Intellect has allowed human kind to advance its station in life exponentially. With modern farm equipment, the farmer can reap yields unimaginable to his predecessors. With vaccinations and antibiotics, generations need no longer die in infancy or become crippled in their prime. With the Internet and the computer, knowledge infinitely more vast than that seen by even the past’s wisest and richest individuals is at the fingertips of the common man. Comfort, health, luxury, and happiness have all been furthered through the genius of humanity, that much is simple fact, but I will here say that it is a dangerous notion to conclude that the end result of any advancement, any science, is a net gain for humanity as a whole. That which has the power to help, one must remember, has likewise the potential to destroy and ruin; no where is this reality more stark than in the discussion of our very identity, of our DNA. The question here is not what could we do, for the answer to that is all-encompassing if given an adequate amount time, but what should we do? It falls then to us to draw a line in the sand. And as we as a species have been bestowed with free will, spirituality alone can only carry us so far in the matter, diverse in belief as the planet is, for though the words and teachings of God may offer irreplaceable guidance which it would be to our advantage to follow, in the end it is our decision as to what we will do. Therefore, it is in the best interests of all to show here that the dictates of faith need not exclude those of logic and reason; they are after all better companions than enemies, and would seem in especially the discussion of genetics, principally the fields of genetic modification, cloning, and stem cell research, to walk much the same path.

Science, it could be reasonably asserted, is not as novel as many would have one believe, at least as far as practical applications are concerned. Though some advances are indeed revolutionary, and some of these will of course be covered in this discussion, many are just fresh takes on how to do better what one has been done before, to improve on our improvements. The case of genetically modified plants and animals is a striking example of this. Though the science of DNA and the manipulation of such in and of itself is certainly new, that which it is to be used for in the practical sense has been around for centuries. Farmers and ranchers long ago realized the advantages inherent in selective breeding. Even in areas overwhelmingly mundane, such as the subject of pets, in which due to the demand of aspiring owners the various breeds of dogs were “artificially” cultivated for either a specific work-line or for an aesthetic affect, the forefather of genetic modification is apparent. The controversy and debate concerning introducing these sciences into the world’s food supply centers around, if one is to be truly honest with themselves, nothing more than a more efficient and streamlined approach to what has been done by humans for centuries. I see little reason therefore, in light of the sheer lack of clear evidence to warn of the necessity of the contrary (and I do not consider paranoia or technophobia to be a article of concrete evidence) to restrict its use, especially when the benefits of this take on old science are so tantalizing.

The chief argument made in opposition to this type of genetic modification centers essentially on the sanctity of nature, of how it would be a capital crime to dare meddle with affairs not our own. Whether this argument is anchored by religious beliefs which consider these acts to be transgressions on God’s will and an usurpation of his divine right to create and mold life (a common line of the attacker is that “we are not God”), or the inherent divinity of nature in and of itself, a party line which would have no doubt appealed to the flower children of a generation gone by, varies among party to party. Both arguments however I consider to be flimsy at best. To both I state again that the science being undertaken here is not truly revolutionary in any strict sense of the word. It is improved, vastly so, but there is nothing new about trying to raise a better crop with the latest science available. For those parties disposed to consider the genetic modification of plants and animals an evil, I can quickly provide a long list of common food items which they would be well advised to strike from their diet due to the tampering of bygone generations. Personally however, even if it does carry the sin of being cultivated from wild cabbage, I have no qualms indulging in a stalk of broccoli or two.

I am not naïve enough to claim that with this science there are no risks, that much is all but inherent in any advance. The fact though that something could go wrong, is not in my opinion adequate justification to shut down a science, which has the potential to do so much good in the world. Practices such as abortion are immoral and worthy of probationary legislation not because it has the potential to cause harm, but it does do harm to another life, harm which, as it is fundamentally murder, outweighs the potential benefits of the practice. The same certainty is not applicable to genetic modification. The treats of the science, the diffusion of harmful allergens throughout the food supply (it is interesting to note here that many scientists have hypothesized that the reason for American’s seeming hypersensitivity to allergens in comparison to other, often poorer areas of the world, is our lack of exposure to them), loss of biodiversity, health treats from side effects of the new crops, etc., are only possible outcomes. Should we approach the subject with care, the risk can be no doubt greatly minimized. While I do not think that genetic modification would cure world hunger, for as food supplies rise so do populations historically, these higher crop yields comprised of more nutritious staples, the still experimental yellow rice is a good example of this, more resilient to weather or pests and thereby easier to grow, could allow scientists to combat that plague as best as humans at present can. That much is our duty. Furthermore, as these crops could be grown as any other might, being nearly identical to their “natural” counterparts, farmers could grow them themselves rather than relying on government handouts that shackle the people to politicians and rob them of the independence so dear to men and women.

I think in much the same light when contemplating the legalization of the cloning animals for commercial purposes. First of all, before I go any further I think that it is necessary to point our that, much in the same way that genetically modified plants have already infiltrated the general food supply, the products of cloned animals have long since been introduced into the American diet. It is indirectly I suppose as it is not yet considered acceptable to produce for consumption cloned meat, substituting instead meat gathered from the offspring of clones or their secondary products like cheese and milk. While some serious questions need to be answered concerning the safely of cloned meat as many researchers have noted that in the copying process mutations may occur within the DNA, the paranoia some consumers have about this method of production seems if not completely unfounded, unwarranted to the degree that it is expressed.

Furthermore, like genetic modification, the benefits of cloning are very real. Cloning could allow ranchers to produce effortlessly and, once the technology advances and prices fall, cheaply a high yield of prize cows, chickens, sheep, etc. All it would entail is the selection of a particularly effective milk-cow for instance and a small sample of her genetic code to produce a score of identical creatures with the same commercial assets which made the original so valuable. Producers would be able to cut costs, sell more, and accrue a higher amount of profit while providing a superior product which consumers would then have access to far more cheaply than would be allowed through previous methods.

I do argue that further research as well as labeling for both cloned meat and modified crops would do much to ease the controversies. Research would give consumers more knowledge as to the safety of the products and the labels would allow them to make a choice for themselves, to, if they fear that they do not know enough about the product to assess that it is safe, choose to dismiss it from their diets, or to embrace it with the full knowledge of their actions. That choice however is integral to the matter. Ignorance and a lack of liberty to govern one’s own life does much to breed fear in the hearts of men after all.

I take a much more suspicious look however at the discussion of these sciences when applied to human kind. As to my reason for such views, which some might slander as hypocritical, I will openly admit that I do not think animal or plant life equal in value to that of a human. While I do not advocate excessive cruelty to these animals (I see no reason to beat a cow before it is butchered) I, like any human being who does not balk at the conventional ownership of animals as pets or the consumption of their flesh in one’s daily diet, do have the admitted tendency to objectify these creatures when their use or sacrifice can in some way benefit the lives of my fellow humans. I will not devote further space as to my reasons for such a view, as such is a more lengthy discussion than I would wish to begin in full knowledge that it would lead away my concentration from the topic at hand. For the purposes of this paper it is sufficient to say that I consider the suffering of an animal negligible when compared to that of human suffering of an equal or lesser degree. It is for this reason that though I condone research and experimentation on animals or plants and the application of their findings in practical life given that such only shows that it does not pose a definite and certain threat to humanity, I cannot accept the application of similar technologies upon humans unless they can in no way impede upon the dignity and the natural rights of our species.

My principle issue with genetically modifying humans is that the choice of whether or not modification is to take place and, if it is to take place, what the nature of the modifications are to be, does not lie with the person being modified, but with the parent of said person. There are some qualities which are indeed considered to be “universally desirable” and in respect to these qualities I have little quarrel with their enhancement through genetic modification. Traits such as health and intelligence, by which I here mean intelligence as in the ability to comprehend or acquire new information, are not ones which reasonable individuals would take affront to possessing in greater qualities. As such I consider the affront upon the liberties of the unborn individual in question minimal, much as it is minimal to subject an infant to a vaccine regimen intended to prevent that infant’s contraction of disease. It can be assumed in nearly all cases that it is a choice after all which would have been made by the individual himself were he able to make it.

This is opposed to cosmetic enhancements, the desirability of which differs depending on the inclinations of the individuals. While a parent might wish for their child to grow to 6 foot 9 inches to better his chance of entering the world of professional basketball, whether or not such is a destiny wished for by the child is a question which cannot be answered while that individual is still in the womb. Thusly one must side with caution in the matter, as the genetic lottery of the “natural” process is, if not fair, at least impartial in the matter.

Truly, the only branch of genetic science that I am entirely opposed to for all possible uses is embryonic stem cell research. What separates this science from other similar ones, such as adult stem cell research which I have little qualms about utilizing, is that embryonic stem cell research requires the creation of life for no other purpose than to end it in order to suit the needs of others. An embryo, from the moment of its conception, is a living organism. It does not matter if it is comprised of 100 billion cells or one: life is still life and a human embryo contains every bit of information necessary for life. To kill it, for any reason, is murder. The question then becomes, are we as a society willing to murder one life to save another, or to relieve the suffering of another? If we are, then what constitutes suffering whose relief is worthy of murder? How do you quantify suffering? How do you quantify life? One cannot nor should they attempt to do this. Life and one’s right to it is absolute.

I can understand the arguments which speak in favor of embryonic stem cell research. I can understand why someone with a debilitating, or even discomforting, medical condition would want to relieve that suffering. There is nothing shameful about wanting to feel well or to live; that desire is as fundamental to humanity as that to breath. The problem is however that an unborn baby has just as much right to its life as the ailing do to theirs. We would not be having this discussion if the payment for such a cure was the death of a born baby. That injustice would be too much for society to tolerate. What then is so different about an unborn baby? Where does one wish to draw the line between a group of cells and life? The definitive moment, and the only logical one to assert, is conception. With the union of egg and sperm a baby receives all that it needs to grow and progress throughout the rest of its life and to stop that is the very definition of murder: the forceful end of a life in progress. No, an embryo has not yet become all it could one day be, but the same could be said for any person. We are all growing, all maturing, always. It is a crime to rob a person of the chance to do such, and it is a tragedy to commit such a crime on a life as innocent and pure as that of an unborn baby.

It is important to remember though that to side against embryonic stem cell research is not to side against curing disease. Modern medicine has successfully combated smallpox, bubonic plague, polio, countless infections, and scores of other once debilitating and fatal illnesses without needing to resort to the mass murder of innocents. Adult stem cell research and many other avenues of science offer great promise in advancing human health, but ethically and morally. It is not just that embryonic stem cell research is murder that makes it deserve to be discarded, but that it is not even necessary from a purely scientific point of view. There is no need to undertake such a course of action.

By now it should be clear that there is no need for morality to pit itself absolutely against scientific advancement. Rather it is the duty of a moral society to be open to progress, to seek it, and to accept it if the technology promises to better the lives of the various parties involved in that society. That is the crux of the matter however, that namely just science should not be able to only better the lives of some at the expense of others as immoral sciences like embryonic stem cell research and cosmetic genetic tampering do, but it should offer opportunity for all members of society to be helped or, at the very least, not hurt. There is no sense in scorning advancement because it is new; it is better to learn of it first and then scorn it, if one must, because it is wrong. If it serves to cause no unavoidable harm however, then what may I ask is the crime of making full use of it? Avoidable problems in the science itself, by the very definition of the word, can be corrected with further study. To insure that these technologies are not allowed to run rampant before those problems are corrected, it is only sensible to proceed with caution in these areas, but we should proceed. There is no good reason that I can surmise to take any other course.

I must admit that I look with great interest on what the future will bring.

Audio File