“Ethics is an objective necessity of man’s survival,” said Ayn Rand, the philosophical novelist.
I once felt in reading these words that Rand was stretching a point. After all, man has been around for a long time and its ethics have often been open to question. Yet, we’re still here. However, I saw their wisdom when I considered the stem cells and human cloning debates in light of colossal problems that confront mankind and Earth.
Last Tuesday, America’s population grew to more than 300 million. With this milestone environmental and population watchdog groups issued somber warnings regarding realities that few of us care to consider.
“The natural resource base that is required to support each person keeps rising,” said Michael Replogle, transportation director for Environmental Defense, to Stephen Ohlemacher of the Associated Press. “We’re heating and cooling more space, and the housing units are more spread out than ever before.”
Problems stemming from too many people, too much consumption, and limited resources are not America’s alone — the problems are global and belong to man. America’s population grows by 2.8 million annually, but India’s is growing faster. The U.S. is the world’s third most populous nation behind China and India.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, mankind doubled in 40 years, growing from 3 billion members in 1959 to 6 billion in 1999. Man’s growth rate is slowing, with a 50% increase projected by 2042, when 9 billion humans will inhabit Earth. However, 3 billion more humans will require more food, more energy, more consumer goods, more living space, more industry, and more pollution.
Since 1968, global think tanks have claimed that these interdependent, but conflicting issues point to a future when too many people will live on a planet that’s unable to support their numbers. While dire consequences such as more wars, famines, and the spread of disease may not unfold as predicted, it’s impossible to deny that the problems exist.
“It’s not the population, it’s the consumption that can do us in,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, to the AP’s Ohlemacher. Frey cautions, “These are luxuries we have been able to support until now. But we’re not going to be able to do it forever.”
While environmental experts worry over our growing numbers, dwindling resources and pollution, those concerned with social issues claim we need more people, not less.
“According to United Nations figures, the percentage of the American population sixty-five or over will rise from 12.3% today to 20.6% by 2050,” says Joseph A. D’Agostino, vice president for communications at the Populations Research Institute. “The U.S. worker-to-retiree ratio is already at a dangerous three-to-one. By 2050, it will be two-to-one.”
According to “The Baby Deficit” in the June issue of Science magazine, declining birth rates and reduced fertility could lead to “a raft of negative economic consequences in the industrialized world, as well as greater stresses on social security and health care systems as the proportion of older citizens increases.” In addition to the U.S., percentages of workers leaving the workforce due to disease, disability, or retirement will sharply increase in the coming decades in Europe, Russia, and the U.K.
Mankind’s demands on Earth have damaged the ozone, polluted its waters and air, and depleted its soil. These problems can only worsen if humanity grows by 50%. Yet, for the sake of economics we’re urged to increase our birth rate. In 1970, the international “Club of Rome” predicted these problems while offered a single hope — that science and technology might learn to produce more food, more energy, and more consumer goods, while using less natural resources and creating less pollution.
This March, the Texas Institute of Science named American scientist Dr. Eric Pianka, a world renowned ecologist, its “Distinguished Scientist of 2006” for offering a creative solution to Man’s ecological woes — the killing of 90% of mankind with the Ebola Virus.
A Second Opinion
With mankind facing serious social and ecological problems, research related industries, universities, and academic researchers urge the public to commit its research resources for the coming decades on highly speculative basic research — embryonic stem cells and human cloning — for the purported sake of medical progress. However, mankind cannot wait for publicly funded science to meander after ‘interesting’ science for its own sake, or for research patents and industry growth, or for pie-in-the-sky treatments or cures.
Frey called man’s present rate of resource consumption a “luxury” that can’t be maintained like there’s no tomorrow. The same is equally true of research resources. We need science to produce medical solutions while we have the “luxury” of spending tens of billions annually on basic biomedical research. All too quickly we may reach a time when our best brains and finite resources must be available for solving the ills of Earth — when society will struggle to pay for minimal medical care, with little remaining to search for medical cures.
Rates of cancer, type-2 diabetes, heart disease, motor neuron disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, asthma, and arthritis are all increasing. So are motor vehicle accidents, spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain damage, and health care costs. As man wades deeper into the biotech age two realities become increasingly apparent:
• We need practical medical solutions far more than research-related financial growth.
• We should be extremely hesitant to accept any course that inures us to the value of human life.
In Israel, experimental treatments and drugs have been tested on patients without their knowledge or consent — in one case causing death. In the U.K. a patient was taken off life support against her wishes to “manage” her medical costs and render her organs available for transplant. In Russia, doctors urged pregnant women to undergo abortions because their babies allegedly had fetal defects, only to sell their organs, tissues, and cells. Women who received this advice learned that their babies were normal when they sought a second opinion. However unethical or inhumane these actions may be, what atrocities will mankind face in the coming years, when too many people are retired, sick, or disabled, and too few can pay for their care?
Morals and ethics represent our only protection against publicly funded science being hijacked for decades down the embryonic stem cell and cloning paths. Now, perhaps more than ever, man should be guided by morals. As a crucial first step, America needs to ban all forms of human cloning, while affirming respect and protection for all forms of human life as reflected by the President’s embryonic stem cell guidelines — respect and protection that many of us may dearly need in the coming years.
Society cannot take these steps without state and federal leaders with the vision to move in these directions with unyielding resolve. For this reason I urge Americans concerned over human rights, the environment, medical progress, respect for the wombs of women, what becomes of mankind, and what mankind becomes to vote this November against any candidate who supports expanded embryonic stem cell research under any pretext and human cloning under any guise.
Unlike those who see killing mankind as its only hope, I believe that far more practical solutions exist. Contrary to claims that embryonic stem cells offer mankind its best medical hopes, overwhelming scientific evidence clearly reveals the reverse. When I first read of professor Pianka’s proposal — and more importantly of its enthusiastic acceptance by his peers — I took heart from the following quote by 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer:
“Every man takes the limits of his own vision for the limits of the world.”
Concerning this thought, says Laurance Johnston, former director of science review for the NIH Institute of Child Welfare and Human Development: “I think this quote is especially relevant to many scientists, who despite large egos often have exceedingly narrow worldviews, especially for the long term. It is dangerous for such people to have carte blanche to do what they want when the implications are potentially so profound for the future.”