Gattaca Revisted

I teach ethics, bioethics and other philosophy-related courses at a Christian college. So I was not shocked, but nonetheless mildly surprised, when a student recently handed in a paper supporting human genetic enhancement. Actually, the paper was a critical response to an article by Michael J. Sandel, “The Case Against Perfection: What’s Wrong With Designer Children, Bionic Athletes, And Genetic Engineering?” Sandel maintains that genetically enhanced children would “never be fully free” because the improvements are imposed upon them without their consent. Moreover, genetically altered children will excel above normal children; this creates an unfair gap between the enhanced and the unenhanced.

To the argument that genetically enhanced children aren’t truly free, the student responded that no one is completely free, regardless of whether he has been enhanced or not. All humans are unavoidably saddled with the genes they have been given at birth. So why not improve the odds, so to speak, and do what can be done to overcome human limitations? In the student’s words, “It is not a sin to excel, and one should strive in lifting themselves above the norm; there is nothing admirable to be in the norm. We are not created to live in the mediocrity of the norm, but rather to reach above it, and to work on becoming the best possible person one can be.” And, “There is no blessing in being at the mercy of nature; blessing is being in control… Responsibility is what I strive for, not what I avoid at any price, because my goal in life is to become the best person that I can be…”

As I reflect on the argument for enhancement, several thoughts come to mind. First, I agree with the sentiment that we should not live in mediocrity but strive for excellence. I too want to become the best person I can be. But is genetic enhancement a better path to excellence?

Two situations come to mind. Currently, I am halfway through an 8-week program to lose some weight and improve my BMI (body mass index). I’m less than 10 lbs. “overweight,” but I am determined to get down to a healthier BMI. But suppose I could have been genetically engineered so that I would never become overweight no matter what I ate? Think of the benefits – fewer health-related problems due to excess fat in the body (not to mention my unrestrained enjoyment of food). Would this really be to my advantage? Indeed, perhaps I would be physically fit, but there is something to be said about the continuous discipline (those seemingly endless reps, crunches, pushups, etc.) it takes to maintain a healthy BMI. I feel better about myself as a person if I have worked diligently to stay in shape. Without the effort, I would not appreciate what it takes to achieve my goals.

The same could be said about academic achievements. Suppose it was possible to genetically enhance human intelligence? Again, I’m not convinced that this is a better option. I look back on the many hours of intense research it took to earn academic credentials. I come away from that experience with a deep sense of satisfaction, accomplishment and the virtue of perseverance. Moreover, I can echo David’s words – I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful…” (Ps. 139:14).

Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Hope vs. Human Embryonic Stem Cells Hype

Steve Phillips’ recent blog (Exaggerated response to a limited clinical study, January 25) is an excellent exposé of the recent hype surrounding the purported success of hESC treatment for blindness. Of course, the news media jumped on the stem cell bandwagon without stopping to inspect the wheels. Phillips was correct to question the media’s motivation – after all, why praise a treatment that may not be all that it’s cracked up to be, while at the same time ignoring some of the promising results of iPSCR?

For example, just last week (January 25) the journal Nature reported that, “Scientists have successfully replicated Alzheimer’s disease neurons with stem cells for the first time in a landmark, multi-year study – an achievement that may lead to critical new understanding of the disease, the scientists said.”[1] Replicating Alzheimer’s neurons may make it possible to study the onset of the disease as well as develop drugs for treatment. Given that over 5 million people in the U.S. suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, not to mention that it is the 6th leading cause of death, you would think that this recent report merits national headlines. The difference between the first report on treatment for blindness and the report in Nature is that the Alzheimer’s study utilized induced pluripotent stem cells, a procedure that does not entail the destruction of human embryos.

To be fair, Fox News and ABC mentioned the Alzheimer’s report on their websites. But the story didn’t seem to receive the same degree of attention as the treatment for blindness report (I searched in vain on CNN’s website for the Alzheimer’s report. They did, however, report on the hESC treatment for blindness). Furthermore, I should mention that the iPSC Alzheimer’s study is in its early stages and it may take years before it bears any fruit.

Regardless of who wins the race between hESCs and iPSCs, success should not be based merely on utilitarian results. If it’s morally wrong to destroy human embryos for research, however profitable, then the matter is, or at least should be, settled. On the other hand, if I were a betting man, I would place my wager on the option that shows the most promise but without the unethical baggage that hESC carries.

 

Top Biothethics Story of 2011?

What do you think was the most significant bioethics-related event of 2011?  I would have to say, in my opinion, that it was the November 17 announcement by Geron that it would no longer pursue research on human embryonic stem cells for the treatment of spinal cord injury.

You may remember that it was less than 3 years ago when President Obama lifted the ban on funding of human embryonic stem cell research. Geron was the first company to benefit from this decision and it promptly received FDA approval for its research.

From a pro-life perspective, Geron’s decision to stop its research is good news, not because a promising treatment has been scuttled, but because it signals a lack of confidence in an unethical procedure (it destroys human embryos, after all).

Why would a company that was fueled by all the hype about stem cells make this decision?  Geron stated that the decision was a cost vs. benefit decision. In other words, the research was very expensive, but the promise of therapy was too far off into the future to justify its continuation.

Will Geron’s decision mark the end of human embryonic stem cell research? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Many researchers acknowledge that we are not even close to successful therapeutic applications of stem cells. According to Dr. Bryon Peterson (professor, Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center), embryonic stem cells “are not ready for ‘prime-time’” and “There are too many variables about these cells that we just don’t know about.”[1]  ABC News reported, “many experts say the announcement signals a symbolic end to the era of embryonic stem cell research that many researchers worked so hard to launch.” Others are not willing to admit defeat, citing the strong public and political support of stem cell research. Dr.  Daniel Salomon, a professor of experimental medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego, maintains that the work should be continued.

Ultimately, time will tell who is right about the matter. But expensive hype can survive only so long without tangible results.


[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/scientists-rethink-embryonic-stem-cell-research-geron-announcement/story?id=14966735#.TxYahIE8CSp

Death and Dying in the Land of Paradise (part 3)

Previously I shared some thoughts about the inevitability of disease and death.  This raises the question of whether death should be hastened by means of physician assisted suicide or euthanasia.  After all, isn’t PAS an example of playing God?

It is common to hear the phrase “playing God” in a bioethical context, but what does it mean to play God?  Is it only when excessive technology is employed to achieve a desire result?  I have a few general opinions about what it means to play God.

In a very general sense, I think we play God when we make crucial medical decisions (i.e., decisions with moral consequences) without taking God into consideration.

Ironically, humans may play God by deliberately denying the proper use of technology to achieve good health.  In other words, good health may be hindered when individuals determine that no technology should be used.  For example, some sects like the Jehovah’s Witnesses refuse blood transfusions when these transfusions can achieve the advancement of health.  Blood transfusion is an example of technology used to save life; life is not being destroyed, manipulated or enhanced with this technology.  The endeavor to save life seems consistent with the biblical notion that good health is a worthy goal.  The denial of technology to save life has no biblical support; indeed, it appears contrary to Scripture.

We may play God when we apply the philosophy of “vitalism” to end-of-life decisions.  Vitalism,[1] in the context of this discussion, is the view that we have an obligation to extend life no matter what it takes.  Some individuals, even confessing Christians, seem to think that human life should be preserved at all costs.  But it is possible to play God by trying to force life-extending technology on an individual who is clearly in the dying process.  To play God is to attempt to extend life indefinitely when death is a necessary part of humanity.

In addition, technology used to extend life indefinitely in order to harvest organs may represent an attempt to play God.  Current technology and higher-death criteria represent an attempt to declare a person dead when death has not actually occurred, in order to remove the organs for transplantation.  On the one hand, it is vital to keep the cardiopulmonary functions of the body alive in order to maintain the health and usability of the organs.  On the other hand, it is crucial that an individual is truly dead before the removal of organs.   Thus, it is a question of whether to remove artificial respiration to allow complete and natural death, but at the same time ensure that the organs are not damaged so that organ transplantation is possible.  Higher-death criteria make it possible to play God in at least two situations: 1) to prematurely pronounce someone dead and remove artificial respiration in order to remove the organs for transplantation or, 2) to prematurely pronounce someone dead, but keep the body alive to maintain the health of the organs for future transplantation.  In both cases, one is playing God because it is not at all clear that higher-brain ‘death’ represents actual death.

We play God when we create or destroy innocent life in order to promote healthcare.  Many scientists view human embryonic stem cells to be the mother-lode of health care; it is claimed they offer the promise of healing, health and an endless supply of the mounting demand for human organs.  However, the success of stem cell technology should not be the decisive issue in the discussion.  If stem cell research requires the destruction of human embryos, and if human embryos are indeed innocent members of the human race with inherent rights, then human embryonic cell research is an immoral enterprise.  It amounts to the utilitarian practice of taking innocent lives for the benefit of others.  It forces embryos to become mere products to be used for unproven therapies.

Finally, we play God when we end life prematurely by doctor assisted suicide or euthanasia.  Death is inevitable, but nothing in Scripture indicates that those who suffer should hasten death.  Obviously, if a person doesn’t believe in God, then he isn’t going to worry about the accusation of playing God in these situations.  Indeed, frequently God is not allowed to be part of the discussion without the accusation of imposing one’s religion on others. On the other hand, a committed theist should take a more cautious approach about end-of-life decisions.  In short, to play God is to end life prematurely and intentionally.[2]

These are some of my thoughts about playing God.  What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree?


[1] Not to be confused with the “philosophy of vitalism,” the view that all living entities share in a life principle that cannot be reduced to material entities.

[2] The administration of morphine to relieve pain may have the double-effect of hastening death.  This is not an example of playing God because it should not be the intention of the physician to administer morphine to cause death.

Death and Dying in the Land of Paradise (part 2)

Two weeks ago I wrote about the case of Robert and Jeri Orfali.  While they were living in Hawaii, Jeri developed ovarian cancer and died an excruciating death.  After the experience, Robert Orfali became a staunch advocate of physician-assisted suicide.  Needless to say, it’s difficult to imagine the emotional anguish that Robert must have felt and, to an extent, one can empathize with his desire to see his wife experience death with dignity.  In my blog, I shared that I can understand why a person who does not acknowledge God’s sovereignty over life and death would think that PAS should be permitted.

This week (and 2 subsequent weeks) I would like to share a few thoughts about health, disease, “playing God” and death.  As a disclaimer, I should mention that I seek to understand these matters from a Christian worldview. Thus, I am compelled to respond from that perspective.

First, what can we determine from Scripture about the avoidance of disease and the pursuit of health?  In the Old and New Testaments, Scripture clearly teaches that disease is a common but undesirable feature of humanity.  In addition, even a cursory reading of Scripture will reveal that the pursuit of good health is a desirable and worthy objective.  We see, for example, that the Lord commanded Moses to bring those with infectious diseases to the priests for care until declared clean.[1]  Then again, disease was sometimes a punishment for wrongdoing.  For instance, Elijah warned Jehoram that, because of his sin, God would punish him with, “a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out.’[2]

In the New Testament, we read that Jesus “went throughout Galilee…healing every disease and sickness among the people.”[3] And in Acts, Peter preached that “Jesus of Nazareth… went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”[4]  The healing ministry continued in the early church where Luke reports that “people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.  Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.”[5]  Paul also healed Publius’ father who was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery.”  Paul “went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.  When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured.”[6]  Earlier in Paul’s ministry he argues that some of the believers in Corinth were sick and some died because of sin and God’s discipline.  “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep… when we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world.”[7]

These passages do not in any way suggest that believers are entitled to health.  As a matter of fact, other passages indicate that healing did not always occur; individuals did become sick and eventually die, after all.  And Christians believe that death is the eventual consequence of sin.   As Nigel Cameron so deftly describes it:

“The sin/death causality runs through the biblical-theological understanding of the nature of reality, and offers one of the foundation-stones of the Judeo-Christian worldview… [it] lies at the heart of Christian understanding of what it means to be human… Sickness, the shadow of death and its foretaste – indeed every sickness – brings with it evidence of our final mortality.”[8]

On the other hand, Cameron continues:

“as we seek to understand the predicament of our mortality, we find that our ground for hope lies in the radically unnatural character of death.  If the cause of death is not natural, if it is both moral and supernatural, if it is sin and the divine judgment upon the sin, then we also believe in a final great reversal in which, after weeping has lasted for a night, joy comes in the morning.”[9]

In any case, even if it is true that disease and death are part of fallen humanity, Scripture concurs that death is an enemy and good health is a noble goal.  Does this give humans the right to play God in these matters?  I will attempt to answer this question in next week’s blog.


[1] Leviticus 13.

[2] 2 Chronicles 21:12-15.  See also Psalm 106: 13-15.

[3] Matthew 4:23.

[4] Acts 10:38.

[5] Acts 5:15-16.

[6] Acts 28: 8-9.

[7] 1 Cor. 11: 30-32.

[8] John Kilner, Robert Orr, and Judith Shelly, The Changing Face of Healthcare, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998)  41.

[9] Ibid,  41.

Death and Dying in the Land of Paradise

My father just turned 85.  He resides with my mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, in an assisted care facility.  As I witness my father’s health gradually deteriorate, I wonder what it must be like to know that death is likely close-at-hand.  He is currently unable to accomplish tasks that I take for granted, such as bending over to pull up his pants, or making it to the bathroom in time.  Yet, even in his current state, it could be much worse.

A recent (October 17) ABC news report presents the story of Jeri Orfali, a promising software executive who, at 56, developed ovarian cancer.  Jeri and her husband of 30 years were living in Hawaii at the time of her death.  The report describes her final days of bearing “excruciating pain that was not helped by palliative care.”  According to her husband, “In the end I could see tumors coming out of her legs and in her neck,” he said. “Her legs were swollen and her stomach was so bloated, the cancer almost burst out of her. She couldn’t get her next breath.”[1]

As a result of the experience, Robert Orfali (the husband) would like Hawaii to legalize physician-assisted suicide.  In fact, apparently it was “legal” in Hawaii as far back as 1909 based on the following stipulation for PAS:

[W]hen a duly licensed physician or osteopathic physician pronounces a person affected with any disease hopeless and beyond recovery and gives a written certificate to that effect to the person affected or the person’s attendant, nothing herein shall forbid any person from giving or furnishing any remedial agent or measure when so requested by or on behalf of the affected person.”

As a result, advocates for PAS believe that it is now time to establish a legalized ‘death with dignity.’  Of course, the movement to support PAS has its critics.  The Catholic Church and other right-to-life groups fear the potential consequences of PAS and call for Hawaiians to resist PAS’s legalization.  Indeed, previous attempts to legalize PAS in Hawaii were overturned (by a narrow margin) through opposition groups.  Thus, there is a significant divide that pits those who fear the negative results of PAS against those who view end-of-life care as insufficient.

Frankly, I struggle with this.  As a Christian, I have strong convictions against taking matters into our own hands; PAS, I believe, is wrong from a biblical/theological standpoint.  Yet we live in a secular society, one that does not necessarily share my beliefs.  I would oppose the legalization of PAS in America, but I base my opposition on the view that God is sovereign over life and death.  Honestly, I can understand why a person without theistic principles would think that PAS should be permitted.

In next week’s blog, I will present some of my theological conclusions about death and dying.  In the meantime, what do you think are some of the strongest arguments against PAS outside of Scripture?


[1] Susan Donaldson James, October 17, 2011.  http://abcnews.go.com/Health/retired-hawaiian-doctors-test-102-year-physicians-assisted/story?id=14739855&singlePage=true

Mary had a little “Mary?”

Last week the journal Nature reported that scientists in New York have created human embryo clones for the purpose of developing patient-specific stem cells. The process involves reprogramming a human egg via somatic cell nuclear transfer so that the egg becomes an early-stage human embryo. The hope is that, in the future, the patient’s own DNA will be used to produce the clone and, thus, he or she will have access to matching stem cells. Successful clones using animal eggs go back to the 1996 conception of Dolly, the cloned sheep. However, according to Nature, “When it came to humans, researchers didn’t have unfettered access to the key resource, eggs — at least not in the numbers that they needed to tweak the finicky procedure for human biology.” Of course, this “finicky procedure” entails the controversial procurement of human eggs from donors, the inevitable trial and error destruction of the newly created human embryos in order to produce a successful clone, and the eventual killing of the cloned embryo at the blastocyst stage in order to extract the desired stem cells.

For example, in the latest research, scientists obtained 270 eggs from 16 donors, in and of itself a risky procedure for the donors. The unique feature of this latest research is that researchers discovered that previous attempts at cloning failed because of the difficulty of removing DNA from the human egg. This time, they decided to leave the original DNA in the egg and simply added the donor’s DNA. This novel method resulted in the creation of an embryo with an additional set of chromosomes. The newly created embryo grew to the blastocyst stage which is, of course, the phase at which stem cells can be obtained. The problem for future research is that, with an additional set of chromosomes, the stem cells are no longer a match for the patient. Instead, we are left with an abnormal human embryo with too many chromosomes. Even so, scientists press on with their research because they doubt the success of iPSCs; cloning offers a “more natural” method of obtaining stem cells.

It seems almost comical to think that adding someone else’s DNA to an egg that already contains its own DNA is somehow a “more natural” process. Nonetheless, from my perspective, it seems that researchers are very quick to highlight the apparent problems with iPSCs, a technology that is still in its infancy, and yet downplay the obvious technical and ethical problems with hESCs.

Another Promising Result Using Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells

Last Friday it was announced in Medical News Today that researchers at Johns Hopkins have discovered a means to fix the genetic defect that causes sickle cell disease with the patient’s own stem cells.  According to the announcement, “The corrected stem cells were coaxed into immature red blood cells in a test tube that then turned on a normal version of the gene.”[1]  This does not mean that a clinical application is imminent or that the procedure is safe.  As stated in the original abstract from Blood, the Journal of the American Society of Hematology, “the safety and feasibility of stem cell mobilization in individuals with sickle cell trait (SCT) has not been documented.”  However, the report added that “no untoward adverse events occurred in either group, including sickle cell crises.” [2]

The new treatment could prove to be revolutionary; at present the only existing therapy for sickle cell disease is through bone marrow transplantation.  However, the journal Blood reports that, “many patients are ineligible [for bone marrow transplantation] because of either the lack of a suitable donor or their underlying condition.”  The advantage of “peripheral blood stem cells” (PBSC) from the patient are obvious: patients don’t have to wait for a suitable donor – they are their own source of the stem cells.  The study concludes that, “Products from SCT donors require only minor changes in ex vivo cell processing, allowing for the use of mobilized peripheral blood as a potential source of stem cells for transplantation in sickle cell disease.”  Furthermore, as one researcher stated, “The beauty of iPS cells is that we can grow a lot of them and then coax them into becoming cells of any kind, including red blood cells.”[3]  In short, scientists believe they are now one step closer to successful stem cell therapy for sickle cell disease.

Of course, the word is still out on the success of PBSCs.  But ethicists should applaud any research that is as promising as embryonic stem cell research, but does not require the destruction of human embryos.


[1] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/235221.php

[2] There were two separate control groups with eight individuals in each group – one SCT group and one non-SCT group.  In the words of the research team, the study does “not permit the conclusion that G-CSF is completely without such risk. Our study, however, suggests that the risk is limited…” http://bloodjournal.hematologylibrary.org/content/99/3/850.full?sid=62767506-48e6-45f1-be88-b033f616fcc7

[3] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/235221.php

South Korea Takes an Ethical Step Backwards

This week (Sept. 19) it was reported that the government of South Korea will invest $89 million to recommence its pursuit of human embryonic stem cells (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14968613).  You may remember the scandal that erupted in 2006 when a South Korean scientist (Hwang Woo-suk) declared that he had generated human embryonic stem cells by means of cloning.  Later it was discovered that the research had been faked.  Woo-suk, who was considered a national hero before the scandal, “caused inevitable damage to the entire stem cell research community in Korea,” according to South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak.  The money will be invested, proclaimed Lee, to “…restore our national fame as a stem cell powerhouse.”  The BBC report ends with the oft-cited list of all the diseases that may be treated by stem cells including, “Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, burns and spinal cord damage.”[i]

The announcement by President Lee troubles me on several levels:

1) there is no evidence that human embryonic stem cells (hESC) can actually treat human diseases.  Yet, the technology is touted as the panacea to all the major diseases that inflict humans today.

2) thus far, the research has produced more hype than tangible hope.  Indeed, the promises of hESC therapy entice those with money to burn in the search for a magic cure.  For example, recently it was reported that Peyton Manning traveled to Europe to seek stem cell treatment for a neck injury.  ABC News referred to Manning’s efforts as a “Stem Cell Hail Mary.”  Apparently the treatment was unsuccessful.  The ABC News article included the following statements by Dr. Ruth Macklin (bioethics professor, Albert Einstein College): “We live in an era where physicians are encouraged to practice ‘evidence-based’ medicine.  However, a sports superstar has the money… to travel anywhere in the world to receive an experimental procedure that is not based on any evidence that works for his condition.”  Another stem cell researcher, Dr. Lawrence Goldstein, noted that “he was unaware of any stem cell approach that is proven to help any sort of spinal issue.”[ii]

3) hESC research, of course, destroys human embryos.  Yet we know that zygotes formed at fertilization are genetically unique with an intrinsic capacity of self-development.  The zygote does not become a human being at some later stage (e.g., implantation); it is a human being!

4) other types of stem cell research, such as somatic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cells, show far more promise for present and future therapy than hESCs.  Furthermore, somatic stem cells and induced pluripotent stem cell research are not ethically problematic because they do not entail the destruction of embryos.

It is unfortunate that South Korea has renewed its pursuit of the unethical practice of hESC research.  It could instead follow the example of several Japanese scientists (e.g., Shinya Yamanaka and Kazutoshi Takahashi of Kyoto University) who have researched ways to reprogram skin tissue in mice to mimic embryonic stem cells.  In the end, South Korea’s effort to become a “stem cell powerhouse” will be overshadowed by its moral compromise.


[i] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14968613

[ii] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2011/09/19/peyton-mannings-stem-cell-hail-mary/

See also The Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity website for the story on Peyton Manning.  http://cbhd.org/ is an excellent source for bioethical news.

Do-it-yourself DNA Analysis for $19.95!

Well, not quite, although a very cheap version may be just around the corner.  In this month’s edition of Wired (September 2011), one article reports that it is now possible to build your own DNA research lab for just “a few hundred bucks.”  The technology promises consumers the ability to turn “small samples of DNA into quantities large enough to analyze.”  The advantages to such technology are obvious; imagine having the capability of examining and identifying DNA in your own garage or basement.  Indeed, DIYbio (http://diybio.org/) is “dedicated to creating pop-up labs and doing biology outside the traditional environments of universities and industry.”  Currently there are DIYbioer groups all over the world, especially in the U.S.

In the past, the chief obstacle was affordability; the technology was simply far too expensive for the average amateur on a shoe-string budget.  The situation is changing, however.  Wired reports that “Behind the scenes, engineers and science enthusiasts are teaming up to mod tools and technologies and sell their inventions – or simply share tips on how to build them – to anyone interested.”  For example, PCR (polymerase chain reactions) kits, described as a “copy machine for DNA,” are attracting lots of attention.  According to DIYbio, for under $600, you can purchase a PCR to diagnose diseases or explore your own genome.

As with any technology, DIY DNA analysis is a mixed bag.  Professional PCR machines range from $6,000 to $17,000.  With a small investment, individuals interested in the technology can bypass the big corporations and achieve some of the same results.  Three years ago, high school students used DNA testing in the classroom and discovered that “sushi restaurants and supermarkets were mislabeling their fish” (an event known as “Sushigate,” Wired).

Then again, there is always the dark side to technology.  Suppose it becomes viable to detect one’s own genetic defects with the technology?  Or, what if it’s possible to discover someone else’s genetic defects?  Needless to say, the technology raises a couple of ethical questions:

*what should a person do with knowledge of a future genetic disease, especially if there is a gap between diagnosis and treatment, or if there is no treatment in the foreseeable future?

*then there is the question of whether a person has a moral obligation to inform others of genetic defects, such as one’s potential spouse.

Perhaps the most worrisome aspect to pop-up labs is the lack of regulation or ethical guidelines.  Also, what else can be done with the technology, and who is going to oversee the research and monitor the results?

As humans, we have this unfortunate tendency to be self-centered, to ignore our finiteness, to press forward without caution, to abuse technology to gain greater power, and to proceed without moral guidelines.  We do well to heed the frequently quoted warning of Hans Jonas, “Modern technology has introduced actions of such novel scale, objects, and consequences that the framework of former ethics can no longer contain them.”  Where then is the ethical framework to restrict the misuse of this technology?