Futuribles Journal n° 293

Recherche, sciences, techniques - Société, modes de vie

L'invention de l'homme jetable


For some time the topic of cloning has been a matter of passionate debate, frequently at the forefront of media attention, stirring up not only those engaged in research in biotechnologies, but also (and increasingly) philosophers, sociologists, psychiatrists and the like. The reason is that the ethical implications are enormous. Grégory Bénichou, a professor of ethics, provides a glimpse of these issues that is disturbing, to say the least, as he shows how the argument favouring scientific progress can sometimes conceal the temptations of eugenics.
He argues that society is in the throes of developing a new concept: the "disposable human being". Just as IQ scores were established as a way of measuring the intellectual capacities of individuals, a genetic quotient is currently being devised as an indicator of what constitutes a more or less normal individual -the risk being that parents will choose their baby in vitro according to his or her score. Other aberrations of the same type already exist, according to Bénichou, referring to firms that sell "high quality" sperm that is supposed to help ensure the birth of "better" offspring, or businesses that are introducing genetic assessments as part of their hiring process.
In addition to the social (sometimes geopolitical) inequalities inherent in practices such as these, Bénichou shows that the argument that therapeutic cloning (in which "clones without a brain" are made in order to build up an organ bank of spare parts), which is considered to be more "ethical" than reproductive cloning, is a false one. Other techniques, which are less in the media spotlight but which are potentially just as efficient, already exist to "treat people without debasing human life".
The ultimate question he raises is: "Is human cloning really a step forward for humanity?" Does it not threaten to undermine permanently the principles of freedom and equality, and to establish different grades of human being? According to G. Bénichou, in such circumstances, it is not a matter of defending progress, but of justifying it.

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