Are bioethics and biotechnology allies or adversaries? We look to genome editing for answers.
“Ought implies can”, wrote the famous German philosopher, Immanuel Kant. By this he meant that we are all capable of acting morally, if we are willing to put duty ahead of our personal needs and desires. But now, it seems, this saying is being turned on its head. Just because biotechnology enables us to do lots of new things, undreamt of in previous generations, we think we ought to do them – “can implies ought”. Any questioning of the wisdom of these new developments is seen as standing in the way of progress – the technological imperative rules!
A good example of this is the rapid rise of genome editing, a technology for altering the genetic makeup of plants and animals, including human beings, which involves the use of certain proteins that can cut the DNA in a living cell in a precise, targeted location. The cell repairs itself naturally, and this altered cell then can function differently from the original one. One of the striking features of genome editing methods is that they are relatively quick and cheap, and kits can even be purchased online!
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