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‘Trust Harvard,’ Said The Controller

Shock: top US scientist says it's time to start editing genes
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Regalado is the editor of MIT Technology Review. He’s reporting from the big international gene editing conference in Hong Kong.

Do you understand what’s happening here? The head of one of the top medical institutions in the United States, and therefore the world, is arguing that we should start editing human genes, and stop talking about whether or not it’s moral to do so. Because trust Harvard.

We always knew that Harvard men thought they were God. Now they actually are arguing that they should be trusted to play God.

Wesley J. Smith, who follows bioethical debates closely, saw this coming. Earlier today, before Dr. Daley’s speech, he wrote:

Here’s the game: Green light what needs to be done today so that researchers can learn how to accomplish the more controversial experiments they plan to do tomorrow. Then, when the preparatory research is completed, hold a professional conference that concludes–lo and behold!–that the once too-controversial experiment can now be done ethically.

In other words, it’s all a con.

And now, the head of Harvard Medical School has done exactly what Smith predicted.

Christians and others who consider this morally abhorrent had better be on notice. Are we willing to participate in this kind of research as a condition of a career in medical science? As I wrote in The Benedict Option

A nationally prominent physician who is also a devout Christian tells me he discourages his children from following in his footsteps. Doctors now and in the near future will be dealing with issues related to sex, sexuality, and gender identity but also to abortion and euthanasia. “Patient autonomy” and nondiscrimination are the principles that trump all conscience considerations, and physicians are expected to fall in line.

“If they make compliance a matter of licensure, there will be nowhere to hide,” said this physician. “And then what do you do if you’re three hundred thousand dollars in debt from medical school, and have a family with three kids and a sick parent? Tough call, because there aren’t too many parishes or church communities who would jump in and help.”

And now, future Christian medical researchers will almost certainly have to deal with editing the genes of a human being. A human being incapable of giving consent to scientists manipulating her very humanity. The same physician I quote in the passage above told me three years ago that the kinds of things coming fast down the line in medical research would stagger the moral imagination of Christians. And yet, he said, even many Christians working in the field seem blind to the moral implications of these things.

More from The Benedict Option:

Does this mean that no Christian should go to medical school or law school or enroll in professional training to enter other fields? Not necessarily. It does mean, however, that Christians must not take for granted that within a given field, there will be no challenges to their faith so great that they will have to choose between their Christianity and their careers. Many Christians will be compelled to make their living in ways that do not compromise their religious consciences. This calls for prudence, boldness, vocational creativity, and social solidarity among believers.

…Christians need to ask themselves some tough questions: Am I called to work in this industry? If so, how do I live faithfully within it? If not, can I find a safer line of work?

A young friend of mine, a brilliant medical student in her mid-twenties, was well on her way to becoming a research scientist. She was working on her medical degree and interning at one of the nation’s top laboratories. She is also a believing Christian, and the kind of behavior she observed in the lab, as well as the research projects she expected to have to work on in the future, made her doubt her career prospects.

My friend had long wanted to be a medical scientist, but having been raised in a devoutly orthodox Christian home, and certain of her own faith convictions, she discerned that she could not in good conscience continue down this path. She changed tracks to study hospital administration instead.

“It just wasn’t worth it to me,” she told me at the time. “I didn’t want to get far down that road, then be faced with a choice that could blow up my career or violate my conscience. And seeing how cutthroat scientists were in the lab, only to get ahead in their careers, made me afraid that if I stayed in that culture, I might become the kind of person who does the same thing and doesn’t even notice a problem.”

So what about you? What about your children? These questions are not theoretical. They are real, and they are urgent.

Three years ago, Alan Jacobs blogged about the ideology that allows us to justify manipulating the human body:

There is a deeper and more powerful and (I think) more pernicious ideology at work, which has two components.

Component one: that we are living in an administrative regime built on technocratic rationality whose Prime Directive is, unlike the one in the Star Trek universe, one of empowerment rather than restraint. I call it the Oppenheimer Principle, because when the physicist Robert Oppenheimer was having his security clearance re-examined during the McCarthy era, he commented, in response to a question about his motives, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” Social constructionism does not generate this Prime Directive, but it can occasionally be used — in, as I have said, a naïve and simplistic form — to provide ex post facto justifications of following that principle. We change bodies and restructure child-rearing practices not because all such phenomena are socially constructed but because we can — because it’s “technically sweet.”


My use of the word “we” in that last sentence leads to component two of the ideology under scrutiny here: Those who look forward to a future of increasing technological manipulation of human beings, and of other biological organisms, always imagine themselves as the Controllers, not the controlled; they always identify with the position of power. And so they forget evolutionary history, they forget biology, they forget the disasters that can come from following the Oppenheimer Principle — they forget everything that might serve to remind them of constraints on the power they have … or fondly imagine they have.

Men — or at least the most powerful among us, the Controllers — no longer believe that there is a sacred order, and/or that that sacred order is intrinsic to nature. It’s all just stuff that we are free to manipulate — even the building blocks of human life, the genome.

Dr. Daley said in Hong Kong that Dr. He, the Chinese scientist who claims to have made CRISPR-edited babies, had made a “misstep.” Dr. He merely crossed the bright red line out of turn, is all. That’s what this is to the Controllers. Manipulating the human genome, which controls the future of the human race. Trust Harvard. Right.

We are moving very quickly into the post-human future. This is not a drill. Are you ready for this, Christian? Or are you going to buy the con that this technology is only going to be used for the Good? I know which way the world is going to go on this question. But what about the churches? What about you?




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