Darryl R. J. Macer, Ph.D. Eubios Ethics Institute 1990
When people hear of the use of genetic engineering there are a variety of immediate reactions. Often people think that the techniques are wrong and they are described as "Playing God" or "Interfering with Nature". An OTA survey of the US public found that 26% agreed strongly, and 20% agreed somewhat with the statement that "We have no business meddling with nature" (OTA 1987b). However, these concerns are usually expressed because of a misunderstanding of what is involved, and in the same survey people would support specific applications of genetic engineering who had expressed agreement with this statement. Very few people are aware of what DNA is, as surveys of the general public in major industrialised countries have shown (OTA 1987b, Newton 1989). We need to clarify these objections to see why people raise them. In order to do this it is fundamental to examine some different views of nature.
What is Nature?
We can view nature in very different ways. Nature is composed of the material world and living organisms found on it. Some view nature as being solely for man's use, others as an expendable resource that we've been given, others as unexhaustable, others as something to use and replace, others as something to look at but not to touch, others as a cosmic harmony. Nature comes in many shapes, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the sun that gives us light, and the fire that keeps us warm. There are parts of nature to use, and parts to admire, and parts that we can not use but we must still take care of. Like the care of the gardener for the prize flowers, so our attitude should be. All parts of nature are to admire, some are useful to us also. Some resources are renewing, such as water, sunlight or air. However, the quality of these resources has been altered by pollution, the water and air pollution has even altered the sunlight we receive. We will continue to receive more ultraviolet light as the ozone layer thins. Many natural systems can produce food, natural fibres for clothes and housing, which are renewable if we do not prevent their growth. We can improve the quality of these resources by technology also. Some resources are not renewable such as coal, and gas; some metals are close to exhaustion, and others are in large excess, such as uranium for nuclear power. We are part of nature and thus dependent upon it.
Different Views of Nature
The earliest testimonies of human culture worshipped the mystery of life in various ways, the earliest cultic figures from palaeolithic ages are mother figures. The World Mother, Queen of Heaven, and Mother Earth were worshipped under many names in the Mediterranean area. The creation narratives in the Old Testament are polemics against the Canaanite matriarchical cults. Behind this symbol of the World Mother is the notion of the world as a great human being, and the human being as a little world. The pre-Aryan, Indian Jains saw the Universe as a colossal human being, the organism of the World Mother was populated by living things without number. The symbol expresses the feeling of being at one in the world, at home. The symbol of the cosmic archetypal human being was also taken up by Christianity in places, in Ephesians or Colossians the image of Christ is transformed to the head of the church, and the church as the body of Christ, applying to the redemption of the Universe. Christ will become the head of the universe
Mother Earth, is another metaphor, and is worshipped in some rituals, she is set against the Father of Heaven. This cult was also associated with the transmigration of souls and reincarnation. Mother Earth has been worshipped in many places, in America, India and in Europe, with various names. There were cults in Olympia, Delphi, Athens; in Asia Minor she was called Ishtar, Astarte or Dianna, and in Egypt, Isis. The symbol leads to a more dualistic view of the world. There are numerous other symbols that have been used, like the feast, or the dance, the theatre, as music or as play. These ideas unite the things of the world together. Another metaphor is the symbol of the world as the work of God, and just as a machine. This has led to a segregation of the divine from the world, including the world of human beings, and ultimately leads to atheism, that the world machine, and human beings, can function without God.
A Judeo-Christian view is distinct from most views of nature. There are several features of Christian theology, such as the origin of nature, and the value placed on nature by God, that lead to a different view of nature from that of secular Western thinking. Nature is created by God, nature itself is not divine but is the handiwork of the Lord. The Hebrew concept is different to other philosophies. Man does not face a world full of ambiguous and capricious gods who are alive in the objects of the natural world. Nature is not terrifying, as it is to those primitive cultures that view every act as gods response to their actions. The Bible does not discuss the method of creation, but merely says that God created the world by His Word (Gen. 1:3; John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 11:3). The purpose of Genesis 1-3 is not to give a scientific account of the creation of the world and the rise of mankind, but to say who created the world and the roles and relationships in it. The subject and object of creation from the stand-point of people on earth is the concern of the writer. The Biblical view of the relation of man and nature is that they are both dependent on God.
To the initial reader the creation accounts in the Bible, such as in Genesis, may appear to view creation as a completed act, but it is also stresses that God's constant and loving interest in His creative work reveals Him as one who continually "makes all things new". He governs and sustains His creation (John 5:17). The created world exists both as a manifestation of his love and his intention to manifest his love within it. The created order is dependent on God for its continued existence (Col. 1:15-17) (Montefiore 1975, Linzey 1986). The creativity of God does not cease with the physical creation of the world, God continues his work through the continuing activity of mankind to whom is delegated the task of giving it order, structure and beauty. Man is God's coworker. God created all things, so nature itself is not sacred. Man has been told to subdue, cultivate and take care of the earth, to multiply and to have dominion over the created order (Gen.1:28, 2:15). Man's role can be seen as steward and manager, the idea of dominion is such to be caring, we could be called the priest of creation (Peacocke 1979). A Christian's vocation is to continue the "good" work of creativity, as God's invitation to him this is a huge responsibility, and demands much positive action. Man is also a moral prospector (Matt. 13:45-46). We are stewards of the earth (Gen. 1:26,28, 2:19; Psalm 8:6-8, 24:1), all things are put under our "feet" (Psalm 8:7).
The Judeo-Christian approach directly places the blame for sin and suffering in the world upon humans. The world was made good, but man chose evil. Because of our sin we have to struggle to survive, and labour and toil. There were effects upon nature from the fall of man also. A very common alternative world view is that humans are innocent, but trapped in an evil world. Many people have felt this, and it is similar to some Asian traditions that look on the visible universe as illusory or insignificant or evil. Matter is seen as relatively bad, goodness is only attributed to the spirit, and the religious task is to transcend the world. This idea is an alternative answer to the problem of good and evil. It conflicts directly with the doctrine of creation and the incarnation. The outlook has been powerful in the past, being brought to Europe at different times from the east. Some of its ideas are mixed with certain forms of Christianity, such as the view that sex is something to be disapproved of. Derrick (1972) calls this type of heresy Manichaeanism. Manichaeus lived in 3rd century Persia, and his followers influenced the Gnostics. It has long been a rival to Christianity. The idea of living in a hostile environment is very different to the sense of exile and loss coming from the fall. Creation becomes an act of wickedness. Humans should try to rise above this world and escape from it. An alternative is to try to conquer the evil world, as modern technology is often viewed as conquering nature. Another alternative is not to view the world as evil but to overstress the difference of humans to the rest of creation. This can be done in a dualistic way, judging nature as merely mechanical. This is a view encouraged by humanists. However, these are far from the Christian view and doctrine of stewardship.
Nature has a history, a beginning, and it evolves. It changes with time, as the physical world changes, and as some organisms die and others thrive, and has done so in dramatic ways in the past. The current number of different species alive may be only one percent of the total species that have existed since the dawn of life. It is important to view nature as changing, not a fixed or static set of objects. As the individual processes of life are dynamic, so is the composite of the lifeforms. The idea of dynamism also implies a balance. This is illustrated by the words biosphere, foodwebs or ecosystem, with the largest ecosystem being nature itself. The dynamic nature is implied in the second law of thermodynamics, and in the Biblical doctrine of creation and preservation.
We could use the term "a balance of nature", as the way different species at different levels of the food web exist together. Some eating others, while others eat them, and others dependent on the modification of the environment made by another species, with competitors at every level. There is an important inbuilt tendency for species to reproduce so quickly to be able to increase their numbers, yet this does not occur dramatically in a balanced ecosystem, in the competition for resources, the struggle for existence, each species tries to survive to reproduce. This concept is very old, it is seen in Plato's Timaeus who answers the question "in the likeness of what animal did the creator make the world?" with the answer that god did not make the world like any one species but rather as "one visible animal comprehending within itself all other animals of a kindred nature" (Plato I). The idea highlights how life itself is intertwined, in a web of complex relationships. There is also a continuity between inorganic and organic, ecology refers to the relationship of every organism to the environment.
At no time in the past has nature been so dynamic than today, the reason is that man is rapidly changing it. We are making many new crops, and will be using genetic manipulation to change lifeforms themselves very quickly in the next few decades. We are raising the temperature of the earth, with all the changes that brings. We are depleting the ozone layer. We are causing the extinction of thousands of species. We are adding many pollutants to the environment. Compounds like dioxin which is the most powerful poison known, and sewage which is unnatural just because of its quantity. We have synthetic compounds like plastics, chlorinated hydrocarbons, which are nonbiodegradable. We are increasing our population rapidly, which exponentially increases the problems. we can surely say that nature is dynamic, maybe too much so. We need to take stock of some old truths, and then strive to maintain nature as a caretaker not as a commodity user.
A Christian View of Stewardship
There have been a variety of views expressed about the influence of the Christian view of nature on our current ecological crisis. Some writers see the Christian idea of the domination of man over nature as a cause, however this is a misinterpretation of this idea, and it is also apparent when visiting countries from a different tradition that the same problems have arisen. There is confusion about what a Christian view of stewardship is, so I will spend two pages to describe it.
Even if nature is not divine, it has value. The value to a Christian is derivative from the fact of creation, "God saw that it was good". The heavens tell the glory of God. This is in contrast to those philosophies which see nature as evil, such as Gnostics, Manichaens, or the Indian idea of "Maya", or illusion. The Bible says that nature is real and is good. There are other ways in which the positive attitude to the material world is expressed such as in the Incarnation, where God took upon himself the conditions of material existence. Nature displays the character of God, in its goodness and strength, constancy and concern to sustain human life (Job 12:7-9; Ps. 50:6, 148:1ff; Acts 14:17, 17:27; Rom. 1:20). However, it is not a pantheistic nature, one which is divine itself. Some can start to worship nature, as god, rather than seeking through nature to find a way beyond to God, as deistic philosophy does. Love and reverence for nature are divine only derivatively, as the creation of a good God. Nature itself does not have rights, but we do have many duties to it. Nature is not a moral actor, even if it may have some freedom inherent in the way it is made. All life has value, but not all life is of equal value.
The Old Testament was written in an environment moulded by pantheistic, matriarchal and animist religions, so there is considerable weight given to the difference between God and the the world. The fertility cults of Canaan were rejected as idolatry and the transformation of god into Baal, a divine natural power, was also blasphemous. In modern times the reverse has occured, as the exploitation of nature in Europe was justified by distinguishing between God and the world. But neither are true. God is not just the creator of the world, He is also the Spirit of the universe, indwelling in His creation. When it suits man, we try to understand God's creation as nature, so that we can exploit it in accordance with the science we discover. We need to understand this knowable, controllable and usable nature as God's creation. We must think of nature as God's creation.
Man should value nature for itself, so we should have an interest in the preservation of nature. We should not manipulate it solely to satisfy human desire. One of the important issues is the preservation of biological diversity. There are various Biblical prerogatives to suggest that this is important. One of the most famous is the story of Noah, and the preservation of domestic and wild animals and birds (Gen. 6:13-8:1). There are also chapters in the Bible like Job 38, 39 and Psalm 104 which illustrate the wonder of unusual features of nature. All of creation is blessed (Gen. 9:9-10).
There are three balanced ideas in Genesis: that man is a natural creature subject to the earth; man is radically different from other creatures, not on basis of spiritual gifts, but because of a direct and unique relationship between man and God; and that man is the only spiritual creature. Man is an integral part of nature. When all of creation was completed, God saw "everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). No distinction is suggested between man and the rest of creation with respect to natural existence. Man is flesh (Hebrew "basar"), and made from the dust of the ground (Gen.2:7, 3:19), like all creatures he received his life from the breath of God (Gen.2:7, 7:15, 22), and will return to the dust (Psalm 104:29). While man has an essential identity with the world, there is also a distinction from it. A spiritual link with God is seen throughout the Bible in the use of the terms "soul" and "spirit" (Judges 14:6, 1 Sam.11:6, Ezek. 11:19, 18:3, 36:26, Psalm 103:1, Matt.16:25, Luke 12:19, 1 Cor. 2:10-16, 12:3) which is of basic importance in the view of man being made in God's image (Gen.1:26). It is stressed that man is a being who belongs not to the earth, but transcends it because he belongs to God (Matt. 10:31, 12:10).
Man has a creative mission in regard to nature, and in transforming human life in the direction of wholeness and fulfilment. We need to create with care and love. God said when he had made the universe, "behold it was good" (Gen. 1:12,18,21,24,31), however as from His commands to us, nature is not static, but we need to have a dynamic view. We should, however, remember the distinction between the creation of the world, as in Gen. 1:1, where the word "bara" is used as "creating", is different to the word used, "asah", for the "making" of the things in the world, which finished with a Sabbath rest (Gen. 1:2-2:2), a rest that we may forget to take. The land was to be used, with a period of sabbath rest for nature (Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-7) as well as for man. The divine making of the 'works' of creation finds its analogy in the work of human beings (Ex. 20:11, 31:17) (Moltmann 1985). However, the purpose of God putting man in the garden of Eden was to cultivate and guard it (Gen. 1:25). Not all the plants could be eaten. Man was not put there just to enjoy it, but to till it and keep it. Man has a responsibility to keep the garden. Man is to care for the land (Lev. 25:1-5), to treat domesticated animals properly (Deut. 25:4) and to respect wild life (Deut. 22:6). We can only take what we need. We are nature's keeper as well as our brother's keeper. God will punish those who bring ruin to nature and the earth (Is. 24:5-6, 45:18, Rev. 11:18). There is an amazing mixture of life (Psalm 104:24,25, Rom. 1:20) all is intertwined, in a delicate ecosystem, which should not be disrupted. We could use the image of participation in the community of nature rather than domination of nature (Moltmann 1985). In the laws of Israel one of man's duties was to respect life and submit to the order of creation (Ex.23:19, Deut.22:9). The created order was made for its own sake, not simply for man's needs and interests (Job.38:2-4; Ps. 8:3,4, 19:1-6, 65:9-13, 104, 136:4-9, 148; Jer. 8:7). However, often the earth has been viewed as merely the material stage on which the drama of human history has been played out on. Mastery over nature should not be explored in a loveless attitude, in a spirit of exploitation, but with reverence for all creation, as a gift entrusted to our care. It is true that all of creation groans together and is in pain together under the influence of man (Rom.8:22). Although a cocreator, coexplorer and coworker with God, man is under God's authority, and should be obedient (Phil.2:5-11). Man can become part of God's creation, consciously, cooperatively, creatively and intelligently acting in the ongoing process of creation. Creativity is part of the potentiality God has given to us (Peacocke 1986). It could be significant that the moral test comes in terms of man's relationship with nature.
The theocentric approach challenges two common tendencies. Eastern religions tend to blur the distinction between God, man and nature, leading to a glorification of nature. However, Judeo-Christian belief is in a divine God who made the world (Gen. 1-3), the world itself is not divine. Western, or industrialised thought, tends to divide man from nature, seeing nature as something to exploit for man's comfort. We must remember man is a creature, part of nature (Psalm 103:15-16), and that pride is a sin (both pride of species and our achievements). We are currently in a crisis of domination, not just an ecological crisis, but a crisis of our whole life system, brought upon all of creation by ourselves. The origin of this crisis is in human behaviour and attitudes, and the tremendous power of our technologies to shape the world. As a reaction against this some people attack what they see as the cause, science and technology, and its effect upon people's philosophy; however, the real cause is the age old problem of human sin and selfishness, which is now days exemplified in the short term economic desires of many businesses and governments. As we begin to understand the consequences of our actions upon the world, and the often far-reaching consequences of them, such as the dramatic effects of the changes we have made on the earth's atmosphere (destruction of ozone, production of carbon dioxide, or acid rain), the extinction of many species, and the tolerated starvation of many people.
There have been some who argue for a reverence for all life, such as Albert Schweitzer (1966). This approach makes no distinction between higher and lower life forms, saying that a Christian can not judge other lifeforms in relation to ourselves. It does make the point that it is very difficult for us to understand or judge the importance of other living organisms in the natural order. Even if animals an look to be meaningless, they have a distinct purpose. In fact the Bible does teach a respect for all of creation, it all has value, but other Christians would say that the Bible gives examples of our use of animals as is not surprising in the agricultural society that the Bible was written in. Schweitzer made reverence for life a fundamental principle of life. He said that the killing of animals in contrast to the harvesting of plants and fruit, is very similar to homicide. The only reason for harming life he sees is for necessity. However, what is "necessary" can vary widely between cultures, and the Bible indicates that man does not survive on the minimum possible, their is time for feast and for fasting, seen in the lives of Jesus and the disciples. It is not possible for a Christian to insist on vegetarianism, from numerous scriptural references, but animals should be used with restraint and treated humanely, including their killing. The motive behind the use of animals alters the morality of their use in some religions and in some philosophical systems.
Having considered what people may think of when they think of nature, and what the dominant religious views on nature and the role of humanity is, we can consider objections that are expressed relative to this theme.
In Judeo-Christian traditions the term "Playing God" is a term applied to situations where humans make life or death decisions without reference to God and perhaps even the opinions of other people, this being seen as pride or arrogance. It is not the use of power and creativity that is wrong, but rather attributing power to our own resources (Boone 1989). What is wrong is not the act itself, but the attitudes that could be involved. However, useful applications of technology are positively advocated in Judeo-Christian tradition as part of good stewardship of the earth's resources.
There have been many accusations that scientists are "creating new life forms", however, our present technology is capable only of transferring one or two genes into a genetic background containing the order of a hundred thousand genes. In the case of chimeras, rather than a new life form being created, two species may be combined that were closely related, for example goat and sheep. However, this type of experiment is not in widespread use and is not expected to be used except for a few scientific experiments.
The expression usefully suggests that we should be cautious in the use of technology whose potential risks and side-effects we do not fully understand. The idea is that while God may understand all, we do not, so we should only tamper cautiously with things as basic as genes. The question is whether we have the necessary knowledge and wisdom to successfully alter lifeforms that have come to us after a long period of adaptation, without creating long-term and catastrophic eco-disasters. This is one of the major reasons that long periods of restricted laboratory, and controlled field trials are required prior to any introduction of GMOs into the wider environment. It reflects the unknown ecological "safety" of the new variety, and risks of gene transfer. It is a question which requires practical knowledge from controlled experiments to assess, and will be discussed in chapter 8. We should use new technology if it is better than old technology, but there will be situations where we do not use it because of unknown or unethical applications.
For some there is a feeling that we should not explore all the secrets of life, that the mystery of life will be gone if we discover too much. However, as many scientists will say, the more we know, the more appreciative of the workings of life we become. Discovery itself may not be wrong, but how we use it or abuse it raises ethical questions. The fact that we have practical requirements, such as to feed, house and heal people of the world, are major justifications for the pursuit of practical knowledge in any system of religion or philosophy that places a high value on human life.
There is also a "non-interventionalist" idea among some, that we should not interfere with nature as "Nature knows best". However, we just need to think of the many diseases that afflict humans or other living organisms, to falsify this idea. There is a clear mandate for some degree of interference with nature even in human existence, as we must eat, let alone use the many medical techniques developed. At the same time people have at last become more aware of the damage to the environment and to other species that human intervention has caused, such as the greenhouse effect, depletion of the ozone layer, or the extinction of many species.
The objection lies more in the idea that genes are a foundation of life. The idea is that genes in some way are more sacred than other parts of the organism. However, DNA and entire genes can be made by purely synthetic procedures in a laboratory. There is also the idea that altering genes is a novel idea. A new catch phrase is "Genethics", which may highlight some concerns (Suzuki & Knudtson 1989). They suggest that the problems raised by genetic technology cannot be dealt with ethically by existing ethical principles, or by Western morals, and we must turn to Eastern religion. This conclusion is not shared by this writer (Macer 1990a). In the Western tradition, there are two balanced principles which summarise the approach needed. We need stewardship of the earth, and we support the creativity of man to find new technology and to use it in a way that is consistent with proper stewardship. Unfortunately, we often forget or were ignorant of bad environmental consequences of our technology, but now that we know more, we should be regrasping the meaning of stewardship. While the use of genes may be seen as novel, we have had a very long history of genetic manipulation using conventional techniques of plant and animal breeding, but only recently do we understand the details of why they worked. We should consider our knowledge when implementing any new variety of organism, however it was made.
The negative science fiction image has been easily promoted and is appealing to the human imagination. The fascination with creating "new forms of life" is coupled to a fear of how far it might be taken. The Frankenstein Factor was coined by Gaylin (1976) as a suitable name for the wild scenarios imagined by some people, which represent the fear of the unknown, as symbolised in the movie. There are many movies which play on similar themes, and this has been very powerful in shaping public perceptions (Rollins 1986).
Integrity of Species
Modern biologists generally think of species as reproductive communities or populations. The species are limited by an arbitrary limit to variation. There is no universal or absolute rule that all species are discretely bounded in any generally consistent manner (OTA 1989). One species may exchange little or no genetic material with related or adjacent species, while another may seem to be almost promiscuous, inbreeding frequently with a neighbouring, related species. To challenge the integrity of a species requires more than a single gene change. Mammals like mice contain 50,000 or more genes and changing a small number of genes will not violate species integrity. Species exist in nature as reproductive communities, not as separate creatures.
Both cell fusion and recombinant DNA techniques allow species barriers to be readily overcome. Cell fusion can be used when the characteristics of interest are controlled in a complex manner by a large number of genes, so that large portions of the genome can be combined. This technique is used on a large scale in the commercial production of monoclonal antibodies.
People are more concerned about the manipulation of animals than of plants and microorganisms, because they are sentient beings. Preservation of each species as a species is important, so we should not lose each species' identity, but the question of changing genetic identity is harder to answer. Genetic engineering does breach natural barriers between two classes of living things. The new strains should not be thought of as special, manmade, forms of life, considering the wide genetic variation naturally occurring. The experience of the last fifteen years work with recombinant DNA involving mixing genes from different species, has not indicated any inherent danger in the source of DNA, whether it be animal, vegetable or human. Any possible danger comes from the type of gene, not its source, whether it is a bacterial toxin or an activated oncogene. Adequate laboratory safeguards have been developed for contained experiments.
People may voice concern about their fear of the destruction of wild species if we introduce transgenic varieties. However, transgenic strains made with controlled gene integration may be considered within the naturally occurring range of variation, and most of the animals of exceptional variety are confined to laboratories. Organisms used for agricultural production are traditionally kept separate to the wild species, and this will continue with new varieties. Modern breeders should realise the need to maintain stocks of the original species and the importance of maintaining wide variety of wild species, in seed or germ plasm banks. If this precaution is taken, than there is no danger of losing old varieties as has happened in the past for some organisms.
A technique for genetic manipulation of animals involves embryo manipulation using cells as carriers of the novel genetic information. Animals can be grown from chimeric embryos, that is embryos that are made by mixing cells derived from genetically-different sources. A chimera can occur naturally, they can develop normally even if their cells are of two different genotypes. They do not have any problem of immune rejection of one set of cells, as the development of the immune system and what it sees as itself, takes place during the development of the chimeric animal. It will recognise all cell types as itself. These chimeras can also be made from multiple different cell types.
One of the most publicised outcomes of embryo splitting was the creation of the sheep and goat hybrid, in this case an interspecies chimera. One of the aims of these experiments was the study of development and the immunological relationship between the female and the embryo. The embryonic cells used are blastomeres and may be from different species, like sheep and goat, which were used to make the so-called "geeps" (Fehily et al. 1985). The hybrid chimeric embryo from mixing sheep and goat embryonic cells developed into "healthy" hybrid adults, displaying a mixed physiology and behaviour. It is also reported that sheep and cow chimeras have been attempted. The skills of manipulation are growing, and this is another cause of concern. Some hybrids will not develop as they are rejected by the mother, but this may be overcome by only substituting the cells into the inner cell mass, leaving the trophectodermic shell around the outside of the embryo, which develops into the placenta, to protect the new embryo. This has led to sheep being able to give birth to goats, and vice versa. This type of embryo transfer technology may also be important in attempts to preserve some rare species, by using domestic animals as surrogate mothers. These chimeras are used for the study of cell differentiation and interaction in the developing and mature organisms.
The greatest public concern is over the mixing of human and animal genes. People object to the insertion of human growth hormone genes in pigs. Since much transgenic animal research is aimed at increased understanding of human diseases, the insertion of human genes will be very common. Other research also involves the insertion of human genes into animals. The reason for this is convenience, as a large number of human genes have been cloned. The most convenient, readily available form of a gene will be used for manipulation. It is unlikely that animal genes will be introduced into humans as therapy at this stage, and it is unlikely that any will be needed as the appropriate human genes should be available.
The popular press sometimes reports claimed human/animal hybrids. One claim made by an anthropologist at the University of Florence, was that anthropoid embryos, using the sperm of a man and the egg from a chimpanzee, had been made in laboratories. The wording was such, that after the embryo was established, the experiment was terminated, implying that it may have continued (Schmetzer 1987). Human and animal gametes are often mixed in fertility tests performed at in vitro fertilisation (IVF) research centres. It is unlikely that a functional preembryo could be formed, though the egg may be triggered as if fertilised. Even if a zygote was formed it would naturally die as the genomes are dissimilar and the preembryo would cease to divide. IVF may be considered by the public to be one of the techniques of genetic engineering, but it is not considered as such by scientists. IVF is required for certain types of genetic engineering. The most likely work that could produce a human/animal chimera is using mixing of embryonic cells, as for the geep, but this work is prohibited in many countries.
Most of nature could survive without much human intervention, but as natural areas become modified by human activities, there will need to be increasing dependence on the intervention of specific technologies to maintain the diversity. Biological diversity refers to the variety among living organisms and their ecological interactions. There are three layers. There is ecosystem diversity, where there is a landscape interspersed with croplands, grasslands and woodlands. There is species diversity inside of each of these areas, which can be reduced by grazing for instance. There is genetic diversity, many wild plants have greater diversity than crop plants which have be bred for specific characters (OTA 1989).
There are several concerns for this problem. The first two are anthropocentric. The loss of plant, animal and microbial resources may impair future options to develop important new products and processes in industry, medicine and agriculture. The loss of diversity undermines the potential of populations and species to respond or adapt to changing environmental conditions. Because humans ultimately depend on the environment it is essential not to disrupt the environment. There are also aesthetic and ethical motives to avoid the irreversible loss of unique lifeforms which plays an increasing role in conservation issues. We are told that some of the plants were made to look beautiful (Gen. 2:9), and there are many writings illustrating the beauty of nature (Ps. 19:1-6, 104). Certain areas or species have major significance to some cultures, and nations, such as the bald eagle for Americans or the Kiwi for New Zealanders. There is also an economic reason to add, which is favourable, that of tourism, which may help some situations and disturb others. For example in Kenya, in 1985 the income of US$300 million made wildlife tourism the country's biggest earner of foreign exchange (OTA 1987a).
Because the abundance and complexity of ecosystems has not been able to be assessed, an accurate estimate of the rate of loss is not currently possible. This is especially true in the tropics. While only 1.7 million species have been identified, 5-10 million remain yet to be identified. Recent research in the canopy layers of tropical forest found so many different insect species, that the number of total species is probably closer to 30 million. Thousands of species are being lost, especially in the tropics. The problem of diversity loss is broader than the extinction of species, because diversity losses can occur at each level of biological organisation. Ecologists categorise the types of ecosystem. For instance in the United States 23 types of ecosystem covered 50% of the area when Europeans settled, but now they only cover 7% of the area. The agricultural states have had the highest loss of natural ecosystems, around 90% in Iowa or Illinois. Within these ecosystems, species diversity is much greater in the tropics, for example a single tree in the Peruvian Amazonian Rain forest was found to harbour 43 species of ant belonging to 26 genera this species richness is about equal to the ant fauna of the entire United Kingdom. The current rate of loss of species is greater than the estimated rate that species evolve.
Reduced diversity has major consequences. It eliminates the options to use untapped resources. For instance, the use of wild crops in breeding crop plants has accounted for half the production increases, and is estimated to account for US$1 billion annually in U.S. Agriculture. Future gains will also depend on the use of genetic diversity as well as genetic manipulation. Nature provides the raw materials, the genes. There are also direct benefits of wild species such as the role in pollination, where the pollinators need alternative breeding sites, and food sources when the crop is not flowering. The affects can be through several species, for instance the Californian wild brambles provide an off-season reservoir for the prey for wasps, which are important for controlling a major grape pest. The economic benefit is about US$60 an acre in direct pesticide cost savings, plus the indirect benefit of reducing pesticide use. About 25% of the prescription drugs in the U.S. are derived from plants, with a market value of US$8 billion annually. Many potential drugs remain to be found. There are also many diverse species specifically used for scientific research because of their perculiarities. The oldest living organism is Bristlecone pines, which are very important for the calibration of radiocarbon dating, used in archaeology, prehistory and climatology. Many species are important for biological research because of their special properties, such as tolerance to environmental conditions like the desert pupfishes of South West USA which live in twice the salinity of sea water and are used in study of human kidney disease or animals that suffer from human diseases such as the Armadillo which can suffer from leprosy others have enzymes which can be used in bioassays, such as extracts from horseshoe crabs used to test vaccines for contamination with bacterial endotoxins or the antibacterial products such as penicillin and other antibiotics from fungi, or antiviral agents like D-arabinosyl cytosine from a Jamaican sponge. These examples just illustrate how great the variety of useful organisms there are in nature.
On the higher level are the environmental regulatory factors which depend on complex interactions of ecosystems. For example wetlands are very important for the breeding of birds and fish, crustaceans and molluscs. They also temporarily store flood waters, which is a direct benefit. The Charles River wetland in Massachussetts are estimated to save US$17 million a year in flood control. Often we overlook the value of ecosystems. As we can now understand, if we alter nature on a global scale, we have proportionately larger problems, as seen in the greenhouse effect. There are several contributory factors, one is the doubling of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere in the last century by burning of carbon fuels and forests, and the reduction of forested area. The temperature of the earth rises, which alters the sea level, the climate, the vegetation and hence the animals in particular areas. There are also other gasses released which contribute. We also have the depletion of the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons which has resulted in greater numbers of human skin cancers appearing.
One of the oldest ways of destroying nature has been the use of fire, for driving game in hunting, or for clearing land for agriculture. It is the cause of many of the world's present grassland areas, and also deserts. Added to this destruction of forest was the use of wood for building homes, etc. Environmental problems may be able to be traced back to the beginning of civilisation, but are getting worse with the global scale of air and water pollution, the introduction of new chemicals, and the large human population which had led to more overgrazing. Many losses are unintended and unforseen, such as the acidification of lakes in Scandinavia and Canada from the acid rain from the burning of carbon fuels.
Uniform crop varieties are economically useful. Having a field of wheat that grows to the same height, producing good heads of grain which can be harvested at the same time, which is resistant to all known pests and diseases, and has uniform milling properties, is an ideal. Improved crop varieties have increased food production, but have contributed to genetic erosion. Old varieties of crops were dropped in favour of new uniform ones, over a short time period in developing countries, and a long period in Europe. This means that the genetic variability that has been relied on for plant breeding is being lost (Sattaur 1989). There have been several dramatic examples of crop failures due to a lack of diversity. The nineteenth century Irish potato blight caused many deaths. In 1970, the USA lost half its maize crop to one disease, the southern corn leaf blight. The wheat variety Bezostaja was grown in the USSR, over an increasing geographic range in a period of mild weather, but in 1972 a harsh winter led to huge failures in production.
There has been rejection of the claim that new crops will further reduce biological diversity. In some countries, such as Holland which is very densely farmed, farmers may be paid to leave their fields fallow. This is because of the improved productivity of the land. The land can be released for other purposes, such as reverting to the wild. This means other species can reestablish themselves, such as wildflowers. Within twenty or thirty years the amount of land release in Europe as a result of increased agricultural productivity from biotechnological advances may be close to half. Of course the picture is not so good in countries with high birth rates, who will need to expand food production for some time yet. The environment should be protected by using these techniques.
There is the objection that cloning would reduce the genetic diversity of a species. This would only apply if we were making a significant proportion of the breeding population asexually. We should always try to maintain diverse organisms, as they tend to be better able, as a population, to survive major diseases or environmental changes (OTA 1987a). New genetic techniques are being used to save the remaining genetic diversity, and will enable the practical use of many widely dispersed genes. The involvement can be at many different levels. DNA Fingerprinting has been used to study the genetic diversity of different species. Populations of black rhinos in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa have been found by this technique to be genetically similar, these scattered animals can be gathered together and encouraged to breed. The black rhino is endangered by poaching, so pooling rhinos into protected areas may protect them, and this has been shown to be genetically feasible by the DNA Fingerprinting.
Embryo manipulation is being used to help protect some of the endangered species against extinction. We are losing many species every year, and will lose even more in the next few decades with the major climatic changes caused by global warming. As plants die and move, the animals dependent upon them also may die if they can not change or have nothing to eat. The plants can be modified to survive in the different climate, and some American researchers are pursuing this approach in attempts to save endangered bird species together with the forest communities.
There are major international efforts to save existing genetic variety through germ plasm storage. The techniques of biotechnology should aid the safe storage and regeneration of such germplasm. Genetic engineering itself may have a minor role in the pursuit of this goal. It should be possible to use the techniques developed in chimeric embryo manipulation to allow a common species to gestate the embryo of a rarer species.
The idea here is that because we perform some action, we will perform another. It implies that since we have done something we will not be able to refrain from doing something else. This expression envisages a muddy slope where footing once lost cannot be regained, and suggests that controls which are adequate for initial exploration may fail under increased pressure. The argument is that if we alter the genes of plants and animals, then we will proceed down the slippery slope with human genetic engineering. However, a suitable analogy could be the experimental use of animals. While there have been several examples of human experimentation during the last 50 years, the widespread establishment of ethical committees should preclude any further abuses. There is a moral gulf between support for human eugenic measures and agricultural breeding, which suggests that there is, in fact, a logical place to stop. Feasibility does not mean inevitability. However, we should be sure that our society does stop extrapolation of this kind.
When people talk of genetic engineering they may confuse it with other controversial medical technologies. It may be put in the same category as new reproductive technology, such as IVF; and embryo experiments, which are really very different issues. Opponents may also assert that the final goal of improvement of genetic engineering techniques is "perfection" of the human species. This is not a goal that many share, rather the techniques are pursued for more immediate attempts to find cures for diseases or to improve agricultural production, which are worthy goals in themselves, and more universal as worthy motives.
Cloning is another topic that has long been talked of. There are different types, but the type most talked of is nuclear transplantation from adult cells so that many new clones of an adult can be made. This technique worked with frogs, but there is no prospect of it being used in humans as during development human genes necessary for embryonic growth are irreversibly turned off. There have been earlier claims of the artificial activation of ova of rabbits, but this is not cloning (Pincus 1939). There was reported to be successful nuclear transplantation in mice to produce clones (Illmensee & Hoppe 1981) but this has not been repeated. It is not thought to be possible.
What is quite possible, and currently performed commercially in agriculture is embryo splitting to produce identical twin clones. It is possible for humans too, but is outlawed in Europe. Because it will become widespread in agriculture does not mean that it will be applied to humans.
Many stories appear in the popular media, that are shown to be hypothetical. It has been claimed that it will be possible to recover enough genetic information to bring an extinct species back to life. It is possible to analyze the DNA from ancient species, but it is a very distant prospect to bring about the rebirth of that species. Of course, with the many recent "extinctions" of species whose germ plasm is safely stored it will be possible to bring them back, but they are not really extinct. Embryo transfer technology has been used by the Cincinnati zoo to bred rare antelopes, called bongos, by transferring bongo embryos to eland antelopes. It is also being used at London zoo to attempt to save the wild Indian bison, guar, from extinction by use of a Friesan cow as a surrogate mother. Also in Britain zebra foals have been born to horse mares.
In South Africa, embryo transfer techniques are being tested on wild animals for possible commercial application for game reserves. Embryos of the rare sable antelope are being transfered into surrogate gemsbok antelopes (Armstrong 1990). Wild animals tend to be much more stressed then zoo animals, which makes success more difficult. However, if the technique works there are many important possibilities, such as using white rhinos as surrogate mothers for the endangered black rhinos. Like IVF, embryo transfer is not genetic engineering in scientific terms, but it may be seen as such by the public. This technique is far from being one to generate fear: it may be able to help retain some of the genetic diversity that others are blindly destroying.
One unethical use of these techniques that is of grave concern is their major use in the military sphere, although biological weapons are outlawed by a Geneva convention (Dickson 1986). This research is claimed to be defensive (Smith 1984), but there is really no distinction from offensive, as in order to safely commence germ warfare one should be immune to what one is releasing. It is very easy to engineer toxic bacteria. For example, the genes controlling toxins such as those of cholera or botulinus can be put into the normal human intestine bacteria E.coli. Numerous more lethal combinations have been constructed (GB 1987, Kamely 1989). This research is already here, difficult to stop, but like a nuclear holocaust, their use can be prevented.
Between 1980 and 1987 the real amount of money spend on biological warfare research by the USA quadrupled, and the amount of basic research that is related to this area greatly increased. The USA has built a large maximum containment facility for the testing of such weapons, even though the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention bans the development of them. The research is claimed to be defensive, but as stated above, there is in reality no difference to offensive development. In fact, a vaccination program for the general public would be too expensive, the only effective use for a defensive vaccine would be to give to soldiers who were going to use such weapons.
It is not an argument to stop further new, potentially beneficial research. Military motives do fund much research which can be applied to civil use, but the motivation is wrong. I will not discuss how we fund research, but once the knowledge has arisen from whatever funding, we must still decide how and whether to use it.
People may make claims about the ethical neutrality of science. This implies that scientists do not have responsibility for the production of knowledge. However, this belief confuses the findings of science, which are ethically neutral, with the activity of science, which is not (Bronowski 1965). Some pursue the neutrality argument, by claiming that the moral burden lies with those who choose to implement knowledge for all purposes. We may not be able to predict the abuses of pure knowledge, however, scientists are still moral agents and must think in advance of the possible abuses. They may not be solely responsible, but they share responsibility.
Public Attitudes to Science
The public attitude to science is important, especially considering that most science is publicly funded. The consequences of scientific research will be felt by the public, though these may be impossible to fully predict. In contentious areas such as genetic engineering the issue of public attitudes becomes more important. Adverse opinion, even if that of a minority group can result in protest action as seen in recent examples of the animal rights movement, abortion protests or protests over the release of GMOs. The most sensitive area of science outside of medical issues such as abortion, is the use of animals for experiments. There have recently been terror campaigns conducted against scientists and laboratories involved in vivisection. Scientists have been given a warning that they need to educate the public, and have favourable public opinion with them.
In mid-1989 the public attitudes to science in general were probed in the UK and in Australia . The results of this poll to some key questions are interesting, and fairly favourable, even though the knowledge of science is poor. Asked the question "overall do science and technology do more good than harm, more harm than good, or about the same of each?", the British public thought 44% more good, and 9% more harm, and the Australian public thought 56% more good and 10% more harm. In Britain 74% agreed that many of the world's problems can be solved by scientific research, in Australia 65% agreed. 76% of the British and 63% of Australians thought that national prosperity depends on science and technology(Kenward 1989). In both countries about 80% of the public thought that politicians do not understand science.
Another survey was conducted in 1988 which showed that the public in the UK and the USA are more interested in science than things like sport, however they show little knowledge of it (Durant et al. 1989). There are biennial surveys conducted for the US National Science Board which have consistently portrayed strongly favourable attitudes towards science. These also suggest the public can distinguish between science and the adverse effects of certain technologies. As with all these surveys, there is greater interest in science and technology among those with more education
In mid 1990 a survey of the attitudes of the New Zealand public to science found that 75% stated that they were interested in science in technology, and 27% said that they frequently watched science and technology programmes on television (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990). 79% occasionally or frequently watched television programmes about science and technology, 66% occasionally or frequently read media articles about it, but only 41% read occasionally science and technology magazines. 75% said that they thought science should receive more government funding. These results suggest that the public has a good image of the use of science. Among farmers there was a significantly higher interest in science and technology. This public interest in scientific progress has, and will continue to, aid the expansion of biotechnology and the use of genetic engineering techniques. A US survey in 1986 found that nearly 80% of the public supported the expansion of biotechnology industry in the USA (OTA 1987b), but this feeling is not common to all Western countries. In that survey, 71% of the American public said that they were interested in science and technology, and there was a trend among those without college education to be less interested in science, than a 1982 survey. The US survey considered how frequently people read material on science, but in the New Zealand survey it was found that more people watch science on television than read it in magazines, which is a useful point for future surveys. It is also useful for those who wish to advertise science, television is a better media in terms of reaching the most people, and also a more diverse range of people.
In the US survey, the public were also asked how much risk they thought would come to them or their families from science and technology. 22% thought a lot of risk, and 49% some risk, which is a large proportion of the public. Asked how much benefit they saw coming from science, 41% said a lot, and 39% some. They were then asked if they thought the benefits will outweigh the risks, and 62% thought the benefits would, but 28% thought that they would not. This reveals a key point of science and technology, it is seen to involve both benefits and risks, and this is certainly true. People can entertain thoughts of both benefit and risk from the same technology, and genetic engineering is a good example.
In Germany there is much distrust between scientists and their critics. The factors that have led to this include public dismay over Chernobyl, the Bhopal accident, and other major chemical spills. Many politicians are against biotechnology and talk of genetic engineering in a negative way, which also creates a bad impression. In 1988 surveys of the Japanese and American public found that only 42% of Americans would support a ban on creating new forms of life, but 67% of the Japanese would support such a ban (Joyce 1988). Even if only 10% of Japanese public say they know what DNA is, 42% thought that the rules covering genetic engineering were too slack.
Public Support for Biotechnology
During the last decade there has been a widespread acceptance of the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering in many countries. The assessment of public opinion is difficult, but opinion polls are the only real way. Face-to-face, non-leading questions with open responses are the best method, but they are also more expensive than telephone polling. Since the eruption of debate in the 1970's public opinion has turned to favour the use of genetic engineering techniques, though with limits of course.
In a 1987 poll of the U.S. public, close to 80% of the public thought that it was good to develop these techniques (OTA 1987b). However, 77% agreed with the statement that the potential danger from GMOs is so great that strict regulations are necessary, though 55% thought that the risks of genetic engineering had been exaggerated. This was despite their lack of knowledge about the techniques involved. Most people agreed with the specific environmental or therapeutic applications that were suggested, but the amount of approval varied with the proposal. Asked, "if there was no direct risk to humans and only remote risks to the environment, would they approve of the environmental use of GMOs with the following characters", the numbers that approved were: disease resistant crops 73%, bacteria to clean oil spills 73%, frost resistant crops 70%, more effective pesticides 56%, larger game fish 53%. Even if the risks of damage to the environment were high many people would approve, for example if the risk was 1 in 1000, 55% would still approve if the product would significantly improve farm production. While the public can respond to such questions, the perception of statistical risk is very difficult, and can only be used to support general statements.
A Japanese Government survey of 3000 adults in the late 1980's, indicated 67% did not know of DNA. An independent survey was conducted by the magazine Newton (1989), a popular science magazine with a circulation of 300,000 in Japan. They picked 500 people from their readers at random with a weighting towards people living outside of large cities to get a more unbiased view. The readers of this magazine are all interested in science and technology, it is a selected sample rather than a public survey, but is still useful.
The results showed that the readers have heard of specialised techniques, but could not explain what they were. 98% knew the word "biotechnology", and 70% were interested in it, with most being a little interested. 77% thought biotechnology is rapidly developing. Although they showed good knowledge about DNA or genetic engineering, they think biotechnology is difficult to understand. Only 20% thought biotechnology has an image of being complicated and about 30% thought they could explain how DNA works to other, and about 60% thought they understood. They were asked about different techniques, both if they had heard of them and which they could explain to others. The results are presented in Table 3-1, (%'s of respondents that had heard of, and those who could explain it to a friend).
Technique: Have heard (%) Can explain (%)
Chromosome manipulation 71.3 31.1
Microinjection 27.3 7.7
Cell fusion 61.7 26.3
Cell culture 71.3 33.3
Bioreactor 24.0 9.3
Genetic recombination 98.3 17.3
How does DNA work? 93.0 27.6
In summary the survey showed that 77% were worried about the dangers of biotechnology, and over half thought they could not trust the researchers. 25% supported protesters who were opposed to P4 and P3 contained laboratories in Tsukuba and Shinjuku, Tokyo. 88% thought that researchers would hide bad results or dangers from the public. This survey was conducted among people of a higher than normal science knowledge, so is worrying.
There was a public opinion poll carried out by the Commission of the European Communities in 1979 which included attitudes to genetic research. The public opinion in different countries ranged widely, with the percentage of those people thinking genetic research was worthwhile being 49% in Italy, to 22% in West Germany and 13% in Denmark. There was a reciprocal relationship with those people who thought genetic research had unacceptable risks. It is not surprising that there has been more recent opposition to biotechnology in Denmark and West Germany (Tait 1988). There is much concern remaining in Europe about field testing of GMOs. There have also been some very active protest movements, which may represent minority public opinion.
In mid 1990 a major survey of the attitudes of New Zealanders to biotechnology was conducted (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990). The results of the face-to-face interviews with open answers are interesting and some are shown. In a similar style to the Newton survey in Japan, people were asked of their awareness of different scientific terms and whether they could explain them to a friend. The results of this question are presented in Table 3-2.
Technique: Have heard (%) Can explain (%)
Biological pest control 82 21
Silicon chips 85 25
Biotechnology 48 9
Fibre optics 57 20
Agricultural pesticides 91 30
In vitro fertilisation 75 31
Superconductors 43 12
Genetic engineering 74 20
The people who had heard of these techniques were also asked whether they thought these different areas were of benefit to New Zealand, "whether these areas would be worthwhile areas for scientific research in New Zealand". The percentage of people who thought these techniques were worthwhile, and those who thought not (there were also some who did not think they knew) were: biological pest control 86% yes/ 7% no, silicon chips 62% yes/ 21% no, biotechnology 72%yes/ 11% no, fibre optics 66%/ 16% no, agricultural pesticides 85% yes/ 10% no, In vitro fertilisation 71% yes/ 19% no, superconductors 58% yes/ 19% no, and genetic engineering 57% yes/ 28% no. In light of the benefits that should be expected from genetic engineering that are presented in this book, this final figure is somewhat worrying. There needs to be more education about what benefits can be expected from these techniques, especially to countries that have agriculturally-based economies like New Zealand. There was significantly less benefits seen arising from genetic engineering among those with less education. For those who are interested in further details, this survey is highly recommended.
Those people who responded that they had heard of these techniques were asked how worried they were about the impacts of these techniques. They were asked whether they were not worried at all, slightly worried, somewhat worried, very worried or extremely worried about these techniques. The sum of people who were at least slightly worried about these techniques were: biological pest control 49%, silicon chips 14%, biotechnology 30%, fibre optics 9%, agricultural pesticides 60%, In vitro fertilisation 38%, superconductors 8%, and genetic engineering 55%. It is clear that there is much greater concern about genetic engineering than techniques such as silicon chips or superconductors, however there is also a high level of concern about biological pest control, and pesticides. The level of concern was somewhat higher among those with more education, so that while further education is required, it should not be assumed that people are worried because they do not know enough. Among those with an undergraduate degree 73% expressed concerns, and 80% of those with a postgraduate degree expressed concerns. 70% of those who could explain genetic engineering to a friend expressed concern, compared with 51% of those who had only heard of the term.
A telephone survey conducted among farmers, and postal surveys among scientists and science teachers shed more light on this subject. The awareness of each area of science and technology was higher among these groups, and they had greater interest in science than the public (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990). Farmers had fewer concerns about the use of these techniques, and saw more benefits from genetic manipulation, and had less concern about consuming foodstuffs made using GMOs than the general public. However, their concerns about genetic manipulation in different organisms were not very different to the public at large.
Another particularly interesting result from this survey is the perception of different subjects of genetic engineering, and public concerns. The awareness of genetic manipulation in different areas was asked. Those who were aware and said they thought the research was unacceptable were asked what concerns they had; and those who saw benefits were asked what the benefits would be. Careful care was taken not to prompt the respondents by suggesting any concerns or benefits. These answers make interesting reading (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990), but for the purposes of presentation were assigned to different general categories. These are presented in Table 3-3. The concerns are of the type that are expected from international work, and have been discussed in this chapter. As discussed, the unnaturalness argument is very weak philosophically, though it may still remain important. The fear of the unknown is a valid concern, which must be addressed by scientific trials. The fear of unknown consequences for society, can not be so easily addressed, as discussed in this book.
Genetic engineering was seen to be a more worthwhile area of research for New Zealand by scientists, farmers and science teachers than the general public. This may be because the benefits more directly affect these groups, as well as their greater knowledge of the potential benefits. However, scientists also expressed more concerns about genetic manipulation, for the same reason. The reasons for concerns included a greater weight on the ethics of such techniques, and the lack of controls on experiments, or the misuse of knowledge. This was a different emphasis to the public. The fear of the unknown was still common, as were concerns about interfering with nature. Given the nature of these results, it suggests that the topics discussed in this chapter, and those following are topical for those of any position.
Responses expressed as %. See text for details, those who were aware of the techniques were asked whether they thought research was acceptable or not (if not why not), and saw any benefits (if so what?).
Manipulation of genetic material in (%):
Questions across the page: humans; microbes; plants; animals
Not heard of 35.2 59.0 29.7 31.2
Heard only 39.8 29.4 43.9 43.3
Could explain 25.0 11.6 26.4 25.5
Which, if any, of these
areas are unacceptable for any reason?
Acceptable 42.5 71.1 85.4 56.4
Unacceptable 57.5 28.9 14.6 43.6
Why Unacceptable? % who included as reasons:
Interfering with Nature 28 22 35 22
Morally wrong 16 0 0 35
Disastrous Result 16 12 12 9
Unknown area 8 16 11 8
Control Difficult 7 10 8 7
Open to misuse 9 13 8 6
Which, if any, of these could produce benefits for New Zealand?
No benefits 51.6 37.3 12.5 33.6
Benefits 48.4 62.7 87.5 66.4
What benefits? % who included as reasons:
Cure disease 22 14 0 16 (animal)
Benefit medicine 29 13 2 3
Improve life quality 22 9 3 6
Advance Science 7 10 0 6
Improve Organism - 11 38 38
Increase Yields 0 5 23 16
The world-wide opinion of scientists, philosophers and legislators has turned to be supportive of many applications. The moral premises that may have been behind this are various (Callahan 1979). There is the principle of individual liberty, that we may seek what we desire if it does not harm others. The principle of risk-benefit analysis, that in matters of uncertainty, risks and benefits are to be compared and moral action determined by the outcome of the equation. This has led to the relaxing of guidelines regarding recombinant DNA experiments. Another principle is that it is better to attempt to do good than to try to avoid harm. A failure to pursue good can even be taken as a form of doing harm, the sin of omission. However, these principles need to be balanced by more examination of what society wants. Although the more highly educated express more concerns, they also see more benefits in the use of genetic engineering.
The survey of the general public was face-to-face, the rest, biology teachers, farmers and scientists were mail questionnaires (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990). The number of respondents in each sample is given, only those who had heard of each type of manipulation were asked for a response.
Genetic Manipulation in:
Occupation of Respondents across the page: Public; Teachers; Farmers; Scientists;
Heard of (No.) 1318 189 127 171
Acceptable 42.5 48.7 32.3 53.8
Unacceptable 57.5 51.3 67.7 46.2
Heard of (No.) 834 266 82 210
Acceptable 71.7 72.2 64.6 75.2
Unacceptable 28.9 27.8 35.4 24.8
Heard of (No.) 1429 266 157 226
Acceptable 85.4 87.3 87.3 82.7
Unacceptable 14.6 12.7 12.7 17.3
Heard of (No.) 1400 244 150 217
Acceptable 56.4 81.6 65.3 77.4
Unacceptable 43.6 18.4 34.7 22.6
Public concern is whether the decisions on the use of genetic engineering, which will involve the creation of altered or new lifeforms, will be left to the discretion of individual scientists and corporations. Regulatory and advisory committees will need to have public groups included so that they are seen to be neutral and balanced. Discussion over planned experiments should be in public, which will also aid the education of the public, if done in a reasonable way.
The committees need to have lay members to ensure public participation. This applies to all types of bioethics committees. The lay people should include some people that have relevant experience however, whether it is as a farmer in the case of releasing GMOs, or as someone who has experienced genetic disease in their family in the case of medical genetics committees. A reasonable representation of the society in terms of race and religion should be present, though also including minorities.
Fundamentally, the public must also decide which applications will be supported, and the extent of commercialisation of the technology. It is ironic that much public opposition has focused on the question of the ecological safety of introducing GMOs in field trials. Little attention has been focused upon the long-term goals and consequences of the use of biotechnology and genetic engineering. Certain groups have tried to focus some attention on this, such as the well known activist in the USA, Jeremy Rifkin (Rifkin 1983, 1985, Kimbrell & Rifkin 1987), and some third world conferences (Bogeve 1987). As they state, the first duty of government is to determine the long range consequences of the application of a major technology, and the public should have a major input into this, because there will be major effects upon society. The commercialisation of biotechnology is discussed in chapter 10, together with some of the consequences. We should not just accept that technology will progress and we must adjust society to it (Withers & Kenworthy 1987), but we need to examine the whole foundations of technology and adjust it to the direction society should take. The long-term environmental impacts are also more important than the short term effects of small scale field trials of GMOs.
Scientists in academia and industry fear that unless they explain in full the risks and benefits of genetic engineering, then opposing groups will win the moral high ground and slow down the technology. Biotechnologists must put their views across in an honest and balanced way so they become trusted. Scientists have been living in an ivory-tower and have missed many opportunities to tell the public what is going on. Several campaigns have been mounted which may be aiding public understanding, such as those by the Dutch Government, and by the company Monsanto who are providing educational materials for distribution. Not only is information given, but public discussion encouraged.
Even the existence of good science journalism and public television science programs can do little to dispel the public impressions created by a single popular movie or editorial cartoon (Zimmerman 1984). The 1987 OTA survey in the USA found that the general public are more inclined to believe environmental groups than federal agencies or companies (OTA 1987b). This trend was also found in New Zealand (Couchman & Fink-Jensen 1990). The suspicion of researchers was particularly evident in the Japanese survey also (Newton 1989). Communicating science to the public is a major problem, as is understanding public concerns. Rather than people being easily divided into pro- and anti- factions, often people may express different thoughts at the same time (Evered & O'Connor 1987).
Government Commissions on Genetic Engineering
There have been government commissions in several countries who examined the questions raised by genetic engineering. The President's Commission in the USA indirectly looked at the issues raised by the new technology when applied to human beings. Unfortunately it was dismantled by a change of government in 1983. There have been other studies in the USA performed by the Office of Technology Assessment on specific issues. These studies continue to provide useful background information, but can not be expected to provide very extensive ethical analysis of particular problems because they usually consider many facets of a technology.
In 1984 a special parliamentary commission in Germany, the Commission of Inquiry on the Opportunities and Risks of Genetic Technology, started looking at these issues, and it produced a report at the end of 1986 (GB 1987, Catenhusen 1989). It produced the most comprehensive single report on the wide range of issues associated with agricultural and medical uses of genetic engineering produced by government bodies so far. The commission proposed some restrictions that they thought should be legally imposed. They recommended that germline human gene therapy should be banned. Military research involving genetic engineering should also be banned. They also proposed a 5 year moratorium on field trials of some GMOs. A total of 170 recommendations were made to parliament, representing the range of topics covered. It has stimulated public debate on the issues, and has provided much information for the politicians as well. Only with good information can informed decisions be made.
There must be further reports made to raise public awareness, so that people can decide. The Swedish government has commissioned a report on genetic engineering, to be completed in 1992. There have been several Government reports prepared in Britain and Australia which covered issues such as IVF, gene therapy or field release of GMOs. Some countries have established bioethics committees to continually examine the broad range of issues, and/or to consider particular projects. This type of standing committee should be encouraged, in addition to a repository of publically accessible information.
To Shaping Genes contents
To Shaping Genes chapter 4
To Eubios Ethics Institute home page