from UCLA Website
We are quickly morphing into a new biological and social existence that is ever-more mediated and shaped by computers, mass media, and biotechnology, all driven by the logic of capital and a powerful emergent techno-science. In this global context, science is no longer merely an interpretation of the natural and social worlds; rather it has become an active force in changing them and the very nature of life.
In an era where life can be created and redesigned in a petridish, and genetic codes can be edited like a digital text, the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" has become greatly complexified.
The new techniques of manipulation call into question existing definitions of life and death, demand a rethinking of fundamental notions of ethics and moral value, and pose unique challenges for democracy.
The posthuman involves both new conceptions of the "human" in an age of information and communication, and new modes of existence, as flesh merges with steel, circuitry, and genes from other species.
Exploiting more animals than ever before, techno-science intensifies research and experimentation into human cloning.
Defenders of biotechnology extol its potential to increase food production and quality, and to cure diseases, endow us with "improved" human traits, and prolong human life.
Its critics claim,
Interestingly, the same dichotomies that have polarized information-technology discourses into one-sided technophobic and technophillic positions are reproduced in debates over biotechnology.
Just as I believe that critical theories of technology are needed to produce more dialectical perspectives that distinguish between positive and negative aspects and effects of information technology (Best and Kellner 2001), so too I would claim that similar approaches are required to articulate the potentially beneficial and perhaps destructive aspects of biotechnology.
Indeed, current debates over cloning and stem cell research suggest powerful contradictions and ambiguities in these phenomena that render one-sided positions superficial and dangerous.
Parallels and similar complexities in communication and biotechnology are not surprising given that information technology provides the infrastructure to biotechnology that has been constituted by computer-mediated technologies involved in the Human Genome Project, and, conversely, genetic science is being used to push the power and speed of computers through phenomena such as "gene chips."
In addition, debates over cloning and stem cell research raise exceptionally important challenges to bioethics and a democratic politics of communication. Biotechnology is thus a critical flashpoint for ethics and democratic theory and practice.
Contemporary biotechnology underscores the need for more widespread knowledge of important scientific issues; participatory debate over science, technology, values, and our very concept of human life; and regulation concerning new developments in the biosciences, which have such high economic, political, and social consequences.
Nonetheless, I believe that the entire realm of biotechnology is fraught with dangers and problems that require careful study and democratic debate. The emerging genomic sciences should thus be undertaken by scientists with a keen sense of responsibility and accountability, and be subject to intense public scrutiny and open discussion.
Finally, in the light of the dangers and potentially deadly consequences of biotechnology, I maintain that the positive potential of biotechnology can be realized only,
From its entrenched standpoint of unqualified human superiority, science, typically first targets objects of nature and animals with its analytic gaze and instruments.
The current momentous turn toward cloning is largely undertaken by way of animals, although some scientists have already directly focused on cloning human beings. While genetic engineering creates new "transgenic" species by inserting the gene from one species into another, cloning replicates cells to produce identical copies of a host organism by inserting its DNA into an enucleated egg.
In a potent combination, genetic engineering and cloning technologies are used together in order, first, to custom design a transgenic animal to suit the needs of science and industry (the distinction is irrevocably blurred) and, second, to mass reproduce the hybrid creation endlessly for profitable peddling in medical and agricultural markets.
Life science companies are poised to make billions of dollars in profits, as numerous organizations, universities, and corporations move toward cloning animals and human stem cells, and patenting the methods and results of their research.
Rather, the new techniques of cloning, or "nuclear somatic transfer," from adult mammal body cells constitute a new form of animal reproduction. These methods accomplish what scientists long considered impossible - reverting adult (specialized) cells to their original (non-specialized) embryonic state where they can be reprogrammed to form a new organism.
In effect, this startling process creates the identical twin of the adult that provided the original donor cell.
This technique was used first to create Dolly, the first mammal cloned from a cell from an adult animal, and subsequently all of her varied offspring.
But when Ian Wilmut and his associates from the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, Scotland, announced their earth-shattering discovery in March 1997, the "impossible" appeared in the form of a sheep named Dolly, and a "natural law" had been broken. Dolly’s donor cells came from a 6-year-old Finn Dorset Ewe.
Wilmut starved mammary cells in a low-nutrient tissue culture where they became quiescent and subject to reprogramming. He then removed the nucleus containing genetic material from an unfertilized egg cell of a second sheep, a Scottish Blackface, and, in a nice Frankenstein touch, fused the two cells with a spark of electricity.
After 277 failed attempts, the resulting embryo was then implanted into a third sheep, a surrogate mother who gave birth to Dolly in July 1996.
The commercial possibilities of cloning animals were dramatic and obvious for all to behold. The race was on to patent novel cloning technologies and the transgenic offspring they would engender.
Most infamously, Harvard University, with funding from Du Pont, has patented a mouse - OncoMouse - that has human cancer genes built into its genetic make up and are expressed in its offspring (Haraway 1997).
Co-creator James Robl said,
In early January 2002, the biotech company PPL announced that they had just cloned a litter of pigs, which could aid in human organ transplants. On the eve of the publication of an article by another company, Immerge Bio Therapeutics claimed that they had achieved a similar breakthrough.2
The new process involved creation of the first "knockout" pigs, in which a single gene in pig DNA is deleted to eliminate a protein that is present in pigs, which is usually violently rejected by the human immune system.
This meant that a big step could be made in the merging of humans and animals, and creating animals as harvest-machines for human organs.
"BioSteel" presents an example of the bizarre wonders of genetic technology that points to the erasure of boundaries between animate and inanimate matter, as well as among different species.
In producing this substance, scientists have implanted a spider gene into goats, so that their milk produces a super-strong material - BioSteel - that can be used for bulletproof vests, medical supplies, and aerospace and engineering projects.
In order to produce vast quantities of BioSteel, Nexia Biotechnologies intend to house thousands of goats in 15 weapons-storage buildings, confining them in small holding pens.3
For many scientists, however, the main concern is that the human body rejects animal organs as foreign and destroys them within minutes. Researchers seek to overcome this problem by genetically modifying the donor organ so that they knock out markers in pig cells and add genes that make their protein surfaces identical to those in humans.
Whereas genetic and cloning technologies in the cases described at least have the potential to benefit human beings, they have also been appropriated by the meat and dairy industries for purposes of increased profit through the exploitation of animals and biotechnology.
It’s the nightmarish materialization of the H.G. Wells scenario where, in his prophetic 1904 novel The Food of The Gods, scientists invent a substance that prompts every living being that consumes it to grow to gargantuan proportions.
Having located the genes responsible for regulating growth and metabolism, university and corporate researchers immediately exploited this knowledge for profit. Thus, for the glories of carcinogenic carnivorous consumption, corporations such as MetaMorphix and Cape Aquaculture Technologies have created giant pigs, sheep, cattle, lobsters, and fish that grow faster and larger than the limits set by evolution.
Since 1997, at least one country, Japan, has sold cloned beef to its citizens.5
But there is strong reason to believe that U.S. consumers - already a nation of guinea pigs in their consumption of genetically modified foods - have eaten cloned meat and dairy products. For years, corporations have cloned farmed animals with the express purpose of someday introducing them to the market, and insiders claim many already have been consumed.6
The National Institute of Science and Technology has provided two companies,
...with almost $5 million to fund research into factory farming billions of cloned chickens for consumption.7
With the Food and Drug Administration pondering whether to regulate cloned meat and dairy products, it’s a good bet they are many steps behind an industry determined to increase their profits through biotechnology.
The future to come seems to be one of cloned humans eating cloned animals.
In fact, scientists have already created headless embryos of mice and frogs in grotesque manifestations of the kinds of life they can now construct at will.
This experiment enabled Mr. Kac to demonstrate his supremely erudite postmodern thesis that,
Although millions of healthy animals are euthanized every year in U.S. animal "shelters," corporations are working to clone domestic animals, either to bring them back from the dead, or to prevent them from "dying" (such as in the Missyplicity Project, initiated by the wealthy "owners" of a dog who want to keep her alive indefinitely).9
Despite alternatives to coping with allergies problems and the dangers with cloning animals, Transgenic Pets LLC is working to create transgenic cats that are allergen-free.10
In 2002, the biotechnology company Genetic Savings and Clone showcased the world’s first cloned cat, named CC, for Carbon Copy.
Pandering to animal guardians’ misconceived desires to immortalize their cat, for a price of $50,000 each, Genetic Savings since has cloned additional cats, and hopes to cash in on what could be a booming market in feline simulacra at great risk for health problems and premature aging.
Transgenic animals often are born deformed and suffer from fatal bleeding disorders, arthritis, tumors, stomach ailments, kidney disease, diabetes, inability to nurse and reproduce, behavioral and metabolic disturbances, high mortality rates, and large offspring syndrome.
In order to genetically engineer animals for maximal weight and profit, a Maryland team of scientists created the infamous "Beltway pig" afflicted with arthritis, deformities, and respiratory disease.
Cows engineered with bovine growth hormone (rBGH) have mastitis, hoof and leg maladies, reproductive problems, numerous abnormalities, and die prematurely. Giant supermice endure tumors, damage to internal organs, and shorter life spans. Numerous animals born from cloning are missing internal organs such as hearts and kidneys.
A Maine lab specialized in breeding sick and abnormal mice that go by names such as Fathead, Fidget, Hairless, Dumpy, and Greasy.
After 3 years of efforts to clone monkeys, Dr. Tanja Dominko fled in horror from her well-funded Oregon laboratory. Telling cautionary tales of the "gallery of horrors" she experienced, Dominko said that 300 attempts at cloning monkeys produced nothing but freakishly abnormal embryos that contained cells either without chromosomes or with up to nine nuclei.11
But even Dolly became inexplicably overweight and arthritic, and may have been prematurely aging. In February 2003, suffering from progressive lung disease, poor Dolly was euthanized by her "creators," bringing to a premature end the first experiment with adult animal cloning and raising questions concerning its ethics.
Scientists feared that the defective gene functioning in clones could, wreak havoc with organs and trigger foul-ups in the brain later in life and that embryonic stem cells are highly unstable.13
Jaenisch claims that only 1%-5% of all cloned animals survive, and even those that survive to birth often have severe abnormalities and die prematurely.14
In January 2001, for example, researchers at Texas A&M University and the Roslin Institute claimed to have discovered a gene that causes abnormally large cloned fetuses, a discovery they believe will allow them to predict and prevent this type of mutation. It is conceivable science someday will work out the kinks, but for many critics this assumes that science can master what arguably are inherent uncertainties and unpredictable variables in the expression of genes in a developing organism.
A recent study showed that some mouse clones seem to develop normally until an age the equivalent of 30 years for a human being; then there is a spurt of growth and they suddenly become obese.15
Mark Westhusin, a cloning expert at Texas A&M, points out that the problem is not that of genetic mutation, but of "genetic expression," such that genes are inherently unstable and unpredictable in their functioning. Another report indicates that a few misplaced carbon atoms can lead to cloning failures.16
Thus, as suggested by chaos theory, small errors in the cloning process could lead to huge disasters, and the prevention of all such "small errors" seems to presume something close to omniscience.
Quite callously and arbitrarily, for example, Jaenisch proclaims,
The attitude that animals are disposable resources or commodities rather than subjects of a life with inherent value and rights is a good indication of the problems inherent in the mechanistic science that still prevails and a symptom of callousness toward human life that worries conservatives.
Moreover, scientists engineer change at unprecedented rates, and can create novel beings across species boundaries that previously were unbridgeable. Ours is a world where cloned calves and sheep carry human genes, human embryo cells are merged with enucleated cows’ eggs, monkeys, and rabbits are bred with jellyfish DNA, a surrogate horse gives birth to a zebra, a dairy cow spawns an endangered gaur, and tiger cubs emerge from the womb of an ordinary housecat.
From the new scientific perspective, animals are
framed as genetic information that can be edited, transposed, and
copied endlessly. Pharming and xenotransplantation build on the
system of factory farming that dates from the postwar period and is
based on the confinement and intensive management of animals within
enclosed buildings that are prison-houses of suffering.
As Rifkin (1998, 35) puts it,
Patenting of genetically modified animals has become a huge industry for multinational corporations and chemical companies.
The PPL Therapeutics, Genzyme Transgenics, Advanced Cell Technology, and other enterprises are issuing broad patent claims on methods of cloning non-human animals. The PPL Therapeutics, the company that "invented" Dolly, has applied for the patents and agricultural rights to the production of all genetically altered mammals that could secrete therapeutic proteins in their milk.
Nexia Biotechnologies obtained exclusive rights to all results from spider silk research. Patent number 4,736,866 was granted to Du Pont for Oncomouse, which the Patent Office described as a new "composition of matter." Infigen holds a U.S. patent for activating human egg division through any means (mechanical, chemical, or otherwise) in the cloning process.
It is indeed exciting to ponder the possibilities of a Jurassic Park scenario of reconstructing extinct species (as, for example, scientists recently have uncovered the well-preserved remains of a Tasmanian tiger and a woolly mammoth). In October 2001, European scientists cloned a seemingly healthy mouflon lamb, a member of an endangered species of sheep. In April 2003, ACT produced the first successful interspecies clone when a dairy cow gave birth to a pair of bantengs, a species of wild cattle, cloned from an animal that died over 20 years ago.
One of the pair, however, was thereafter euthanized because it was born twice the normal size and was suffering. Currently, working with preserved tissue samples, ACT is working to bring back from extinction the last bucardo mountain goat, which was killed by a falling tree in January 2000.19
Animals raised through interspecies cloning such as the gaur produced by ACT will not have the same disposition as if raised by their own species and so, for other reasons will not be less than "real."
Additionally, there is the likelihood that genetic engineering and cloning would aggravate biodiversity loss to the extent it creates monolithic super breeds that could crowd out other species or be easily wiped out by disease. There is also great potential for ecological disaster when new beings enter an environment, and genetically modified organisms are especially unpredictable in their behavior and effects.
Successful stem cell technologies could eliminate at once the problem of immune rejection and the need for animals. There is also the intriguing possibility of developing medicines and vaccines in plants, rather than animals, thus producing a safer source of pharmaceuticals and neutraceuticals and sparing animals’ tremendous suffering.
None of these promises, however, brighten the dark cloud cloning casts over the animal kingdom, or dispel the dangers of the dramatic alteration of agriculture and human life.
By summer of 2001, a technical and esoteric debate over stem cells, confined within the scientific community during the past years, had moved to the headlines to become the forefront of the ongoing science wars - battles over the cultural, ethical, and political implications of science.
The scientific debate over stem cell research in large part is a disguised culture war, and conservatives, liberals, and radicals have all jumped into the fray.
Coming from a perspective of critical theory and radical democratic politics, I reject conservative theologies and argue against conflations of religion and the state. Likewise, I question neoliberal acceptance of corporate capitalism and underscore the implications of the privatization of research and the monopolization of knowledge and patents by huge biotech corporations.
In addition, I urge a deeper level of public participation in science debates than do conservatives or liberals and believe that the public can be adequately educated to have meaningful and intelligent input into technical issues such as cloning and stem cell research that have tremendous human and ethical implications.
Until science is recontextualized within a new holistic paradigm informed by a respect for living processes, by democratic decision making, and by a new ethic toward nature, the genetic sciences on the whole are in the hands of those governed by the imperatives of profit.
Moreover, politicians beholden to corporate interests have no grasp of the momentous issues involved, requiring that those interested in democratic politics and progressive social change must educate and involve themselves in the science and politics of biotechnology.
At this stage, human cloning is indefensible in the light of the possibility of monstrosities, dangers to the mother, burdens to society, failure to reach a consensus on the viability and desirability of cloning humans, and the lack of compelling reasons to warrant this fateful move. The case is much different, however, for therapeutic cloning, which is incredibly promising and offers new hope for curing numerous debilitating diseases.
But even stem cell research, and the cloning of human embryos is problematic, in part because it is the logical first step toward reproductive cloning and mass production of desired types, which unavoidably brings about new (genetic) hierarchies and modes of discrimination.
In an era of rapid flux, our genotypes, phenotypes, and identities are all mutating. Under the pressure of new philosophies and technological change, the humanist mode of understanding the self as a centered, rational subject has transformed into new paradigms of communication and intersubjectivity (Hayles 1999) and information and cybernetics (Habermas 1979, 1984, 1987).
The walls between "experts" and "lay people" must be broken down along with the elitist norms that form their foundation.
Scientists need to enter into dialogical relations with the public to discuss the complexities of cloning and stem cell research to make their positions clear and accessible, as well as accountable and responsible, while public intellectuals and activists need to become educated in biotechnology in order to debate biotechnology issues in the media or public.
Immense power brings enormous responsibility, and it is time for scientists to be awake to this fact and make public accountability integral to their ethos and research. A schizoid modern science that rigidly splits facts from values must give way to a postmodern metascience that grounds the production of knowledge in a social context of dialogue and communication with citizens.
The shift from a cold and detached "neutrality" to a participatory understanding of life that deconstructs the modern subject/object dichotomy derails realist claims to unmediated access to the world and opens the door to an empathetic and ecological understanding of nature (Keller 1983; Birke and Hubbard 1995).
...could create catastrophic disasters, as well as utopian benefits.
Joy’s article set off a firestorm of controversy, especially his call for government regulation of new technology and "relinquishment" of development of potentially dangerous new technologies, as he claimed biologists called for in the early days of genetic engineering, when the consequences of the technology were not yet clear.20
Arguing that scientists must assume responsibility for their productions, Joy warned that humans should be very careful about the technologies they develop, as they may have unforeseen consequences.
Joy noted that robotics was producing increasingly intelligent machines that might generate creative robots that could be superior to humans, produce copies of themselves, and assume control of the design and future of humans.
Likewise, genetic engineering could create new species, some perhaps dangerous to humans and nature, while nanotechnology might build horrific "engines of destruction" as well as of the "engines of creation" envisioned by Eric Drexler (1987).
Public need to agree on rules and regulations for cloning and stem cell research, and there should be laws, guidelines, and regulatory agencies open to public input and scrutiny. To be rational and informed, citizens must be educated about the complexities of genetic engineering and cloning, a process that can unfold through vehicles such as public forums, teach-ins, and creative use of the broadcast media and Internet.
The Internet is a treasure-trove of information, ranging from informative sites such as the Council for Responsible Genetics and The Institute of Science in Society, to lists serves such as hosted by the Sierra Club and various weblogs.
It will not do, however, to simply let the market decide what technologies will or will not be allowed, nor should bans be accepted on technologies that can benefit human life. Instead, citizens and those involved in social movements should engage issues of biotechnology and aid in public education and debate.
A Deweyean reconstruction of education would have scientists take more humanities and philosophy courses and engage ethical and political issues involved in the development and implementation of science and technology, and would have students in other fields take more science and technology courses to become literate in some of the major material and social forces of the epoch.
C.P. Snow’s analysis of the "two cultures" problem provides a challenge for a democratic reconstruction of education to overcome in an increasing scientific and technological age that requires more and better knowledge of science and humanities.
Indeed, there should be debates concerning precisely what values are incorporated into specific scientific projects and whether these serve legitimate ends and goals.
In the case of mapping the human genome, for instance, enormous amounts of money and energy are being spent, but almost no resources are going to educating the public about the ethical implications of having a genome map.
The Human Genome Project spent only 3%-5% of its $3 billion budget on legal, ethical, and social issues, and Celera spent even less.21
At the same time, as science and technology co-construct each other, and both coevolve in conjunction with capitalist growth, profit, and power imperatives, science is reconstructing - not always for the better - the natural and social worlds, as well as our very identities and bodies. There is considerable ambiguity and tension in how science will play out given the different trajectories it can take.
Unlike the salvationist promises of the techo scientific ideology and the apocalyptic dystopias of some of its critics, I see the future of science and technology to be entirely ambiguous, contested, and open.
For now, the only certainty is that the juggernaut of the genetic revolution is rapidly advancing and that in the name of medical progress, animals are being victimized and exploited in new ways, while the replication and re-design of human beings is looming.
Whatever steps we take, it is imperative that we do not leave the decisions to the scientists, anymore than we would to the theologians (or corporate-hired bioethicists for that matter), for their judgment and objectivity is less than perfect, especially for the majority who are employed by biotechnology corporations and have a vested interest in the hastening and patenting of the brave new world of biotechnology.23
The issues involving genetics are so
important that scientific, political, and moral debate must take
place squarely within the public sphere.
The fate of human beings, animals, and
nature hangs in the balance, thus it is imperative that the public
become informed on the latest developments and biotechnology and
that lively and substantive democratic debate take place concerning
the crucial issues raised by the new technosciences.