At the bottom of this post is a powerful video that asks a fundamental moral question of a new and powerful scientific ability: “Should We?”
One of the great ethical and moral questions that besets us with new technologies, especially medical technologies, is whether our sheer capacity to do something thereby permits us to do that thing. Of course the answer to this ought to be “no.” Ability alone does not permit us to do anything we like.
I, for example, have the capacity, at least physically to do a lot of things I ought not do. I can steal, lie, damage, destroy and kill. Simply being able to do these things, even if I have “my own good reasons” for wanting to do them, does not give me carte blanche to in fact do them.
Groups and nations also have many capacities that they ought not act on. Perhaps one group more powerful than another can force its will on another, or one nation more powerful than another invade and enslave another nation. But again the mere power or capacity to act, does not give the group or nation the simple right to act. And of course the group or nation having the power will claim to have good reasons for doing what they do, but at the end of the day those reasons must judged by others, not merely asserted by the one who has the power.
Power without recognized limits can be a very ugly and destructive thing. And the power or capacity alone to do something is NOT a moral argument.
To some extent, everyone will recognize what has just been said as reasonable. But often, when it comes to science and new technologies, thinking becomes suddenly more fuzzy. This is especially the case in the realm of medicine, and medical technologies such as embryonic stem cell research, genetic manipulation, cloning, and many types of “reproductive” technologies such as in-vitro fertilization.
It will be granted that such matters often involve a lot of technical details that are difficult to understand. It is also understandable that many heart-wrenching issues revolve around such discussions, such as the hope to end disease or to overcome infertility.
But, too frequently we are asked refrain from any moral judgement by proponents of such things, and are often asked to accept the unreasonable notion that we ought to be able to do something merely because we are able to that thing, and the proponents have self-proclaimed good reasons to do it.
But as we saw above, in less heart-wrenching scenarios, mere ability, even if coupled with self-proclaimed good reasons is not alone a worthy moral argument. Many very ugly things have happened in human history on such faulty terms.
Again, let it be clearly stated, the ability to do something does not thereby confer the right to do it. Power does amount to a moral argument, and to the contrary, power often demands greater moral restraint of its possessor.
In the video below, which I hope you get a chance to see, the question is asked. “Should we?” For it would seem that we are close to capacity to bring certain extinct species back to life on this planet. Can we do this? It would seem we are close. But should we? Now THAT is a worthy and necessary moral consideration.
We have generally been conditioned by environmentalists to see extinction as always bad. But perhaps some extinction is necessary and god in the cycle of nature. Who gets to say what particular species might be good to reintroduce and what ones ought not?
Think about it. And think too about the modern moral tendency, especially in medicine to equate capacity with permission and moral rectitude. Many today demand the right to engage in certain scientific procedures and medical interventions simply because we can. Well, we can…but should we?