July 22, 2008

10 years after the Dolly the cyborg sheep mewed into the world. We, the human race are still no closer to hammering out a new order to make sense of the perpetual hubris between morality and science.


Never mind that new technologies regularly unveiled by doctors almost make it possible to reduce the sum of human suffering in ways which would only have been unimaginable a decade ago. Stem cell research for example makes it possible for the paralysed and physically wrecked to harbor the hope they may walk again. Genetic screening has unmasked a whole new chapter in preventive medicine ensuring those who are prone to disease get a heads up. Human life it seems is firmly on the gravy track.


But what’s happened to the dream? Where did it go so wrong? What’s really stopping all these biotech goodies from finding their way into the market to battle disease?


There is a large constituency of people almost uniformly against it. Amazing though it might seem, they want to stop all human beings from using technologies that will make our children healthier, happier and less likely to be disabled.


This movement of bio fundamentalist stretches from the White House to the Christian fundamentalist movement, and my point is simply this: if the level headed pro-science majority don’t learn how to fight back and seize the moral high ground, these bio-conservatives will prevail.


The prognosis is dire many will continue to die and suffer.


To understand what I mean by bio fundamentalist, they are all invariably moralist and ethicist without a single exception. Who all too often describe experimental cutting edge bio research in terms of “Frankenstein” dabbling often labeling scientist who perform stem cell research and organ transplants as “body snatchers” and “grave robbers” who are all guilty of the unpardonable sin of;  “playing God.”


In order to heighten their dystopian “ides of march” howl; they claim, if all these medical goodies find their way to the market it will be nothing short of a return to the Matrix cum I am Legend end times landscape. Where presumably we will all be reduced to chomping NTUC expiry dated canned tofu and watching endless reruns of the Singapore Idol (I really don’t know which is worse really).


In a nutshell, the fundamentalist claim life as we know it will cease to exist; if we ever go down the “slippery slope” of condoning organ transplant, they claim Nigerian Penis, Pamela Anderson boobies and Lance Armstrong lungs will find their way to Ebay transforming it into a veritable body parts hypermarket that will even make the 17th century slave market in Zanzibar look like corner sundry shop – only the rich will prosper they say. As for the poor, they will know a new level of misery as they wallow in their cannibalized bodies.


What I really resent about these bio-fundamentalist is despite their copper etched arguments concerning morality, ethics and the higher principles of man – no matter how one audits it, there happens to be one big flaw in the accounting: at the end of the day people are still dying! Something has to be terribly wrong with the moral calculus when their arguments appeals to our sense and sensibilities: yet people are still dying! I mean that seems a very strange way to occupy the moral high ground.


I guess at the end of the day when one really sits down and listens to what these bio-jihadist have to say; all they really want us to do is to heed the “Puih” factor, and recognize our limits as humans beyond that their argument is really like the great nothing grand canyon – yes, it’s all very nice, but at the end of the day, its just a giant sinkhole – hello, people are still dying!


The thing I really cannot seem to understand for the light of me; is why aren’t those already suffering deserving an equal measure of the same moral first precedence rights that these moralist keep insisting on? Don’t they have a right to well being as well!


It would seem these moralist have a solid case, but just to show you how curry puff crumble light some of their positions are; consider this delectable cerebral soduku: those who argue that at the moment of conception, an invisible supernatural agent (presumably God or is the Aliens? See the confusion) implants an invisible substance (‘a life form’) into a cluster of cells smaller than a pin head, and from that moment onwards; viola! The cells from then onwards should be treated as an individual with inalienable rights ( maybe this is the case for agent Molder and Scully?).


These moral adherents rent no end performing tests on cells on a Petri-dish is morally equivalent to putting electrodes on one’s body parts while stretched out on a Spanish Inquisition pelt rack. Stem-cell research is apparently not only morally abhorrent – we are suddenly guilty of mass genocide – their erudite position remains: what God predestines man has no right to interfere with. This bulldozer point is given a privileged position on the world stage and of late its ambit has been extended by the likes of George Bush and his internationale bio-luddites mellianist to retard all efforts to further scientific in this area!


OK la! Perhaps we are been a tad judgmental on these bio-mullahs. Let’s just cut them some slack. Let’s just put ourselves in a case study to see whether what they claim actually makes any common sense?


Consider this: if there was a fire in the Science Park and you had a choice between saving a petri dish of near-invisible clone cells of LKY or Missy Dotty in a her baby blue belly dancing frock; who the hell would you rather save?


Get my drift? If you can’t make those sort of intuitive calculations (now you know why they call it seat of the pants decision making) within a span of 5 seconds flat; then you should seriously support stem cell research as it simply means the wiring that connects your brain to your dick has gone manky!


I am not for one moment suggesting we should think with our pecker instead of using our brain, unless of course you were born with a matching pair of crystal balls (holy conception or misconception?), all I am saying is that no one in his right mind is going to rush into the jaws of death to save a few Petri-dishes sitting on a window sill and past off a living and breathing human being – so again please: why are we allowing real human beings to die with impunity?


And it doesn’t stop there either; the hole just gets bigger. Consider this: eight in every ten human embryos usually get flushed out in a women’s menstrual cycle, so why aren’t those Christian fundamentalist petitioning the UN security council to issue out an international warrant of arrest for the likes of Sumiko the rest of the erudite anti-man sisterhood in SPH? Why aren’t Commando’s being parachuted into SPH building? Why aren’t the  Sisters of Perpetual Hesitation bundled into a helicopter and served up before the Hague to answer charges of genocide and crimes against humanity like Slobodan Milosevic and Sadam Hussein?


Do you see my point? These moralist pick and choose their ethics very much in the way one goes fashioning a straw man; this becomes all too evident when we look closer at the entire moral argument from egalitarian critics; who claim no end organ transplants and cell modifying research may create a world of have’s and haves not.


The problem with that line of logic is they presume there is actually a superman helix that some of us are born with while the rest of us have to settle for the lesser lot of hunchback Quasimodo forgettable life – truth remains there are already plenty of inequalities thrown up by nature. That’s a fact of life. I am for instance no where as clever as Einstein, but then my hair doesn’t look like Weetabix and when he’s thinking he looks like a walrus; I on the other hand have a mane of the finest that looks smashing standing next to my jet black Lamborghini?


For that matter not even the Kennedy’s who are supposedly blessed with superior genes can escape the inequalities of life; no one doubts they are certainly gifted in field of politics and public service; but judging from the way they regularly fly into the sea and attract deadly bullets like a magnet; they seem to have more in common with the dodo bird than superman; so that neatly puts an end to the whole anti egalitarian argument that genetic modification divides society.


Truth remains there may certainly be a natural aristocracy to mankind as Emerson once observed; but science is still a very long way from cracking the genius nut. Superman remains a forlorn dream in the making.  


What especially riles me about these bio-fundamentalist is unlike other moral and ethical arguments which don’t usually have to grapple with the finality of life and death; is that while they continue to moralize they seem to be terminally oblivious to not only the incalculable benefits of biotechnology, but that people are dying while they continue to twiddle their fingers. I personally find that attitude callous and reckless to say the least; it’s fine to moralize about whether primroses and parks should take priority over spaghetti concrete highways or even whether Sumiko has the right to write about euthanasia as if it’s an alternative lifestyle in a national newspaper, but in my book where life’s at stake, nothing should even take priority over that; it’s immoral and a travesty of rational logic.


Everyone has a right to live. Everyone has a right to gainfully pursue well being and no one has a right to stop them – even as we speak, 70% of sufferers who urgently need organ transplant are going to die this year throughout the world. The current watered down command economy that proposes to regulate organ transactions has simply not managed to deliver the needed lifesavers – people are still dying in their droves.


As it tries to pussy foot its way around the hubris of science vs faith; that’s to say attempt to reconcile two diametrically impossible viewpoints. My feel remains this attachment to the current status quo needs to be urgently revamped even if it results in a massive moral cognitive dissonance only because when the accounts are squared off the day after; we don’t ever need to deal with one perennial problem: people no longer have to die in vain any longer – there’s hope. You see there’s no morality in death. Death is death. It’s as simple as that.


As Jesus Christ, the great moral teacher once proclaimed, “I come so that you may life.” Only after his imperative has been well served should we begin to moralize – meanwhile the sick, desperate and loss need affirmative action. They need our support to say ‘nay’ to the moral mujahidens.


[This article was once written by Astroboy and Darkness and posted in an obscure thread in APICS / At the period of its publication; there was considerable debate concerning the morality of embroynic stem cell research. Much of the impetus for this article stemmed from a thread commentator, “egghead” who appeared to be supporting the position “all stem cell research is evil!”  Presumably this was also the position of the main lobby group against ESC research. American Life League 


The BP entered the fray, when it became clear the thread was gradually overtaken by the Christian right – perusing the thread. We noticed by this period, the whole discussion had morphed into a pseudo scientific religious argument.

What I find revealing about this article is even how as a we try to find a happy balance in legalizing organ sales – the same sentiments which were once ventilated in this thread featured very much in the recent debate concerning legalizing organ sale today.

This shows clearly many of the moral issues concerning organ sales and stem cell research are quite robust and deeply entrenched within the reader’s psyche.

From a writing style analysis, what I really like about this article is it’s very Astroboy – he is well known for his satire and black humor and what’s clear is Darkness has allowed him a free hand to set the pace and cadence; he seems to be taking a back seat even. Yet when one reads the article where these two writers seem to be doing their tandem jig; there are moments when we can clearly see how Darkness inserts himself into the argument very much like a man shouting from a hospital bed.

Presumably he is supposed to the voice of the man who needs an organ transplant. When he keeps repeating sarcastically on the side people are dying as these religious fanatics con’t to moralise no end.

I realized when I perused the thread in detail. There was a poster who kept doing the same thing, by the moniker of “Ican’tscratchmyguli’s” who claimed that he was involved in a motorcycle accident and badly needed a new arm. Through out the thread “Ican’tscratchmyguli’s” kept posting repeatedly the same tag line, “hello, can someone pass me the remote control, I dont have any arms.” Most posters by then had regarded him as an irritating spammer and the APICS moderator even banned him.

In this BP article that was once written; Darkness seems to be juxtaposing the role of this poster on the article. He even goes on to mimic the posters style of repetition; “people are dying” at least 3 times in rapid succession on one occasion using the address, :hello, which was exactly what “Ican’tscratchmyguli’s” did. Presumably by doing so, he was trying to hammer home the point; Does any one care to remember me? Or are we all just so preoccupied with the moral discussion; we have all but left the real victims behind us? 

It’s interesting to note both authors decided to skirt the moral complexities associated bio-tech science. And to even elide whole sale the long term repercussions on a would be ignorant donor. Would it lead to unmitigated exploitation? Don’t financially driven donors deserve to be told the risk? What legal structures are there to protect their rights should there be any long term complications arising from the transaction?

 Presumably, they are trying to suggest the current moral calculus is deeply flawed . And although they don’t state it specifically, the reader is left with no doubt, both are proposing moving the formula from a qualitative (moral vs pragmatic) to a quantitative (deaths vs living). Inaddition, throughout the write up one senses, both authors seem to be turning the force of the moral debate on it’s head by role reversal You can moralize, but how moral is it to do so when people are dying? Who gave you the power over life and death? Aren’t you also guilty of playing God?

This becomes becomes clear in the last few paragraphs; where a Biblical quote is used against the same faith moralist who seem opposed to the idea of stem cell research: “I come so that you may have life” John 10:10. The reference here could well be: if you can pick and choose Biblical text to justify your position; so can I!

One very interesting thing we noted about this article which was once posted in APICS is how it provoked near pandemonium amongst the regular read club readers troupe in the threads; over 300 post criticized Darkness directly for his personal reference of Sumiko and many resented how he had referred too the SPH as the Sisters of Perpetual Hesitation – and obvious reference that spinsterhood may be prevalent in the press corps – at it’s height the slew of criticism forced the temporary closure of APICS and much of the ire spilled over to it’s sister site the Intelligent Singaporean, where even Inspir3d was forewarned about the possibility of a readers revolt.

Eventually, Darkness was forced to issue a public apology with an undertaking that he would never again impinge on the modesty of Sumiko and her friends.

For me this is was historically telling as I found myself wondering why so many BP readers seem to identify with the figure of Sumiko? Who really makes up the bulk of BP readers? What’s their average age? Gender and marital status? – I can only assume many of them reacted the way they did; as their personal profile differs very slightly from her and she may after all be some sort of icon to many of these readers who also see themselves as single, emancipated and unmarried.

This of course is a very sensitive subject in the BP and we have observed the banter that goes on between writers and readers in this area is very interesting from a social and media standpoint. At no time was it this brought to the forefront more clearly than this one occasion – Y2K. This article has been brought to you by the internet wayback machine and the Free Internet Library Board (FILB) – We regret to inform you the Brotherhood Press has ceased all publications – The Brotherhood Press 2008


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