In the Oct. 21 issue of The Wall Street Journal, Alan Murray talks about a recent report of the President’s Council on Bioethics. The report makes it clear that technological innovations present significant ethical challenges to our society.

For example, says Murray, “a combination of anxious parents, overburdened teachers and obliging doctors has brought about a tripling of the use of psychotropic drugs by children over the past decade. ‘Ritalin and similar stimulants can be, and quite possibly are being, used to mollify or improve children who suffer no disorder except childhood and childishness,’ the report says.”

“The rapid advancement of biotechnology means free individuals, pursuing their own happiness, may make choices that move society toward (Aldous) Huxley’s nightmare – a society drained of its essential humanity.

“Titled Beyond Therapy: Biotechnology and the Pursuit of Happiness, the report bears the unmistakable imprint of the council’s chairman, Dr. Leon Kass, who has spent years pondering these knotty issues. ‘In previous generations, the fear of eugenics and the world it would produce was really a fear of state-sponsored, coercive practices,’ Dr. Kass said in an interview during the weekend. ‘But what this shows is one could get to the same kind of dehumanized world through individual choices. The choices might be perfectly compatible with private freedom. But aggregate these choices, and ask yourself whether in fact they would leave us more free? Or more constrained, constricted, more flattened?’

“What happens, for instance, when athletes increasingly find their success in pharmaceuticals? When health care is driven less by the desire to cure and more by the desire to enhance – whether beauty, memory, weight or height? What happens if new therapies, already in development, succeed over the next decade or two in retarding the aging process, as Mr. Huxley imagined? How will these things affect our concepts of fairness and equality; how will they alter the dignity of human activity and aspiration; how will they change the very meaning of life itself?”

(from The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2003, p. A4)

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