Progressives can’t—and shouldn’t—remove politics and values from science.
A truly progressive biopolitics would comfortably align with the values that a significant majority of Americans share, and with the human biotechnology policy models that a number of countries have pioneered. Developing political agreement for effective policies will be difficult, but we have three kinds of wind at our backs. First, the authorization for the Bush-appointed President’s Council on Bioethics runs out on September 30. As of yet, there have been no official signs from the White House about whether the Council will be allowed to expire, or about whether or how it will be replaced. Either way, Obama’s opportunity to establish a new body with a mandate to examine the social consequences of human biotechnologies represents an opening.
Obama himself constitutes the second reason for optimism. The president clearly supports scientific innovation; at the same time, he is inclined toward sensible regulation and a search for “common ground” in controversial areas. These commitments were apparent in his stem-cell announcement, which both expanded federal funding and drew a much-needed line against human reproductive cloning.
The third wind at our backs may be one that shifts an entire zeitgeist. Our economic system is undergoing more than a temporary stumble. We have reason to hope that many Americans will emerge from the current troubles with dimmed enthusiasm for the kind of individual excesses and market free-for-all on which the commercialization of reproductive genetics relies, and with greater appreciation for the common good and for government oversight to protect it.
Recent developments in the United States offer the best chance in years to meet the challenges of new biotechnologies. If we rise to the occasion, we can craft and codify rules that reflect both the emerging international consensus and our own commitments and values, which channel the power of new and emerging biotechnologies toward the well-being of future generations.
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