Editorial - Is bioethics about clones or relationships?

- Darryl Macer
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 7 (1997), 65-66.


This issue is the 39th issue of EJAIB or the EEIN, which was its predecessor. As I have written before, the week of searching references, copying, compiling and writing the news section often makes me wonder why I continue this. Yet, I still have a desire for new knowledge and would want to survey the journals even if I was not making the journal. Having the deadline of the journal pushes me to do this, and I will try to continue to do so as long as people find it useful. Even in the age of on-line journal contents and often abstracts, there is still a need to bring these all together, not only for those without access to Internet.

To me the greatest good that has come for the Eubios network is the relationships that have emerged out of the network. Some of these include members of the editorial board, though geographical politics has meant some friends who live in different regions are not included, and some others cannot contribute in writing but remain supporters. These relationships include many in the network, and some who are not. Some of us have used the term the Eubios family to describe the idea of working together in bioethics and in publishing this journal. A few people who are not mentioned have contributed to the continuation of this journal, and I continue to draw upon family and some friends for the support that this needs. The pressure to prepare the journal in addition to teaching and research, means making balances with these other commitments, which sometimes suffer. The paper means nothing if relationships are destroyed, which made me chose this title for the editorial.

I want to ask which is more important - relationships or trendy stories of genetics, that capture our attention for a moment because of their technical complexity. The fascination with the new often overtakes the concern we should have about the issues which affect all of our life, and the lives that surround us.

The issue of sheep cloning which was the media story of the year for genetic engineering, and appeared first in last issue, is the epitope of such trendy stories. Academically, for a bioethicist it makes the need for reading news even stronger. If people had been reading the references here, and the discussion of the Scottish work published last year, they would know it was inevitable soon. Some journalists asked did I have a special page on cloning...the answer no, but if you look in the news files (which are on the web at sites above) you can find some. My view is that we should consider the debate over the past 30 years on the subject - even before genetic engineering was a technique there are discussions. Although I am younger than many of the readers, that past literature seems to have been lost. This makes the bibliographies very important, and EJAIB and Shaping Genes the book, were attempts to fill in history - to supplement what can be found in the Bibliography of Bioethics of the Kennedy Institute.

Perhaps several questions of cloning should be mentioned, and there are also papers by Verma, Morioka and Anees in this issue which address human reproduction. There is little yet on the animal side, but one of the research projects I have planned for this year will be on that.

Much of the discussion about cloning in science magazines has been discussing the government funding bans on cloning research, and the negative reactions of scientists to the government intrusions into scientific research freedom. Will the bans stop some good scientific research from proceeding. Are the futuristic concerns that we will make many clones of good persons a distraction that only harms science. Medical ethics would prevent unethical experiments that may harm the baby from proceeding before the technology is safe.

Can we trust scientists to look after themselves. Can we trust funding bodies to police grant applications? Can we trust industry not to do something that could draw huge public outrage? These are some of the questions that need answers and I hope that future papers will explore some of these. I hope that some facts will be explored as well, not only saying it will be good for science or bad for humanity. Tell us why? If you like to see a range of questions and comments, on Monday, April 21, the OMNI on-line cloning dialog began, including DM and two recent EJAIB authors, Maurizio Salvi and James Hughes. Clicking onto the cloning forum.

Bioethics is the love of life, and we should show equal care or love for clones, chimeras, or any other product of human assisted reproduction. Importantly we should also have love for other organisms, and cloned animals or those living free. The important things in human relationships are not where we come from, but now that we are here, how do we deal with each other. These relationships are hard enough normally, requiring patience and understanding, we can ask whether being a clone would make any difference to the many factors which shape the way we act? The answer is maybe in some times or cultures it would, and in others it may not. The major force would be if the media could learn to protect privacy.

Would the media pressure be unbearable, as it was in the case of the first IVF baby in India, second in the world, described by Verma in this issue. In this case the doctor took his responsibility for privacy to protect the child and family as seriously as he should, however in his case it was too much. He is a model for a responsible scientist, but his colleagues did not accept that the duty of love to protect someone would make him hide results of science. I am sure all readers have secrets that they protect in order not to hurt someone else, that is part of life. Maybe that is why people promote the idea of privacy as part of the foundations of bioethics.

Are there things which we should not discover? Some claim that knowledge of cloning would be abused so we should not discover it. I sometimes wonder about the genes for love, yet discovery of these could also lead to abuses. Should we do research in these areas? It is an interesting philosophical question, but unfortunately (maybe?) the research is already on the way and there is no way to stop it. The question is how we control the use or abuse of the knowledge. Is there any limit to science, or economic growth? These questions should be discussed, and it is a challenge of bioethics.

Education is another issue discussed in papers by Cong, Leavitt, and Asada and Macer in this issue. There is a need for education in all countries. At the end of this issue are the contents list of a soon to be published book, Bioethics in India, eds. J. Azariah, H. Azariah and D. Macer. It should be on-line at the sites above by mid-May, it just requires me to put the 113 papers on-line! There are several on education, but they cover all issues of bioethics. For those of you who use the European mirror site please note that the files there are being redone after server problems, and with the kind generosity of the University College of Saint Martins, re-xs site, they will be on-line as a mirror site for free access. That arrangement was made while attending a moral education conference in the UK last year.

One of the ways to continue relationships is through networks, and the Asian Bioethics Network continues to expand. The book from India above is more fruit of this. New meetings are planned for 15-17 June in Beer Sheva, Israel, the next in the series of the Network. These will be, on the 15 June, "Bioethics in Theory and Practice: Ethics in Medical Genetics, Agriculture, the Environment and Education" (Sponsored by the Blechner Chair for Jewish Values, and Medical Ethics Centre, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, and Japanese Ministry of Education); 16 June, "Impact of Genetics on Medical Ethics"; 17 June, "Bioethics in Agriculture, Environment and Education" (at Kibbutz Shoval). We hope more researchers can join us. Please contact Frank Leavitt for joining.

The meetings that are planned in Japan from 30 October to 8 November, 1997, are also given below. The deadline for abstracts has been extended. The next series of meetings in India will be next January. We hope that we can come together to form, keep relationships and to build new ones. This is the hard but essential work of bioethics.

- Darryl Macer


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