THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: MICHAEL BARONE, TONY BLANKLEY,
DEBORAH HELLMAN, AND JONATHAN MORENO
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF AUGUST 18-19, 2001
(C) COPYRIGHT 2000, FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC., 620 NATIONAL PRESS BUILDING, WASHINGTON, DC 20045, USA. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ANY REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION IS EXPRESSLY PROHIBITED.
UNAUTHORIZED REPRODUCTION, REDISTRIBUTION OR RETRANSMISSION CONSTITUTES A MISAPPROPRIATION UNDER APPLICABLE UNFAIR COMPETITION LAW, AND FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. RESERVES THE RIGHT TO PURSUE ALL REMEDIES AVAILABLE TO IT IN RESPECT TO SUCH MISAPPROPRIATION.
FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE, INC. IS A PRIVATE FIRM AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. NO COPYRIGHT IS CLAIMED AS TO ANY PART OF THE ORIGINAL WORK PREPARED BY A UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT OFFICER OR EMPLOYEE AS PART OF THAT PERSON'S OFFICIAL DUTIES.
FOR INFORMATION ON SUBSCRIBING TO FNS, PLEASE CALL JACK GRAEME AT 202-347-1400.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
ANNOUNCER: GE is proud to support the McLaughlin Group. From medical systems to broadcasting, GE: We bring good things to life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: Hello, Dolly!
(Music: "Hello, Dolly!")
When the world first said hello to Dolly, it was big news; 1997, four years ago, Dolly the sheep was successfully cloned. Now cloning experiments on sheep, cows, goats, and mice are barely newsworthy. So much for animals.
Like it or not, the next step is just around the corner: cloning humans.
The case against such cloning is well-known. Item: Deformity, animal clones being born with profound genetic abnormalities. The risk of deformity for humans is just as great, if not greater. Creating a defective animal is one thing. Creating a defective human is another.
Item: Commercialization, making money on customized babies and customized body parts.
The case in favor of cloning is not without merit. Item: Human benefits, like giving infertile or genetically flawed couples a child.
Item: Biopharmaceuticals development to treat genetic diseases.
Item: Recreation, so to speak, of a dead child of bereaving parents, or a loved one, or oneself.
Congress is weighing in on both sides.
REP. GREG GANSKE (R-IA): (From videotape.) I say we rise up in moral outrage and that we pass laws both in this country and internationally to prevent the cloning of a human being.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA): (From videotape.) We should not shut down beneficial work -- clinical trials, organ transplants, or genetic cell replication -- because of a risk of wrongdoing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Bush administration wants a government ban on all human cloning for all purposes, including research.
Question: A Massachusetts company is working on ways to clone human embryos now. So has the train left the station, regardless of what Congress and the president ultimately decide, Michael Barone?
MR. BARONE: No, John, I don't think the train has left the station. I think that the Congress can pass and the president can sign a law that can ban all human cloning, and that that can be enforceable. I'm not too worried about these operations moving to the Cayman Islands or some other offshore haven. I think this is probably going to be an enforceable law, and I think it probably will pass.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think, Jonathan? And welcome.
MR. MORENO: Thank you very much.
The second test-tube baby was born in India, in Calcutta. I think that these kinds of procedures can be moved around the world, particularly in a global economy, and there's going to be a lot of commercial opportunities for them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the status of the baby?
MR. MORENO: The babies are -- the second test tube-baby is fine, as are the tends of thousands of test-tube -- so-called test-tube babies that have been born since Baby Louise.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I think that the metaphor of the train leaving the station -- there are, you know, 50 or a hundred trains, and they're all leaving the station. And the question of whether America wants to be at the forefront of the technology or whether we want to simply be passed by as the best scientists go to those countries -- and it won't just be the Cayman Islands; it'll be much of Western Europe and other parts, and Asia -- so yeah, the trains are all leaving the station, whether we like it or not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Deborah Hellman?
MS. HELLMAN: I agree that the train has left the station, and I would say it's probably not such a bad thing, that we don't need to be so afraid of human cloning.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do you say that?
MS. HELLMAN: I think most people's fears are that -- like the introductory statement said, that it's recreation in some way, and that spooks people. But it's obviously a different human being, just like identical twins are different human beings. It's a later-born twin, but that's only going to make the clone more different.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Clinton said he was against human cloning. He wanted to do it the old-fashioned way. What do you think of that, Jonathan? (Laughter.)
MR. MORENO: Well, he was in favor of a five-year moratorium. I'm not going to comment on his other alternative techniques.
But I think a five-year moratorium on human cloning is wise, because we don't know what the damage could be -- has been to the animals that have been cloned, let alone to potential humans.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We now clone skin, don't we -- human skin, for skin grafts?
MR. MORENO: Yes. Yes, and --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We clone organs for -- bladders.
MR. MORENO: Indeed, and unfortunately, what's happened with the whole business about creating armies of Adolf Hitlers, in the cloning fantasy, is that it's taken away from the real advantage for science of cloning cells for use in all kinds of tissues and organs that would be compatible with our own.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So are you saying that the human clones that have thus far transpired are working very well? I mean, it's --
MR. MORENO: Well, there are no -- so far as we know, there are no full human clones that have been born, of course.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now you know Dolly the sheep is obese, and nobody knows why.
MR. MORENO: We don't know why. We also don't know exactly why the fetuses of other cloned animals are large, three times as large as they should be, and therefore endanger the mother. There's some cell signaling problem that they haven't figured out yet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (To Ms. Hellman and Mr. Moreno.) You are both ethicists, are you not?
MS. HELLMAN: I'm a law professor, but also interested in bioethics, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do what in bioethics?
MS. HELLMAN: I'm interested, and I write --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're interested in it?
MS. HELLMAN: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about the bioethical or the ethical concern that does exist of course, and is widespread, and is leading to the president of the United to forbid even research on human cloning? Do you think that it is not based on legitimate science or ethics, or what?
MS. HELLMAN: Well, I think the safety issue is obviously an issue, but that's not a deep philosophical issue. Clearly, we ought not to engage in cloning until it's safe. But I don't think that's a barrier that's going to be around for a long time
The deeper issues are if we can get it to be safe, ought we to do it? And there I don't think there's any deep ethical problems.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what about the statement made in that sterling introduction, where it was noted that a deformity in an animal is one thing, but creating a deformity in a human being is another?
MS. HELLMAN: I think you're right; we ought to be especially careful before we engage in it -- engage in human cloning. We ought to be more careful than in the case of animals. But I don't think that's a barrier that's going to last for very long.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you in the embryo stage -- which means practically microscopic -- can you then discern whether the cloning effort has been -- is likely or -- is resulting in a deformity?
MR. MORENO: You can't right now, no. You have to take it further along in its term to be able to tell.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is that part of your ethical review of this --
MR. MORENO: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- namely, that at a very early stage, a microscopic stage, or close to it, you can discard a defectively cloned -- a cloned human being which is defective?
MR. MORENO: Well, that's being done now with what's called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Correct.
MR. MORENO: And there are a couple of dozen diseases that can be identified in the embryo in solution, and you can decide whether to implant them in a uterus or not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Now we're -- Tony here is very eager to get into this conversation. (Laughter.) We're going to engage him now. What are your thoughts on what you've just heard?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, look -- yeah, I was a little concerned with the suggestion that there are no ethical problems, because obviously, for most -- many people, perhaps most people, there are huge ethical problems. I wrote a column on this topic recently, got a flood of e-mails, most of them reminding me that man created -- God created man in His own --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What was the thrust of your brilliant writing?
MR. BLANKLEY: I questioned whether we knew yet whether God was on the side of the anti-cloners. I didn't reach a conclusion. And I was told by outraged humanity that in fact God created man in His image, and it is not our place to tamper with his creations.
Now whatever ethicists or others might think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how do you -- yeah --
MR. BLANKLEY: -- this is a fundamental belief, I think, probably of a majority of American citizens.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you derive from the Bible or from your church tradition?
MR. BLANKLEY: How do I derive it?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How do you derive it?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Genesis says that God made him in His image. He also said, by the way, that He breathed life into his nostrils, which suggests that life didn't begin until there were nostrils.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you think that's irreconcilable with cloning humans?
MR. BLANKLEY: No, I don't know. I was raising the question, is it irreconcilable?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you an agnostic on the issue?
MR. BLANKLEY: I am -- I'm not agnostic. I'm seeking an answer.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're seeking an answer?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's a pilgrim.
MR. BARONE: I would disagree with Deborah a little bit upon the subject of how easy it's going to be to get over these problems that we're seeing with cloned animals and cloned human beings. I don't know all the physiology of this, but my -- from what we've read so far, there are really some very disturbing and dangerous abnormalities in many cloned animals. And so I think we need to learn something more about this mystery of life, and that it may take longer to unravel than she's inclined to think. We'll see.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's certainly going to take a long time.
MR. BARONE: We'll see. But I mean it's --
MR. BLANKLEY: But these are just technical issues.
MS. HELLMAN: Right.
MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, the question whether it takes five years or 10 years or 50 years is largely an engineering problem.
MS. HELLMAN: And one I definitely -- I mean, whether it will be something we can resolve or not is, as I said, something that --
MR. BARONE: It may be irresolvable.
MS. HELLMAN: Right. We don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I said a long time. Is that true in your judgment, Jonathan Moreno?
MR. MORENO: A long time to do it safely?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hm.
MR. MORENO: A long time to do it safely.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And respectably?
MR. MORENO: Yes, yes, absolutely.
MS. HELLMAN: But if --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's get the exit -- you want to say something?
MS. HELLMAN: I think Tony's point about people's strongly-felt moral intuitions is an important one. My own view is that there -- I haven't seen an argument that convinces me that we ought to ban cloning, but I think that people do have very strong moral intuitions, and we ought to take those seriously. That's where we begin our ethical thought, is with people's moral intuitions. So I wouldn't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I can't think of a more primordial sensitivity than what we're talking about. Can you?
MS. HELLMAN: I think that's the view of many people. Leon Kass, a philosopher, calls it the "wisdom of repugnance," which I think is a very apt phrase for --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's opposed -- Kass is opposed to it?
MS. HELLMAN: He's opposed to it. But also we ought to examine our strongly-felt moral intuitions, not just go with them because it's our gut. We need a good reason for following those intuitions, so we ought to examine it, and if we don't have a good reason --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Of course, you could argue that creation -- one step removed, but still rooted in a Creator -- could be working through man to create, through a tube.
MS. HELLMAN: One could argue --
MR. MORENO: Indeed, God gave us that capacity, didn't He?
MS. HELLMAN: Yeah.
MR. MORENO: And in fact, there was a lot of concern about the monsters that would be created by in vitro fertilization.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let's get to this exit question. Is a ban on cloning a living a human a wise idea for now?
MR. BARONE: I think that -- I think it is. I think I would follow in, I hope, a reasoned way the wisdom of my repugnance in that direction.
MR. MORENO: The National Bioethics Advisory Commission said that a couple of years ago, and I think it's still true -- at least a five-year moratorium.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's not going to stop the private sector.
MR. MORENO: No, it isn't. It's not stopping them probably right now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So we're going to hold our skirts held high and just tiptoe around this until we see what actually happens? Is that the mentality we have?
MR. MORENO: Well, I think what we're going to see is some private interests taking over and not being so willing to lift up their skirts.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And we will see.
MR. MORENO: We will see.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I think, given --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a good idea now? This is public policy.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I think that given that both in the private sector and other countries it's moving forward, to the extent that we think that there's any utility in government regulation, the sooner they get into it, the sooner you have a collective public judgment, democratic judgment, on how to regulate this process.
MS. HELLMAN: I think we want to regulate for safety, but I wouldn't support an outright ban. I think our concerns should be focused on safety and the best way to do that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm comfortable with a ban for now.
When we come back: Is it ethical to use genetic intervention to determine physical characteristics in offspring?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: PGD: Playing God, dangerously?
Want a blue-eyed baby? Scientists could probably fill that order, if they were so inclined, with the help of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, PGD, otherwise known as embryo screening. Using PGD, parents could choose the sex, the hair color, the eye color, even the athletic skills and the IQ of the next generation. Gone will be the days of blaming our faults on a faceless, quote, unquote, "heredity."
As parents assume responsibility for their child's genotype, all kinds of notions of guilt and responsibility in households are going to change. You will no longer be able to say to a kid with a big nose or who can't dance or irascible, "Well, it's just chance." So says bioethicist Leon Kass.
So the kid with the big nose can blame it on his parents. Is that right?
MR. MORENO: Don't look at me.
I think the question we have to ask here, John, is, what do we do about tennis lessons and private schools? Those are also opportunities that people who have means have been able to give their kids. Where do we draw the line and say, "Well, genes are not so good -- we can't allow those to be determined -- but the expression of genes we can allow to be shaped"? I don't know how you draw that line.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We're still a long way off from germ line therapy, are we not?
MR. MORENO: We are, but it's -- that line people are thinking about crossing that they weren't thinking about 20 years ago.
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, this is going to evolve into what I think one person called laissez-faire eugenics, where people will individually, based on their ability, either financially or otherwise, to procure these modifications, start picking out and changing the race, as it were, the species. And the danger down the line is that you'll have over hundreds of years a separation to the point where you have an Uebermensch class, and then supermen and inferiors. And so there's tremendous dangers in permitting this process of calculated evolution to occur.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let's move this forward a little bit. PGD as prophylactic medicine.
Since the early '90s, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, PGD, has given doctors a way to screen embryos for genetic defects. In this way, only healthy embryos are implanted in a woman's uterus. Screened out would be embryos known to carry genes for inherited diseases -- Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's, muscular dystrophy, Tay-Sachs, and so on. This is PGD as preventive or prophylactic medicine.
What do you think about a mother -- a potential mother and father, husband and wife, selecting a certain embryo and rejecting others, when chances are that the rejection is largely random, maybe made on some degree of intuition and science by the attending doctor? But what you do think of just rejecting -- you know, you might pick one out of 15, and the rest go down the drain.
MS. HELLMAN: I think -- right. Once you accept the idea that an embryo is not a person, then you -- deserving of the same kind of protection -- once you're there, then you already accept that certain embryos are discarded. But I don't think that avoids the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. We're still in the petri dish, are we not?
MS. HELLMAN: Right, we're still in the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Now do you think that birth has taken place --
MS. HELLMAN: No, I definitely don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- by common semantic?
MS. HELLMAN: No, clearly not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- and congratulations on your current status today.
MS. HELLMAN: Thank you. (Chuckles.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- (chuckles) -- do you think, as with yourself, that birth has to originate in the womb?
MS. HELLMAN: Well, I think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Not birth, but what --
MR. MORENO: Gestation?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Huh?
MR. MORENO: Gestation?
MR. BARONE: Well, the creation of human life --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Conception. Let's say conception.
MR. MORENO: Conception. All right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That you can't have a baby until -- you can't have birth until you have an impregnated cell in the womb adhering to the uterine wall?
MS. HELLMAN: I'd prefer not to think about it as when do you have birth or when do you a baby, but when you do have an entity whose interests would trump the woman's interest in her reproductive freedom? I mean, obviously it's a developing human being all that time. There isn't sort of one magic period, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you're in a lot of trouble there. I mean, you know, when that entity can have that kind of -- are you talking -- you're not talking about intellectual freedom?
MR. BARONE: Right. Yeah, you mean we'll end up there, you know, with Peter Singer, saying that you can kill babies who are several months old, because they're not very smart --
MS. HELLMAN: Right, right --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. You end up with infanticide and all the rest.
MR. BARONE: I don't think you want to go there.
MS. HELLMAN: Right. I'd actually -- can I just steer it back to the pre-implantation genetic diagnosis for second? Because --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, please do. Because the petri dish in the freezer is one thing. Being inside the womb is another. And my belief is that George Bush will resolve part of this dilemma more fully and explain it more fully by reason of where we are in terms of --
MS. HELLMAN: Are we in the dish or the womb, you mean?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Are we in just true gestation?
MS. HELLMAN: Right. Well --
MR. BARONE: Well, yeah. Is the embryo human life?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And anybody's, you know -- but the theologians talk about ensoulment, and of course --
MS. HELLMAN: But given that we already allow people to have abortions, where clearly the embryo's already in the womb, the question is, once we allow abortions, do we still want to say there are reasons that we don't think it's good for people to make selections about their kids? Is that -- you might still be pro-abortion but say there are trivial reasons, like eye color or hair color, that are bad reasons for --
MR. BARONE: Then we have the question of sex selection, and are we going to get --
MS. HELLMAN: Absolutely.
MR. BARONE: -- are we going to get in that -- because, in effect, in China, with the encouraged abortions and things --
MR. : Right.
MS. HELLMAN: Right.
MR. BARONE: -- you have sex selection. They prefer this -- 10 to 20 percent more males in the young population group than females.
MS. HELLMAN: Exactly.
MR. BARONE: That could have severe social problems, and you could -- I think there's a danger here of eliminating a lot of the variety and spice in life, John, here.
MR. MORENO: And we learned something --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Spice in life?
MR. BARONE: Well, I mean, I think -- I mean, one of the thoughts that occurred to me about this is, would parents eliminate homosexual children if there was a gene that could be a marker for that somewhere? Some of the greatest geniuses in the world would be eliminated on that basis. Is that good?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, and can children then sue their parents for wrongful failure to design them?
MS. HELLMAN: Probably not. (Chuckles.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we're going to get into that in a very perceptive exit question in just a moment. But I want to move this and then turn to Jonathan on this.
PGD as a remedial technology, creating one life to save another.
A Colorado couple last year handpicked their son from 15 possible embryos they had created. PGD testing revealed he would be a good bone marrow match for his 6-year-old sister, who was dying of a rare form of anemia. Cells transplanted from the boy's umbilical cord saved his sister's life. Today the boy is healthy, and his sister is doing well.
"God gave us this technology. If God did not want PGD to be available, he wouldn't have allowed the doctors to figure out how to do this." So says the children's mother.
Question: Is it ethical to have one child to save another? I ask you, Jonathan Moreno.
MR. MORENO: To save another? Well, the philosopher Immanuel Kant, as you well know, said we should never use another as a mere means only. Well, we can use people as means, but not as a mere means. So if the child is loved and valued in itself, then I think it's acceptable.
There are lots of crazy reasons people have children. I had a second child because I didn't want my first child to be an only child. If we start regulating the ways that people decide to be parents or the way they don't decide to be parents, we have a real problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You heard Deborah speak earlier about personhood and -- et cetera. Do you agree with everything she said, or would you care to disagree?
MR. MORENO: Well, you mentioned ensoulment, which obviously is a very important word in the Catholic tradition in particular. I think there are different ways of trying to understand the way that science perceives when an individual is recognizable. And for me, it's 14 days. The 14-day marker, I think, is very important. That's the point at which the blastocyst can no longer become a twin.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's blastocyst?
MR. MORENO: A blastocyst is a collection of a few cells that is sometimes called the pre-embryo.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pre-embryo?
MR. MORENO: The first two weeks --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's in the womb.
MR. MORENO: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And is it --
MR. MORENO: Implanted in the -- implants in the uterus, in the uterine lining.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you don't see really anything -- you think that ethically speaking --
MR. MORENO: There's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- before it gets into the womb, then, it's really not eligible to be regarded as anything except remotely developing human life, or is it even that?
MR. MORENO: Well, it's certainly human life, clearly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it become human life really -- developing human life until it gets into the womb?
MR. MORENO: No, it's a developable human life, I would say.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Developable?
MR. MORENO: It's a potential human life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, these are fine distinctions here.
MR. MORENO: But they're very important ones.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's a very important one.
MR. MORENO: There's a chasm between --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: Is PGD, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, more a good practice or a bad one? Quickly, Michael Barone.
MR. BARONE: Well, I think it's more good, but it could get bad.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think? More good?
MR. MORENO: More good.
MR. BLANKLEY: I agree with Michael absolutely. As a therapeutic mode, it's wonderful, but it could lead to horror stories.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MS. HELLMAN: I think it depends on the reasons, and even therapeutic modes can be complicated, if it's on the basis of traits that -- about which there's a history of discrimination. So even with regard to disabilities, I think it can be problematic. And --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Problematic? Less good or more good?
MS. HELLMAN: I think it depends. I think it's a little of both.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. There's -- she's declining to answer, really, isn't she?
MS. HELLMAN: I am, though.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We occasionally meet that on the show.
MR. MORENO: Interestingly -- the Germans prohibit it, interestingly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They do?
MR. MORENO: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's more good.
Issue three: Race equality versus gene mapping.
DR. FRANCIS COLLINS (National Institutes of Health Human Genome Project): (From videotape.) Today we celebrate the revelation of the first draft of the human book of life.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you believe that this announcement meant scientists would fully explore the labyrinth of mankind's genetic makeup, think again. At issue: race. Last year's announcement that the Human Genome Project had succeeded in sequencing the order of the 3 billion units of DNA that hold hereditary data was just the beginning. The next phase is to create a map of markers to track variant genes, to speed up discoveries related to the genetic causes of cancer, schizophrenia, and diabetes, et cetera. Scientists theorize that these diseases are caused by common genetic variations found in all three major population groups: Africans, Asians, and Europeans.
It is this possibility which leads some to argue that none of the DNA data collected for the map should even identify the race or ethnicity of the donor. The fear: race stigmatization.
Others argue that if all groups are to benefit from the disease-fighting potential of genome mapping, all racial groups must be specifically studied. "We have an affirmative responsibility to ensure that what is learned will be useful for all populations. If we shy away and don't record the data for certain populations, we can't be sure to serve those populations medically." So says bioethicist Eric Lander.
Which side are you on, on this issue, Michael?
MR. BARONE: Well, I think that -- I think that I'm on the side of saying let's not identify this sort of thing racially. And one reason is, our racial categories really rather loose and non-biological. Most Americans are descended from a wide variety of people.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly!
MR. MORENO: Inheritance patterns are not what we think of normally as race.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you think it's okay?
MR. MORENO: I think it's going to change our concept of race.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's right. It's going to deconstruct the concept of race.
MR. MORENO: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I think that we shouldn't have political correctness in science --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're for it?
MR. BLANKLEY: -- so I'm favor of anything that's scientifically valid.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you're susceptible to sickle cell anemia, you ought to be able to know it, if it derives from race, and you ought to map the race to get at that information.
Do you agree with that?
MS. HELLMAN: I -- but I -- I think we ought to map it, but I think we'll see that the racial category will be much more loose than we think.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, it's okay.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions, guests?
MR. MORENO: The Oval Office bioethics seminar will continue. President Bush will reappoint President Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission.
MS. HELLMAN: We learn more the Human Genome Project. We're going to see we all have lots of genetic diseases. Social solidarity around health insurance. We'll get universal coverage.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you so much for being my guests.
®FC¯END OF REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: I'm going to live forever.
(Music: "Fame," including the lyrics "I'm going to live forever.")
The golden years of the baby boomers are just around the corner, and the number of elderly people in the United States is on the rise. According to recent census data, by 2020 persons over the age of 65 in the United States will top a staggering 53 million.
Thanks to the mapping of the human genome, our concept of age may be turned upside down. By the next century, the life span of humans could double, up to, some think, 150 years.
So what does this age explosion mean for American society? One, societal support ratios skyrocket -- namely, elderly persons versus those of working age will nearly double from 1990 to 2050, meaning higher taxes, higher health insurance rates.
Two, political muscle gained by the elderly as their numbers surge. Issues that are important to them will get increasingly more attention from Congress.
Three, health care resources eroded. With technology needed to sustain long life, who's going to foot the bill for expensive treatment? Something has to give.
Question: Is it a good idea to extend human life? I ask you, Jonathan Moreno.
MR. MORENO: Well, like most people, I think it's fine for me and my family and friends.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Chuckles.)
MR. MORENO: I'm not sure about everybody else. Maybe if I could make the list -- look, there's a concept of intergenerational justice that traditional societies have, that we have, I think, lost a long time ago. And I think that this really does put a burden on people who have the opportunities -- should have the opportunities that we have had.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you take a very grim view of what it's like to age to 150 years, correct?
MR. MORENO: Oh, we might be very, very able to continue our work lives, for example, and to be constructive members of the community. But there is a guy or a woman behind who would like to have my job at the University of Virginia, who won't get it for another 75 years.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, well, well, well, well, there's a whole -- we have to postulate a whole technological infrastructure to support the aging process. Know that now --
MR. MORENO: And that's the problem.
MR. BARONE: Well --
MR. BLANKLEY: Look --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- now that we have broadcasters -- Mike Wallace is in his 80s, and he looks as good as new. And that means that there is a lot working to maintain that status, not only with him, but in the culture. Correct?
MR. BLANKLEY: There are two -- yeah, there are two separate issues. The longevity through genetics and health, I think, is a wonderful idea, in that life will simply be expanded. You'll probably spend more time learning, and you'll be working till you're 120, instead of till you're 70.
That's a separate issue, though, from the baby boomers aging, which is a one-time deal and which is going to be almost catastrophic for our society, because we're not going to be able to afford the health care, we're not going to be able to afford the Social Security for them and for us --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how about being able to put up with all those selfish boomers?
MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, it's horrible.
MR. BARONE: Well, John --
MR. BLANKLEY: I mean, it will just be the lovely expectation that eventually we'll all be passed on, and then the society get on with their normal lives again --
MR. BARONE: John, there's a demographic --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the political clout?
MR. BARONE: There's been --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (To Mr. Barone.) You're a political guru. The almanac is coming out, I hope, soon.
MR. BARONE: The Almanac of American Politics will be with us soon. Help is on the way. (Laughter.) But the fact is -- the 2002.
The fact is that we are seeing something of a beginning of a change. People for many years were retiring earlier. Men were retiring earlier. Now they're retiring later. I think we've got to extend the work life if we're going to make this society work.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You got a quick, 10-second comment?
MS. HELLMAN: I agree with that exactly. If 40 is the new 30, the 75 is the new 65. And we've got extend what counts as appropriate retirement age or entitlement age --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you're all for --
MS. HELLMAN: Absolutely.
MR. BARONE: Keep the codgers at work.