Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Questions for Our Leaders

Yesterday, we wrote about our call for a presidential debate on science policy. When pulling together potential questions for the debate, I came across a compelling series titled “American Values and the Next President” in the Los Angeles Times (December 12, 2007, Part A; Pg. 30.) It touches on a few of the incredibly important issues our political leaders need to be prepared to address:
An excerpt from the "Life" essay:
…Last month's news that scientists in Japan and Wisconsin had modified adult skin cells to behave as embryonic stem cells seemed at first to have resolved this issue, but that's only true if you believe that the debate over stem cells, cloning and genetic modification is a subset of the debate over abortion.

It is not. It is, or could become, the central life debate of our time, and depending on your perspective, the questions it raises are either exhilarating or horrifying. If you could ensure that your children would never get melanoma, should you do that? How about nearsightedness? Should we be modifying humans in hopes of making them more fit for survival in a warming climate? How about for handling complicated technology, or space exploration?

If these ideas seem excessively science-fictional, consider that when Leon Kass, the conservative University of Chicago professor who would later serve as head of President Bush's Council on Bioethics, wrote a 1972 screed against the then-novel science of in vitro fertilization, he warned that it could someday make mothers of "single women, widows or lesbians." Yesterday's absurdity is today the mainstay of many lives.

Given the expected level of discourse in a presidential campaign, we may be lucky that the candidates are not keen to explore the frontiers of life. Still, it's a missed opportunity...
I would expand the life debate beyond reproductive technologies. Advances in nanotechnology, neuroscience, and robotics, to name a few, will also play an important part in defining "what is life."

My wish for the New Year is that we get beyond paralyzing partisanship, over the top religious rhetoric and the trivializing sideshow antics of the last year and focus the debate on how we can work together to achieve social justice, equity, human dignity and cultivate a critical optimism towards science in order to shape a better future for all.

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