Earlier this week members of the CBC team attended the BEINGS15: Biotech and the Ethical Imagination summit in Atlanta, GA. The stated goal of the conference was to “gather together a distinguished faculty of thought leaders and 200 delegates from 30 countries, drawn from visionary thinkers in the sciences, engineering, policymaking and government, industry, law, philosophy, religion, the humanities, and the arts” to focus on cellular biotechnology.
The conference began with a discussion on the aspirations of biotechnology with an opening address by pop psychologist Steven Pinker. He encouraged the attendees to embrace the pursuit of biomedical research with one guiding principle: “stay out of the way.” He also encouraged us to forget “nebulous principles” such as dignity and social justice.
Pinker’s general skepticism of precautionary principles was rebutted by famed fiction writer Margaret Atwood. She reminded us that many of the things she’s written about in her work have actually happened and are no longer the stuff of fiction and make believe tales. “The lid is off the box,” she declared. The only thing to ask is “who will be pulling the brave new strings?”
In a provocative address, Canadian law professor Margaret Sommerville encouraged the audience to care about our “metaphysical ecosystem,” to care for the most vulnerable, and to concern ourselves with our duties to future generations (in the same way that we should care about our environment). This, for Sommerville, means that the human germline should be treated as sacred, and deserves protection under the law.
“The pursuit of science is not value free,” Sommerville reminded the attendees of BEINGS15—something that we at the CBC embrace wholeheartedly in our work. Yet listening to many members of the scientific community gathered in Atlanta this week, one gets the sense that the consensus is—lamentably—otherwise.