The Brave New World

I want to end this chapter and the book by looking somewhat further into the future. What might be the consequences of our knowledge of molecular biology and development on our children in the next 50-100 years, and what are the longer-term implications of our being able to control fundamental developmental processes? In the near term, there are some very interesting and important issues that we all should consider as a society because they raise potentially profound ethical questions. One might compare the state of biological knowledge and practical technical potential we have today to that of physics in the first part of this century, when it become evident that, in principle, nuclear energy could be harnessed for a variety of purposes including creation of weapons of mass destruction. It is certainly the case that the ethical integrity of physicists from this time has been questioned as a result of their role in developing nuclear weapons. Development of the first atomic bomb was a complex issue, which took place in the context of a very unusual time in history. Biologists, however, should be careful not to leave a similar legacy of perceived irresponsibility, particularly as there are no potentially mitigating circumstances in the present to absolve us of the larger consequences of our actions or inaction.

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