Jan Hartman
Principia, 31-044 Kraków, ul. Grodzka 52

Ethics, Eugenics, Genetics

The new genetic techniques stimulate the minds of the public to visions of the future. Scientists, dealing with the matter as a question of routine competences and practicality, refuse to share the general excitement, even claiming this excitement to be a sign of ignorance which should be avoided in all cases. Consequently, the serious con­sideration of the possible long term results of applying the new tech­niques is being halt-officially excluded from academic discussion and remains a matter of literature, “public discussion” and other instances of quite problematic authority. Philosophers then have a duty to take the risk of being considered too ignorant, too vague, or at least unjus­tified in their conclusions, but nevertheless of speaking for the public and creating an intermediate space of discourse joining specialists and nonspecialists. Such a space does not exist up to now, at least in the academic arena, making the consideration of all possible issues of the development of gene techniques a matter either for scientific ex­pertise or (at best) for journalism.

Certainly, the authority of a scientist, who has the best reasons not to mythologize what is a question of pure technique and reason, should not be undermined, and I would say even more: this authority must be protected against populistic hysteria and unjustified political claims to the power of control and assessment. However, we must not forget the limits to scientific competence and get overwhelmed by light-minded scientism, shifting moral challenges of all kinds into the guardianship of religion and public moral supervision, whoever’s responsibility that might be.

The question of imagination-not scientific anticipation, not fan­tasy, but just imagination-of possible material consequences of the development of genetic techniques is not the only one which must be carefully taken into account. This is only a challenge for our imagina­tive skills: let us present to our minds what may really happen when the human genotype becomes to any significant extent manipulable. How much more serious is the consequent challenge to our moral condition and sense of responsibility! For what we must now face is the question of how to develop our moral concepts and skills in order to meet the coming future technical reality with responsibility. This does not mean: how can we preserve our values exactly as they are, and protect ourselves against “immoral” changes by controlling scien­tific developments? It is quite irrelevant and irresponsible to think that long term restrictions can be imposed upon scientific experi­ments and that all possible moral turbulences can in that way be pre­vented from occurring at all. Not only is it true that the sciences are free and powerful in their independent development, but it is also true that those who are able only to speak about restrictions, means of control and preserving the status quo are not able to maintain their moral authority when changes turn out to be unavoidable.

I will try to sketch what may be called threats (what I prefer to call challenges). We must take the risk of and responsibility for imagining what may be unavoidable in the next century-the eugenic society. The subject-taboo after World War II-must be re-established as a topic for ethical consideration. We must try to find out how demo­cratic societies can produce the new moral power to carry out, for instance, new limitations of freedom-the limitation of procreation and damage to one’s health, etc. We must try to imagine what moral powers we must take on in order to cope with the possible loss of evidence by such categories as parenthood, brotherhood, gender, race and even the ontological individuality of the human being. The pres­entation aims to contribute to the new and necessary academic behav­iour: deliberating on what is impossible and unknown now, but imaginable in the future and therefore requiring careful consideration rather than derision.

The entire moral effort undertaken by mankind in the current phase of its existence (which is proKiblv but an initial stage) has fo­cused on regulating the relations between self-reliant and egotically organised human individuals. The central ethical motif may be de­fined as the endeavour to overcome the natural egoism shown by beings to whom the self had been “assigned.” Human beings have been serving this assignment, and indeed have been enslaved by it, in all moments of their existence. This motif determined the entire his­tory of social custom, morality, law and political order. It is a very essence of human nature that individuals invariably promote their particular selves: while pursuing the path of pleasure, or striving for virtue and salvation. The great moral hope of mankind relies on con­viction that the prevalent ethical order assures the condition where the ultimate individual objectives and values are not concurrent to the final good of entire human community. This fundamental postulate had been formulated in the West by the Stoics and combines all moral cultures of the world. It is our faith and our ethical norm. We cherish the conviction that human beings had been called to reason and moral nobility (virtue). Thus humans are called to reject low egoism, and at least to reconcile their good and objectives with the good and objec­tives of other people. It is only on the margin of mainstream ethics that suggestions were formulated seeing moral progress in reduction of individualistic claims. Such proposals, which were rare and vigor­ously opposed, assumed the predominance of collective entities (mankind or state) over the individual personal good. Having experi­enced the 20th century totalitarianism, we are ready to reject such suggestions as finally compromised.

Though, today we are facing an entirely new perspective of disin-dividualisation in mankind existence. In effect, we face the challenge of partial change of egological principle of ethical conduct. It is not a Utopian programme of political revolution that we face but a rather more real perspective of technological revolution. Hence, a part of mankind may be covered by protective umbrella of technologies ena­bling such control over body that obliterates the limits of individual bodily identity and making the dramatic radicality of death far more fuzzy. A human individual who is able to plan a clone reconstruction of sick tissues and organs, and who can expect a far-reaching regen­eration of his own tissues or adaptation of transplants, must neces­sarily formulate a different attitude to bodily identity and mortality. If

we supplement the image of future situation with the already emerging possibilities of global information network, providing much deeper possibilities of participation in public sphere, we can antici­pate the model of human being much less concerned existentially with his/her individual self, less neurotic and indeed stronger, through some measure of liberation from servdom to his own ego and fear about his being and well-being. Hopefully, this new society will not consist of egoists laboriously building the higer moral and public reality by elimination of the primitive conflict of interests and consid­ering reconciliation as a main spiritual creative force. If this optimistic hope were realised, the community life would gain a new sustained value. No longer will it be but a superstructure or emanation of the individual lives of the multitude of humans.

We have not yet faced all the problems. It is necessary to confront another imaginable concept which is both realistic and horrible. It is in the framework of this terrifying image that we must find the value of good, which is overshadowed by the fear we experience. This im­age relates to the intervention of law and technology in human repro­duction process. In consequence, we shall face restrictions to freedom which do not exist nowadays even in the dictatorial states. Let us not cherish any illusions that this great sphere of freedom, the sphere of free procreation, shall remain outside the control of human law and institutions. Since the technological instruments of such control have been developed and demographical issue has become urgent, we should assume that such control shall be instituted. It must be ex­pected also that the anti-racist, or indeed anti-eugenic paradigms re­lated to 20th century idiosyncrasies, shall be gradually eliminated in future. The potential advantages resulting of the possibility to prevent the emergence of defective foetuses and the birth of disabled crea­tures, and the possibility of promoting favourable genetic features are so prevalent that no moral principles can dissuade humanity from applying such technologies. The acts of sterilisation and abortion, which are currently subject to powerful social myths, will be probably insignificant in the future eugenic procedures.

If we are to face this challenge successfully, we must be able to look at human life beyond the particular heroic morality of building common good on the foundation of individual egoisms, beyond purely idividualist ethics of purely individualised human beings. If we undertake such attempt, it will appear that such formulations as: “human being is most important,” “human life is the highest value,” “everyone has the right to live,” may be ultimately treated as formu­las securing the egoistic interests of persons who need such safe­guards to declare their contribution in construction of non-egoist common good.

The human individual partially relieved of the fear of death, and having a certain perspective of bodily continuation of his good components, to be continued in organisms being his off-springs generated in various ways: from genetically controlled procreation, through survival in transplanted organs, organic regeneration, up to clonic reconstruction-such human individual will more credibly represent not only himself or herself, but will also be a true member of community assuming communal responsibility. Though it is hardly imaginable, the future man may have the feeling that he/she is the bearer of both good and evil properties-both in biological and moral sense-and not all of them deserve continuation. It is painful for us to imagine such situation because we are firmly attached to our currently existing nature and we are ready to defend to the bitter end the ethics of compromise between private egoism and the sub­lime general moral ideals. If we were asked whether there exists a legitimate authority determining what elements in humans are good (and should be continued) while other elements are evil (and should be eliminated) we should visualise probably some individual justice deciding authocratically about life and death. Though, the decision-making organ of eugenic valuation need not be discretional or dic­tatorial. In essence, the entire social life can be seen as a great system of evaluation of good and evil, and the realisation of such assess­ment effects. The eugenic state may be as just or unjust, as free or dictatorial, as repressive or non-repressive as pre-eugenic state in which we live now.

It is our responsibility to exercise the imagination and possibly anticipate the moral, political and cultural situation faced by mankind when the technologies of control over physical body are sufficiently developed. Our present futurology will possibly prove to be naive, but that is no sufficient reason to abandon such studies. We must try to foresee the future problems. The responsibility for future develop­ment is the only element which will prove significant for our grand­children and successors, even if we are able to give them little cues to problems that we can only envisage, while future generations will face them as hard reality.

Let us imagine then an eugenic society (state), where the follow­ing conditions apply:

1. the full genotype (or the knowledge about elementary biologi­cal terms) of each human individual is conditionally available to state organs (or institutions successor to national state);

2. technological possibilities exist for far-reaching modification of genotype, control of procreation, differentiation and mutation of vari­ous tissue cells, entire organs, and entire human organisms;

3. the concept of sex becomes fuzzy and partially separated from the image of role division in procreation;

4. procreation is not entirely discretional and is not the only method of generation of human beings;

5. the concepts of kinship, and in particular fatherhood, matern-inty and sister/brotherhood are essentially reconfigurated or sup­plemented with terms related to the level of genetic homogeneity between two persons, age difference (in relation to relatively deter­mined moments of “life initiation” or “new life initiation”) and the currently indicated gender;

6. the individual resources of experience, life history, and all ele­ments currently belonging to individual sphere, being absolutely per­sonal and unrepeatable, is partially submitted to transcorporalisation;

7. the social position is partially dependent on biological assess­ment of individual being;

8. humanity is divided into many tribes or genetical races reveal­ing incremental differences and accepts many competing concepts of racial perfection;

9. eugenic societies coexist with traditional societies (states). No one is prepared to consider such atrocious possibilities. That is why such images seem terrifying. However, our imagination cannot be released of even such demanding tasks. Such profoundly disturb­ing and emotionally loaded hypotheses are best tackled analytically when answering the questions about the possible realisation of basic values in the hypothesised conditions. In what way can such values as freedom, justice, love be present in the eugenic society?

No particular causes can be identified why the eugenic society could not be free and democratic. On the contrary, the presently uni­maginable pluralism of the society including essentially different be­ings: naturally born humans, the cloned humans, the in vitro geneti­cally constructed humans and genetically engineered individuals, for instance ape-slaves, seems to favour the development of elastic and relatively liberal legislation. Pluralism usually leads to more political liberty than it is the case in homogeneous societies. The effective legal order and justice are not essentially contradictory to the complex na­ture of eugenic society. The opposite may be true: the extremely com­plicated relations, resulting of the biological nature of social divisions and rivalry, may result in the construction of efficient legal mecha­nisms. This conclusion can be drawn on the historical example of the United States where the multiracial nature of the society was the cor­nerstone of the very high legal standards.

Yet, it is well imaginable that the eugenic society will be a difficult venture, pervaded with conflicts and antagonisms. The racial and biological differences between humans have invariably resulted in mutual isolation and competition between social groups. The strenghtening of such differences will most probably emphasise such alienation phenomena. What is more, the extension of state power over biological procreation and reproduction leads naturally to con­flicts. Similarly to all licencing systems, the discretional element can­not be eliminated by fully rational procedures and criteria.

It is also very challenging to face the perspective of coexistence between eugenic societies (technologically and biologically superior) and the traditional societies, unwilling or unable to control their genetic stream and biological resources. When facing the demographic defeat, eugenic societies may feel tempted to impose on entire mankind central standards of genetic and reproduction control. Non-conformance to such standards might be considered as a sort of aggression: the accu-multaion of chaotic demographic potential (biological and genetical), difficult to contain in territorial and bio-topological aspects.

In particular, I do not see any reasons for optimism shown by many contemporary humanists who believe that the developed lib eral democratic societies will be able to avert war forever. Emphati­cally, it seems that the partial disindividualisation of human being, the partial fuzzying of death, relativisation of human body integrity, and all other elements possibly resulting of the manipulation of hu­man genetic stream, will result in significant inflation of individual life value, which may in consequence lead to increased war­mongering. Such new generation wars may be more demographically devastating than ever before.

In the ultimate existential dimension, each human society experi­ences difficult life, bearing the burden of disillusionment and tragic fate. In the eugenic society, the human species qualities will be par­tially subject to human engineering. Though, the human fate shall not be free of contingency and tragic essence, defining the mortal and imperfect life of human being.

The modern epoch, with its great ideals of civil liberty and na­tional sovereignty, equality and law-obedience, conceived as princi­ples of state, political diverties and democratic liberty, has been fad­ing into history. It is not true that the present day condition is the point to which humanity has endeavoured. It is not true that we are at the end of history, and all the following events shall be “post-historical.” Indeed, we face a very difficult process of revising and correcting the political and moral ideals, which have prevailed since the time of the French Revolution. This process is a great challenge consisting of partial tasks related to definite walks of life. Each of those areas should be addressed earnestly. It is ours-the philoso­phers’-responsibility to devote all our attention and intelligence to this task, refuting the facille revulsion or philisterism revealed in nar­row-mindedness, which attempts to see the future in the narrow terms of the present. One of the major constituent challenges relates to the techniques of control over the body.