"PACE IN TERRA", 24, 1985. 1.Prof. Rihito Kimura wearing a smile

Who should manipulate life?
- A Bioethical Point of View -

Prof. Rihito Kimura
For the first time in our human history, new scientific and technological achievements have given us the power to shape and control internal life. The discovery of DNA as a substance of the gene which is the blueprint of all living organisms, and the means to manipulate it, has drastically changed the notion of life.
We never thought before that part of the genetic material called DNA could be taken from one organism and incorporated into the genetic material of an unrelated organism. Now it is a fact of life that genetic engineering of micro-organisms, plants and animals, including humans, is underway. Such genetic modification may alter essential characteristics and properties of the organism, and may be transmitted to subsequent generations. Some people are saying that human beings should not take over the role of God. Others see a bright future in this genetic engineering as a way to produce new agricultural products, energy resources and medicine for the cure of genetic disease. There is however, a possible danger of biohazard if new micro-organisms escape from the research laboratory. Once we have made micro-organisms we cannot stop the reproduction mechanism of multiplication. Newly invented micro-organisms might kill all life on earth and cause a total destruction of the ecological system. Do human beings have the wisdom to properly use such knowledge and power? This is the issue for all of us. I think we have to know and to be informed of all that is now going on and being planned so that we can anticipate the hazards and the unethical uses of this new technology before it is too late.

1. How Brave a New World?

More than half a century ago in 1932, one of the most well-read works of science fiction was written by Aldous Huxley. The title of his book was "Brave New World". I think this science fiction work was one of the most profoundly prophetic books of social criticism appearing just at the time of increasing world turmoil. The shaping and controlling of human life, vividly written and imagined in this book, has been achieved and even experienced under totalitarian regimes in eastern and western societies since its publication. For me the most impressive part of this book was the description of the human reproduction system by I.V.F., so called 'test tube babies', for the ruling classes. In 1947, 15 years later, Huxley wrote a foreword for the new edition of his book and said that "I projected it six hundred years into the future. Today, it seems quite possible that the horror may be upon us within a single century."
Eleven years later he wrote another book under the title of "Brave New World Revisited". In the last part of his foreword to this book, he wrote, "The chapter that follow should be read against a background of thoughts about the Hungarian uprising and it's repression, about H-Bombs, about the cost of what every nation refers to as 'Defense', and about those endless columns of uniformed boys, white, black, brown, yellow, marching obediently towards the common grave." I fully agree with many of his deep insights about our life and future. I believe that we have to act continuously against the power of destruction over our life and future.
The famous constitutional lawyer Professor Tribe at Harvard Law School, asked his seminar members "If all the information of human brain has been transferred to the brain of a cat and the cat is having a conversation with you, how do you define this semi-human cat legally? What is the legal criteria for personhood? Can this cat be defined as person? We are living in the age which gives so much focus and importance to a human brain, then why can not this cat be regarded as human in the future? How can this new being be patented? Who will be the patent holder?"
Legal scientists have invented and used the notion of "legal fiction" in the course of human history, in order to develop our society. A legal person, contrary to a natural person, is a fiction which worked well in our society. A corporation is a person in the sense of legal fiction. Invisible fictions became legal facts. One of the tragic facts of history was that real, natural persons were legally categorized as property, the same as cattle. According to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court (1857), black slaves were neither "People" nor "Citizens" having human rights proclaimed in "The Declaration of Independence" and U.S. Constitution. So, Professor Tribe's following comment was very shocking to me. "A kind of legal logic for the justification of a slave's animalhood might be used as an analogy for the justification of an animal's humanhood in reverse."
Many young lawyers are tackling the issue of future legal systems in responding to rapid social, scientific, and technological change. In matters that touch the foundation of life, the whole society is concerned, as well as the lawyer and lawgiver. We have to recognize that both the content and the efficacy of all laws depend greatly on the quality of public opinion and on the broadest possible participation of the public in forming laws and regulations relating to our life and future.

2. Who's Life is it?

In June 1980, there was an epoch-making affirmative decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on "Patentability" for newly invented artificial micro-organisms which eat oil to clean up an oil-polluted sea. But what would happen if this oil-eating micro-organism in the ocean, with a self-reproduction mechanism, escaped to land to eat up the oil in the oil field? This might cause a disastrous loss of the total oil on the earth. Many industries are now getting into a bio-technology race towards the 21st century in order to have the advantages and profits from this new "patent right" in making agricultural, medical and energy products.
On the 20th of June, 1980, NCCCUSA (National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.) together with the U.S. Catholic Conference and the Synagogue Conference of America called for a congressional review of patent law, a government study of ethical questions involved in genetic engineering, and international guidelines on biomedical problems. In responding to this statement, the U.S. President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research decided to undertake an investigation in September, 1981. NCCCUSA's Bioethics Panel was set up in this context of serious public concerns on these bioethical issues. On the international level, the World Council of Churches has been very active in organizing conferences and producing research documents since the 1950's relating to our "Faith in Science-based Society." In 1975, when I was with the WCC as the Asst. Director of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland, I organized an international, interdisciplinary conference on "Human Rights and Life Sciences". One of the most recent ecumenical conferences organized by the WCC on "Faith, Science and Future" which was held in 1979 at MIT. 405 delegates from 56 countries composed of scientists, theologians, church leaders, lawyers, ethicists, sociologists, economists, political scientists, young and old, women and men gathered for two weeks. Many follow-up conferences are going on in various places of the world due to its great impact on the whole ecumenical world.
Of course, as a Christian, I believe all of life is a gift of God to be celebrated, cherished and respected. Human beings are stewards, not creators. Only God is creator and sustainer of all life. However, I think Christian teaching may have given too much emphasis to human superiority over all other creatures which become mere means to his or her ends. It is quite clear that the command to rule the animals and to subdue the earth delivered people from fear and from temptation to divinize or demonize nature and encourage people to overcome suffering and to build culture. But now, the power relations have been almost completely reversed by science and technology. Western-oriented Christian doctrine and interpretation of the Bible are now challenged by the Christian encounter with other sources of wisdom such as Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and even from Marxism. For example, the official report of the MIT Science Conference of the WCC which I mentioned before has a very interesting statement. "What needs to be emphasized today is the relatedness between God and God's creation rather than their separatedness. Being part of nature, yet at the same time they transcend it. We intervene in nature, bear responsibility for it, restore it." This statement is very familiar to me as an Asian Christian in the traditional Buddhist context of our society. Because the key word mentioned here "relatedness" is one of the most popular concepts similar to the Buddhist inter-relation of "EN" in the Japanese language. We use this word "EN" often in our daily conversation, and our emphasis on the statement of "Human being as part of Nature" is very common for Asian Christians.

3. Bioethics and Public Participation

Our society is changing rapidly. We are now living in "the era of life-manipulation". Life on earth, including our human lives, is now manipulated by artificial intervention such as "genetic engineering", "I.V.F.", "organ transplantation", "life-sustaining means" and various types of "Physical and mind control". Particularly by using scientific and technological methods, manipulation and intervention became possible without considering their long-term effects and impact on our society and environment.
Is there any positive and good manipulation? Why have we been making enormous efforts to manipulate nature, life and human beings? Of course, it is our human nature to find out truth, accumulate knowledge, and to apply it. However, now we have to think about the fundamental questions on "being" itself. Are we really allowed to manipulate our human genes for the sake of scientific biomedical research or possible cure of disease? As I mentioned before, we already know the technique of manipulating DNA which could cause a fundamental change in human beings themselves. I think no scientist or biomedical researcher has the unconditional right to do this manipulation.
Bioethical issues are a serious concern for all of us living in an era of "Life-Manipulation". This is the reason why the new "supra-interdisciplinary" study of "Bioethics" deals with issues relating to all integrated aspects of life's beginning, ending and quality, compared to the too narrow segmentation and ramification trends of traditional academic disciplines dealing with human and life issues separately. I think we need to have an encyclopedic approach to understand human beings in a wider perspective of wholeness. It is quite reasonable that the Encyclopedia of Bioethics has been already published in 1978 as the result of the project at the Center for Bioethics, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University.
It might be unwise and dangerous, I think, to allow the experts or scientists to do their own work unchecked, which might have grave consequences for all human beings. By having public input and debate, we need to establish public policy for research guidelines responding to rapid scientific, technological and biomedical achievement. In this sense, we have to understand the fact that the development of "Bioethics" took place not only in academic communities as a branch of applied ethics on biomedical issues, but also in a more fundamental way was formed by having direct and indirect input from various civil action and human rights movements; some of these movements include woman's liberation, equal opportunity access, patient's rights and campus protest groups questioning the meaning of academic neutrality and it's authority. Later all the rights movements concerning life, autonomy and self-determination merged into various types of social action and then into the anti-Vietnam War movement. According to my analysis and understanding, the development of "Bioethics" is a result of these various human rights activities responding to the de-humanizing phenomena caused by political, economic, scientific, technological, and biomedical problems emerging since the end of 1950s mainly in the U.S., Europe and some other places in the world. As we have been concerned with similar sorts of social and civil actions relating to human rights problems and life issues, e.g., pollution of the environment and tragic health problems, disregard of patient's rights, misuse of ME-machines for the justification of unnecessary surgical operations, human experiments without having informed consent and death and dying issues etc. in Japan, we can use these concerns to move us toward the development of bioethical studies based on our struggle against injustice on the grass-roots level. What should be the future of our life? How can we form a consensus about our future direction in scientific, technological and biomedical development? I believe that our future direction should be formed in the framework of public participation by having input from the lay-public and the experts in anticipating our "future image" of the world. I think, in this sense, the supra-interdisciplinary study of bioethics and it's public policy should be based on the notion of "Anticipatory Democracy" as well as an action in "Participatory Democracy".

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