A group of prominent bioethicists are warning about the grave human harm that results when sound ethics in the practice of science are ignored in pursuit of innovation. In a discussion at the Heritage Foundation about why bioethics matters, speakers Tara Lee, Jennifer Lahl and Melissa Moschella opined on the dangers of an ends justifying the means approach to science. The women, all with backgrounds in bioethics and medical science, spoke of the harms inherent in such things as three-parent embryos, surrogacy, reproductive technology, gene editing, and embryonic stem cell research, and highlighted the deception that routinely frames these issues in major news outlets.
Lee, director of Life Sciences at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, said that a significant issue is transparency within the scientific community. “A lot of times people see how cool the science is but they’re failing to educate the public and explain to them what was actually done in the process to get to that scientific discovery. That’s a key information that’s missing, not only to the public but to the scientists themselves.” During her presentation Lee highlighted the world’s first ever human-monkey hybrid that was grown in a laboratory in China, gene editing technology, and the research done on “humanized mice,” which utilizes tissue obtained from aborted human fetuses.
Lahl makes films telling the stories of women who have been damaged by the fertility industry. “We can’t get the media to present the downsides,” she said. “You see Kim Kardashian on the cover of People magazine because she has just had their next baby by commercial surrogacy. You don’t ever see a picture of the surrogate mother and hear how she was treated. Most of these surrogates who serve these very high-profile wealthy couples don’t even know who they’re carrying a baby for. They’re bound to anonymity. Most people think this is all great, it’s progress, scientific advancement, developing cures, or helping somebody have a child,” Lahl lamented.
Melissa Moschella, philosophy professor at The Catholic University of America agreed. “Accurate information is extremely helpful,” she said. During the years of debate on the use of embryonic stem cells, the debate was framed as though such research was the key to medical breakthroughs. “In the heat of the debate about the use of embryos for stem cell research, there was all this hype about the diseases that were going to be cured as a result of it. And what has been found is that by and large, the actual cures have come not from embryonic stem cells but from adult stems cells or from induced pluripotent stem cells,” Moschella elaborated.
She added that scientists engage in this hype in order to get funding for their projects: “It’s helpful to put a human face on these things. It can be very abstract to talk about these issues but when you sit face to face with somebody who was exploited by this process that changes. Take for instance a now 20-year-old who was conceived with the sperm of an anonymous donor and who feels really confused about identity, robbed of half of their biological heritage, robbed of important medical information that they ought to be able to know about themselves, when you give these people faces that really helps to bring it home, that there are real human harms and human costs.”
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