Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Creating Embryos in the Lab: "Oh Brave New World"

IN June, a month packed with "big stories" (Trump indictments, Hunter Biden revelations, Titanic exploration gone awry, new twists and turns in the Ukraine/Russia misadventure), it would have been easy to miss this story about a human embryo created without an egg or sperm. It's only the latest episode in genetic engineering since Dolly the cloned ewe was unveiled more than 25 years ago.

Here are the two stories that caught my eye:

Creating embryos in the lab: How, why, and what the future holds

Human embryos created without egg or sperm in controversial breakthrough

No one knows if these embryonic structures — created from stem cells — could develop into a viable living organism, or what that organism might be like. But the breakthrough is sure to ignite a firestorm of ethical, legal and scientific debate.

In Aldous Huxley's novel "Brave New World," the concept of human cloning raised a number of issues. 

Those familiar with the story will recall how this dystopian future society was divided into different classes of cloned individuals, each with specific roles and functions. Alphas were the highest class in the social hierarchy, intellectually and physically superior, occupying leadership and managerial positions in society. Betas were slightly lower in the hierarchy compared to Alphas. Though intelligent and skilled, they were not as dominant or authoritative. Gammas were the next level below Betas and Alphas, typically employed in administrative or technical roles. Deltas, lower still, performed tasks requiring less skill and intelligence such as manual labor and routine jobs. Epsilons filled the lowest place in this future society, designed and conditioned to perform menial and labor-intensive tasks.

Each class was predetermined by means of the cloning and conditioning processes, ensuring each class had specific attributes and abilities predesigned for their assigned roles within this "Brave New World." The strict caste system perpetuates social stability and conformity but comes at the cost of individuality and freedom.

Huxley clearly intended to shine a light on the ethical concerns he believed were potentially in our future. Here are several of these.

--Loss of Individuality and Personal Identity

In Brave New World, individuals were mass-produced much like any other consumer goods, resulting in the loss of uniqueness and individuality. We saw a glimpse of this in Pixar's Toy Story series when Woody and Buzz Lightyear discovered (in the toy store) that they were not unique. Huxley showed how clones were created to conform, denying them the opportunity to develop their own identities and pursue personal fulfillment. Feel free to comment on this or any of the following points.

--Lack of Autonomy and Freedom of Choice
Cloning in Brave New World was a process controlled by the state, where individuals had no say in their creation or destiny within the hierarchical society. This raised ethical concerns about the suppression of personal autonomy and the denial of freedom to shape one's own life.

--Exploitation and Dehumanization 
Cloning in the novel served as a means of producing a subservient workforce and a compliant population. Clones were treated as commodities rather than as fully human individuals. They are conditioned and manipulated to be content with their assigned roles, stripping them of their humanity and dignity. Do we see echoes of this in our current culture?

--Psychological and Emotional Consequences
The clones in 
Brave New World" were subjected to extensive conditioning, which suppressed their emotions, desires, and critical thinking abilities, raising ethical concerns about the psychological and emotional well-being of cloned individuals, as they are denied the full range of human experiences and emotions. The drug Soma would serve to keep the masses happily compliant. What we see is a merger between the State, Big Tech and Big Pharma. Huxley anticipated this 80 years ago.

The novel makes a statement on the importance of individuality, autonomy, freedom, and the potential consequences of manipulating human life through cloning. It's a cautionary tale about the potential risks and ethical dilemmas associated with the pursuit of scientific advancements without careful consideration of their broader implications. 

In short, these trends are an assault on the very essence of what it means to be human. 

Related Links

"Oh, Brave New World!" -- Revisited

Human Cloning: Why the Ethicists Are Concerned

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