by Sylvain Comeau
We are the first humans in history who have been faced with these
kinds of questions.
In North America, technology is often greeted with intense moral
individualism. People say its no ones business but my own
what I do with technology. Theres an adult-centered view in North
America, but a child-centred view in Europe, where the state is focused
on protecting children, the weaker or helpless members of society.
The most radical shifts in reproduction have occurred in the past 50
years. Somerville pointed out that 50 years ago, there was little control
of when reproduction occurred (contraceptive methods were unreliable);
couples could not choose the sex of their baby, and transmitting life
was always the purpose of sexual reproduction, if not always the intention.
Today, contraception allows couples to choose when they will reproduce,
they can choose the sex of their baby, and reproduction isnt always
the purpose of transmitting life. In the case of stem cells, life is transmitted
for the purpose of ending it. That creates enormous ethical problems.
In the future, human reproduction could theoretically be done without
human intervention. The only thing missing would be an artificial uterus,
and there is research underway on creating that, she said.
Somerville has been known not only for raising important ethical questions,
but also providing her own answers at times. She pointed out that sex
selection has already raised the problem in many countries of descrimination
against girls, because of a continued preference for male offspring.
Much of the debate around these issues have been polarized. The pure
science group views humans as gene machines and takes
a utilitarian view of issues like using stem cells from human fetuses.
They are vehemently opposed by those who take spiritual view, often (but
not always) religious groups who contend that there is something special
about humans which makes it unacceptable to use stem cells.
However, a mid-point between those opposing philosophies is emerging,
a science-spirit [group] which is excited by the new science,
and sees it as increasing our awe and wonder, but still believes that
there is more to humans than our genes.
Somervilles lecture was presented by the Montreal Interuni-versity Seminar on the History and Philosophy of Science.