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At its inception, bioethics was virtually synonymous with medical ethics. As the crops have given new impetus to the expansion of traditional bioethical horizons.
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As the field grew and attracted new practitioners, it became clear that other applications of this new subject required extension of its scope. For example, environmental ethics, propelled by such authors as Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, quickly developed a vigorous literature of its own. More recently, developments in the analysis of the human genome, the enticing medical possibilities offered by the therapeutic use of stem cells, the complexities surrounding the cloning of animals and possibly humans and the development of transgenic agricultural crops have given new impetus to the expansion of traditional bioethical horizons.


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Bioethics must now adjust to these new realities, for it is clear that public interest in the field is growing as these new challenges appear. Although it is not easy to explain fully and conclusively what the grounds are for our deep sense of obligation to human nature and the future of humans and the planet, the power and pervasiveness of that sense is compelling. In considering our future, we know we must struggle to see clearly what is best, to fight for that, and to protect against deterioration. As we consider our evolutionary future, we should understand that the stakes are just as high and the need for discernment, attentive listening, reasoned deliberation, and socially responsible advocacy are just as great.

If enough of us do so, and if we proceed honestly and carefully with more humility than hubris, then 26 Kotler. Acknowledgements: I thank Melissa Freeman for excellent assistance in the preparation of citations and Christiana Peppard for superb editorial suggestions. CNN London.

Dobzhansky, Theodosius. Heredity and the Nature of Man. Goodstein, David. Personal Communication.

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July 8, Goonatilike, Susantha. World Futures General Evolution Series, vol. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach, Huxley, Sir Julian. Published in Man and His Future. Edited by Gordon Wolstenholme, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, Kass, Leon. Kessler, David. A Question of Intent. New York: Perseus Books, Kotler, Steven. Maddox, Brenda. New York: Harper Collins, Melville, Herman. New York: Bantam Books, New York: May New York: April Plato, The Republic. Translated by G. Grube, revised by C. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Pope, Alexander. Essay on Man Epistle II, Line 1.

Washington: PublicAffairs, Regalado, Antonio. Rossi, Lisa. Sartre, Jean-Paul. Existentialism and the Human Emotions. New York: The Wisdom Library, General Conference, 29th Session. Paris, France: November Varmus, Harold. January 26, Vogel, Gretchen. Wade, Nicholas. November 12, A November 23, Young, Jeffrey.

One of the high points of my years at college occurred midway through a course in general physics—the only physics course I've ever taken after high school. We were studying sound, and somehow, probably using neurons that have long since died, I managed to derive without help the equation for the Doppler Effect. Suddenly a window opened up somewhere in my mind, and peering through I caught a glimpse of the glorious, crystalline world of theoretical physics, inviting me in.

But before I could crawl through it, the window slammed shut, smashing a few more neurons in the process. Since then, I have had to content myself with the study of biology, not even molecular biology and biochemistry apart from a few clumsy forays in medical school and graduate school , but physiology, ecology, behavior, natural history, and—I hesitate to admit it—a decades-long interest in the relationship between society, technology, and environment. In the beginning of my academic career, the physics envy was stronger, and on the blackest days I found myself doubting whether Charles Darwin was as bright as Isaac Newton.

The theories of physics appeared more comprehensive, more general, more fundamental, more mathematical, and more predictive than most of those of biology or any other field inside or outside science. However, as I got older and learned a little more about how the world works, I began to realize that physics envy was a waste of emotional energy. Physics actually deals with some of the simplest systems the human mind can comprehend: one or two sub-atomic particles, for example, or the statistical uniformity of the molecules of an ideal gas.

The rest of us, meanwhile, cope with generality-defying, prediction-defying complexity, especially as we stray farther and farther from physics, even as far afield as ethics. We all long for simplicity, but we are bogged down in a sea of interacting variables. It doesn't seem fair.

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Looking a little more closely, however, I began to see that physics is not really simple. The dynamic chaos of earth, sky, moon, planets, and stars that Newton saw around him did not resolve itself into laws of motion, gravitation, and cooling. He had to find the simplicities, the basic patterns in the realm of creation he chose to study; he had to find the right explanatory contexts in which his genius could operate effectively. As the distinguished physicist P. Anderson wrote in a celebrated paper: The reductionist hypothesis does not by any means imply a "constructionist" one: The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe.

In fact, the more the elementary particle physicists tell us about the nature of the fundamental laws, the less relevance they seem to have to the very real problems of the rest of science, much less to those of 2 society. Darwin had the same task of finding the right context: at home and in his travels he encountered many settings of nature, many contexts, and profited from them all; but not until he reached the Galapagos Islands did he come across the context for understanding evolution.

His special gift, like that of Newton, was recognizing it. Conversely, choosing the wrong context when answering a particular question, and especially confining oneself to an overly narrow context, is very likely to lead one astray. For example, the isolated gene has been a useful context for answering some of biology's most important questions, but for other questions, as the Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin has pointed out, the gene alone, considered apart from the intracellular, extracellular, and external environments in which it functions, has proven an unreliable context for answering questions such as, What is the cause of schizophrenia?

In a chapter entitled "The Unity of the Genotype" in his book Animal Species and Evolution, he made compelling arguments to show that the effect of genes was strongly modified by other genes and by the internal and external environments, and varied from individual to individual. Unfortunately, many of today's genetic engineers give no sign that they have heard the message of Lewontin and Mayr.

How can we decide what is right and what is wrong, what to do or not to do in these times, which are probably the most complex in human history because we have taken on the management of so many more things in the world than ever before? Nevertheless, there are ways to cut through the complexity, to approach the underlying simplicities, the basic truths that we must see if we are to survive as individuals and as a society in this Age of Management. But to find the right contexts, we must survey as many of them as possible.

If we restrict ourselves to a narrow context, complexity is very likely to hide the basic truths.

Tom L. Beauchamp, The origins and the future of Bioethics

This is not a problem for everybody, however. There are those who, for one reason or another and usually for short-term personal advantage, do not care to approach the truth too closely. For them, complexity is a godsend. Like a squid escaping its pursuers in a cloud of ink, they can use complexity to obscure their movements, to hide the significance of what they are doing.

By selecting the narrowest from the many available contexts in which to portray and evaluate their own actions, and by cloaking these actions in a haze of technological intricacy, people can get away with behavior that society would not countenance if it were thinking clearly. I will give some concrete examples. Recombinant bovine growth hormone, rBGH for short, sometimes called recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rBST, is a growth hormone for cattle produced by taking the growth hormone gene from cows, modifying it very slightly, and inserting it into bacteria, using techniques of genetic engineering.

This rBGH, like its parent gene, is very slightly different from the natural product, having a substitution of just one amino acid for another at the end of the large molecule. Not surprisingly, as is the case with all new technologies that cause radical changes in production systems, economics, and cultural systems, the marketing of rBGH has engendered a great deal of controversy.

From the beginning, the controversy swirled around two questions: Is the milk from cows injected with rBGH different from milk from untreated cows; and if so, is it harmful to the humans who drink it? Second: Does the injection of rBGH into lactating cows harm the animals in any way?

Monsanto has not been able to provide an unequivocal no to either of these questions, and this may be part of the reason why Posilac has, by many accounts, not proven to be a cash cow for the company.

Yet I imagine I cannot prove it that Monsanto would prefer to keep the rBGH controversy confined to these issues, because the context of the questions is pleasingly narrow—in other words, most of the ethical concerns generated by the use of rBGH do not come up at all. Moreover, the two questions, because of their nature, can be drawn into a mire of complex and often contradictory technical and scientific details that make clear judgments difficult to achieve.

This confusion works well for Monsanto, because the company wants sales, not judgments. Is rBGH milk different from other milk? Yes and No. According to a paper published by Samuel Epstein in the International Journal of Health Services in ,9 and earlier reports summarized by T. Supporters of rBGH are quick to point out that IGF-1 also occurs in milk from untreated cows; and that its carcinogenic effect is not conclusively proven.

Opponents respond that there is at least a three- or four-fold increase of IGF-1 in rBGH milk, and that more of it may be in an unbound, free form, which might be biologically more active. It also should be noted that rBGH itself is present in the milk of treated cows, perhaps in elevated levels over the natural hormone, and it is possible that this unnatural protein could cause allergic reactions or, after partial digestion in the human gut, mimic the metabolic effects of human growth hormone.

The ink is swirling in clouds. Let's look at the second question: Does rBGH injection harm cows? At first glance, rBGH does not come off so well. No surprise there; the laws of thermodynamics hold for cows. The animals are producing more milk, so they must eat more food—I will come back to this later. In addition, the risk of subclinical mastitis milk not visibly abnormal is increased.

The label's recommendations for how to cope with this constellation of problems seem quite sensible. It is worth noting that none of the ailments listed as being associated with rBGH injection are unique to this treatment; cows can get mastitis, bloat, and sore knees even if they are raised under strict conditions of organic husbandry. And Monsanto 9 Epstein. The clouds of ink thicken. Again, we are left with legitimate worries that have not been properly addressed by the Food and Drug Administration FDA , but without an absolutely clear-cut mandate to condemn the technology.

In a situation of this kind, what usually happens is a continuation of the status quo. The results of peer-reviewed research produced by independent scientists are contradicted by the results of peer-reviewed research sponsored by the company. Each study, regardless of authorship, is run in a different way under different conditions, making comparisons problematic.

The federal regulators, some of whom were formerly executives in the regulated industry, feel justified in keeping the product on the market. And the worries persist. This is the time to widen the context of the inquiry, to reject efforts to keep questions confined to a narrow space where visibility can always be obscured by more convenient ink.

I propose to widen the context gradually so that we always know the vantage point from which we are viewing the bioethical landscape. Eventually, the basic truths of the matter should be fairly clear, if they aren't already; and the conclusions we ought to reach about the technology will be obvious. The first small step to take is to see what happens when we merge questions one and two.

The most solid finding from the inquiry into the effects of rBGH on the health of cows is that treated cows get significantly more mastitis than untreated ones. This is a finding admitted by Monsanto and confirmed by the FDA. In an ideal world, milk containing antibiotics is kept off the market. This is not an ideal world. Government agencies test milk for only a small number of antibiotics, and they do not test every batch; there are many antibiotics that can slip through into supermarket milk.

Careless or unscrupulous farmers may sell milk containing antibiotics, and some farmers may be willing to deliberately treat their cows with antibiotics that they know are not going to be screened in government tests. When antibiotics get into the milk, antibiotic resistance can be transferred from the bacteria normally in the milk to the bacteria that normally live in the intestinal tract of humans, and this resistance can be transferred again during illness to the bacteria causing the disease. An analogous case concerns the refusal, early in , of the Bayer Corporation to heed the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine to stop selling their fluoroquinolone antibiotics for routine use as growth promoters in the diets of factory-farmed chickens, turkeys, and pigs.

There is mounting evidence that feeding fluoroquinolones to poultry is causing widespread bacterial antibiotic resistance that 11 12 Coghlan. Let's widen the context a little more. I mentioned earlier that rBGH injection increases the food intake of cattle; they need more calories, particularly in the form of protein. One of the best and cheapest sources of high-grade protein is the carcasses of dead farm animals, including sheep, horses, cows, and others. For at least years, the rendering industry has been converting dead animals into food supplements for livestock, but the advent of high-milk-yielding cattle and, especially, rBGH-injected cattle, has greatly increased the demand for this animal protein in cow fodder.

Cows have been turned into carnivores, even cannibals. In recent years, we have become aware, however, that a terrible neurological disease, worse than Alzheimer's, called spongiform encephalopathy, is transmitted from individual to individual and even from species to species by eating brain, nerve, and other tissue from infected animals.

In cattle, we call this mad cow disease; in deer and elk chronic wasting disease; in humans it is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; and there is little doubt that it has been spread in England and the Continent by the practice of feeding rendered, processed carcasses of other ruminants to cattle. As we move farther and farther from the original narrow context, we gradually leave the realm of science and medicine and we enter the territory of ethics, economics, and social well-being.

Our next consideration in this widening inquiry takes us to the welfare of cattle. Even if we ignore the ethical implications of increased disease caused by rBGH, there are other important questions to be considered. Do we have the right to treat cows as if they were mere machines for producing milk, with all the suffering and lack of respect that this implies? Do we have the right to burn them out, to shorten their useful and productive lives, which is what rBGH appears to do?

According to the farmer and agricultural writer Gene Logsdon, dairy farmers used to be able to keep their cows on the milking line for twelve to fifteen years; now, with many cows being treated with rBGH, they frequently last only two or three years.

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Now we can widen the context again and look at the welfare and rights of dairy farmers, and, beyond that, at the welfare of the communities and larger society in which they live. He was concerned with the prohibitive cost of high-tech feed management systems and high-protein rations, which would price rBGH right out of the market for small farmers.

He also noted that the hormone was marketed primarily to large farms, anyway. Shulman's argument would have been even stronger if he had known more about the increased veterinary, air conditioning, and cow replacement costs associated with the use of rbGH. All of these costs can only be borne by large farming operations, which typically carry much higher levels of debt than small farms. Four years later, Charles Geisler and Thomas Lyson, professors of rural sociology at Cornell, confirmed Shulman's fears in an article on the social and environmental costs of dairy farm industrialization.

And as the debt-to-asset ratio increases, partly to pay for the supplementary, expensive veterinary care, climate control for feverish cows, and high-priced feed supplements that go along with the use of rBGH, control of dairy farming shifts away from the farmer and the farm community to distant banks. This will lead to the same kind of corporate vertical integration that has placed a few oil, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies in control of much of the world's agricultural seed production, resulting in the rapid, irreversible loss of thousands of agricultural food varieties of great and irreplaceable value, and putting the world's food supply in jeopardy.

In the eastern states from North Carolina to Massachusetts, and beyond, small dairy farms have long given a particular look and character to the rural countryside. The whole is divided into small fields through which the cattle are rotated. It has become clear in recent years that the cows on these small dairy farms accomplish much more than just milk production.

They have serendipitously replaced, in the wetland areas, other large eastern grazing mammals, the mastodons, elk, and bison, which have been progressively eliminated by waves of human settlers, starting eleven or twelve thousand years ago. Like these former native grazers, cows eat and therefore control the invasive, and these days often 17 Geisler and Lyson.

They eat red maples and alders, Phragmites, reed canary grass, purple loosestrife, and similar invasives that otherwise choke out wetland vegetation all over these eastern states. Thus, if you want to find the tiny bog turtle Clemmys muhlenbergii , the fen buck moth Hemileuca sp. And how has the government gotten away with it?

The first question is easy to answer: Monsanto and similar companies have been major contributors to both the Republican and Democratic parties. The second question is easy to answer, too. The government has gotten away with it because it has confined the ethical debate to the narrowest possible context, where the waters were muddy and the larger issues lay hidden. Even with this context restriction, the case for rBGH is so weak that only the most skillful political damage control has kept it on the market in the U.

Canada and the European Union have both banned rBGH, on the significant but narrow grounds of animal health. It effectively tabled the rBGH issue as a way of saving face for the U. In summary, we must look at the entire picture of the effects of rBGH: this is not only IGF-1 in the milk and animal health, but antibiotic resistance, spongiform encephalopathy, animal welfare, the welfare of farmers and farm communities, the well-being of agriculture, and the maintenance of whole ecosystems.

Is it legitimate to widen the context so broadly in evaluating a new technology? Yes; it is more than legitimate. It is practically and ethically essential if the the truth is to emerge, for the message produced by these overlapping and widened contexts is really quite simple to understand: rBGH is a very bad technology indeed. Having examined the rBGH controversy in some detail, it might be instructive to look more briefly at a few other examples that show the value of contextual widening. Salmon, for example, can be engineered to contain human genes, and corn now contains bacterial genes.

In the latter case, conversely, farmers are told that they can liberally apply the company's herbicide without fear of damaging their crops. Again, the proponents of GM foods have tried to keep the evaluative context as narrow as possible, asking: Do these foods contain harmful substances? And again, apart from a few obvious mistakes involving genes from highly allergenic foods such as brazil nuts transferred to soybeans, and genetically engineered gene products not approved for human consumption introduced into corn, the question of toxicity does not yield a clear answer; there is a lot of scientific-technical ink in the water.

The anti-GM group notes that these foods contain alien polypeptides and proteins, which might cause illness in susceptible individuals. True, reply the antis, but we have had millions of years to evolve biological and cultural responses to natural toxins in the food we eat. Fine, retort the pros, but what about this: nature was moving genes between species for countless millennia before agriculture began; and, further, conventional plant and animal breeding, which everyone accepts, also shuffles genes from one variety to another—even from one species to another.

Yes, respond the antis, but not between spiders and goats, or people and pigs. And so it goes. It is time to widen the context. Newspapers have documented the probably deleterious effect of Btcontaining crops on monarch and other butterflies, and some public comment has emerged about the general damage to pollinating insects from continuous exposure to the insecticide produced by GM crops day after day, month after month, over hundreds of thousands or millions of acres.

Public mention has even been made of the fact that GM crops can move herbicide resistance genes into the weeds and cause insect pests to evolve resistance to the Bt toxin. When we widen the context, however, to include the well-being of the farmers using GM crops, public attention drops off. In the late s there was some brief publicity given to cotton farmers in the south, who brought suit against the manufacturer of GM crops because the crops, they claimed, did not work as advertised, and because the expensive, one-time technology use agreements they were required to purchase with the GM seed were only good for one planting.

But until recently I have seen comparatively little public mention of the case of the 21 22 Teitel and Wilson; Ho. Other farmers in the United States and Canada have been assessed damages by Monsanto for alleged infringement of gene patents. Clearly, beyond the narrow question of whether GM food will make you sick, there are enormous problems with the technology—and we are not looking at those questions.

I will briefly mention three more. First, there seems little doubt that the introduction and widespread use of GM food crops will cause a further reduction in the number of major crop varieties in existence, a process already started by the industrialization of agriculture. This will narrow the genetic base of agriculture, which in turn will paradoxically limit the future opportunities for both genetic engineering and conventional breeding.

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Reduction in the number of crop varieties will also make us more vulnerable to the spread of crop pathogens by terrorists, a fact well-known to the bioterrorism taskforce. This development seems at least as worthy of discussion as the current activities of terrorists. I am convinced that profitability has little to do with the corporate push to introduce GM crops. Sooner or later their sales will slump, and the industry knows it. The real reason for this technology is that it opens the door to the corporate patenting and ownership of our food crops.

Is the food 23 Rural Advancement Foundation International. Most religious authorities have not begun to deal with this problem. Therefore, for all the reasons I have mentioned, I believe it is unethical to confine the GM food issue to a discussion of direct toxicity. Yet this is exactly what has been done. My next example of a context problem in bioethics is that of human reproductive and possibly therapeutic cloning. It states them very clearly, repeating the points of view of scientists, ethicists, potential parents of cloned children, Congress, and even the biotechnology industry which appears to oppose human cloning for the strategic reason of preserving its related research.

But nowhere in the article is there any discussion of the context outside that particular ethical box: namely, what will happen, ethically and practically, should human cloning become commercially available? What will be the consequences of granting such immense power over human reproduction to a few corporations and non-profit organizations? My last example of the value and ethical necessity of context widening comes not from biotechnology but from the practice of species conservation. A square-mile chunk of the Edwards Plateau of central Texas is occupied by the U.

Although protected on the base, these two species were in decline until recently because of nest parasitism by the brown cowbird.


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The cowbirds, which are anything but endangered, and which are also native residents of the plateau, always lay their eggs in the nests of other species of birds. The cowbird chicks hatch first and hog most of the food brought by their hapless foster parents. Few vireo and warbler chicks from cowbird-infested nests survive. For the past few years, wildlife managers at Fort Hood, in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, have been trapping cowbirds in gigantic cages baited with grain, then killing the adult females.

Predictably, vireo and warbler populations have increased on the base in response. So far, the minimal ethical debates about this kind of conservation technique have centered entirely on the rights of warblers and vireos, the rights of cowbirds, and the rights of people opposed to the killing of animals. You can imagine the ethical quagmire here. There are no simple answers. So let us widen the context with a question: Why are cowbirds threatening vireos and warblers now, when before the past century they coexisted for countless millennia?

The answer is ecological. Cowbirds feed in the open grasslands; vireos and warblers nest in adjacent brushy shrublands. The cowbirds parasitize nests built near edge areas where grassland and shrubland meet, not in the interior parts of the shrublands. Uncontrolled human land use on the base, particularly conversion of some of the hilly shrublands to grasslands for grazing by cattle, and—more importantly—unplanned, minimally regulated suburban sprawl off-base around the cities of Austin, San Antonio, and Waco, have fragmented and dissected the shrubland to the point where it is mostly edge habitat now.

So the cowbird is not the real culprit; it is merely the last straw. Nevertheless, it is far more convenient and politically expedient to blame cowbirds rather than limit the cattle grazing on the base or make an effort to introduce responsible zoning and land management around the cities, while phasing out the cowbird extermination program. It is not just because we are being kept to a narrow, controllable venue of debate by vested interests, although that is usually the case. Nor is it just that much of the public, dumbed and numbed by television and advertising, is incapable of digesting anything more complicated than a sound bite.

I think the deeper problem is that more than years of potent scientific discoveries and technological inventions—from the steam engine to the laser scalpel—have taught us to believe that science and technology, the fruits of our own reason, constitute the highest power we need consult in our daily lives. In our euphoria we forget two things.

First, technology is unable, both in theory and in practice, to resolve all of the practical problems that it, itself, creates. Despite the many differences that divide us, human societies have achieved a remarkable consensus about what is right and what is wrong. In the eighteenth century, an extraordinary group of scientists, educators, reformers, and political leaders in Europe and America was able to find the basic truths in the complex affairs of national and personal life.

We can do the same today, as Wendell Berry counsels in Life is a Miracle, provided we do not expect to derive our moral law from our science. Priorities, never final and absolute, must be established The concrete situation is almost everything. There is no escape; we must decide as we decide; moral risks cannot, at times, be avoided.

All we can ask for is that 40 none of the relevant factors be ignored. It is up to us—as a society and as individuals—to frame our ethical questions properly. Ethicists should not do it for us; this is a process too important to leave to the professionals. And these, in turn, require our taking the most inclusive view of the contexts of our activities that we can command in the time available. Acknowledgements: I thank Dr. Naftaly Minsky for a stimulating discussion of reductionism in physics, and for directing my attention to the paper by P.

My wife, Dr. Joan Ehrenfeld, provided her usual helpful comments and suggestions. Berlin, I. London: John Murray, Berry, W. Washington, D. Commoner, B. Coghlan, A. Ehrenfeld, D. The Arrogance of Humanism. Ellstrand, N. Edited by B. Bailey and M. Epstein, S. Falkow, S. Ferber, D. Fowler, C.

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Tucson: University of Arizona Press, Geisler, C. Hansen, M. Ho, Mae-Wan. Genetic Engineering: Dream or Nightmare? Dublin: Gill and MacMillan, Hobbelink, H. Biotechnology and the Future of World Agriculture. London: Zed Books, Holmes, B. Jaenisch, R. Klinger, T. Elam, and N. Kneen, B. Lee, D. Lewontin, R. Logsdon, Gene.

Personal communication. Mayr, E. Animal Species and Evolution. Learn more about the Research Family Engagement Committee. Sign up to receive helpful resources, breaking news, and special updates from Holland Bloorview. Skip to main content. Expanding horizons: Perspectives of a research-family engagement specialist.