Steven Pinker on the moral imperative of funding gene research and therapy:
Physical suffering and early death have long been considered an ineluctable part of the human condition. But human ingenuity is changing that apparent fate. The past two decades have seen a 35 percent reduction in the per capita, age-specific disability-adjusted life-years lost to disease. The improvements, though geographically uneven, are worldwide: every continent has enjoyed massive gains.
Part of the improvement is a gift of economic development. Citizens of richer countries live longer and healthier lives because basic public-health measures and medical interventions have largely conquered the infectious, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional disorders which continue to take a toll (though a decreasing one) in the developing world. But not all the gains have been low-hanging fruit. Advances in drugs, surgery, and epidemiology have brought reductions in years lost to more recalcitrant diseases in every age range and in richer as well as poorer countries. As the treatments get cheaper and poor countries get richer, these gains will spread.
Biomedical research, then, promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing. Just imagine how much happier you would be if a prematurely deceased loved one were alive, or a debilitated one were vigorous — and multiply that good by several billion, in perpetuity. Given this potential bonanza, the primary moral goal for today’s bioethics can be summarized in a single sentence.
Get out of the way.
A truly ethical bioethics should not bog down research in red tape, moratoria, or threats of prosecution based on nebulous but sweeping principles such as “dignity,” “sacredness,” or “social justice.” Nor should it thwart research that has likely benefits now or in the near future by sowing panic about speculative harms in the distant future. These include perverse analogies with nuclear weapons and Nazi atrocities, science-fiction dystopias like “Brave New World’’ and “Gattaca,’’ and freak-show scenarios like armies of cloned Hitlers, people selling their eyeballs on eBay, or warehouses of zombies to supply people with spare organs. Of course, individuals must be protected from identifiable harm, but we already have ample safeguards for the safety and informed consent of patients and research subjects.