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Opinions of Sunday, 6 June 2010

Columnist: Lola

This Is The Future – It Scares Me To Death, What About You?

After a six-month hiatus, I was planning to return to this forum with a light-hearted topic, but I’ve had to make some changes due to a periodical I recently read. On the morning of Monday, May 24, 2010, as I sat in my office and perused The Economist, I came across an article that gave me a reason to pause (“And Man Made Life”, The Economist May 22– 28).
Some parts of my feature will be quoted from the magazine verbatim; I ask that you bear with me and not deem me a plagiarizer (ok, Bro SARPONG…lol). You might have seen reports of this story but according to the Economist, “Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the two American biologists who unraveled the first DNA sequence of a living organism (a bacterium) in 1995, have made a bacterium that has an artificial genome – creating a living creature with no ancestor”.
I have lost count of how many times I re-read the above paragraph. What I am certain of is that every time I read “creating a living creature with no ancestor”, I got that frightening, sickening, feeling – the type you get right after learning of tragic news. Basically, mankind has reached a point where he can create living organisms without any input from God (for the religious), or Mother Nature. As the author of the referenced article stated, a Rubicon has been crossed!
I’m certain that when we first learned of (the prospect of) reproductive cloning, most of us had our fears. But this new concept of manufacturing living organisms from scratch makes cloning seem like child’s play. As a little girl in Ghana, I vividly recall my unrestrained giddiness whenever my father came down from abroad and gave me a Barbie doll as a present.
I also recall my older brother and his friends – who were then vessels of useless/inane information – telling me that in the near future, thanks to “Akwasi Broni,” my new baby dolls will have the same capabilities as a real baby, i.e. breathe, cry, and talk. According to those boys, “Akwasi Broni” was capable of doing anything, even creating a human being!
Naturally, I accepted the lads’ revelation (or is it prophesy) with a child’s innocence and awaited my breathing, crying baby doll; alas, that day never came. But now, thanks to Doctors Craig Venter and Hamilton Smith, the “future” my brother and his friends spoke of is within reach – and it scares me to death!
Again, the article states: “It is now possible to conceive of a world in which new bacteria (and eventually new animals and plants) are designed on a computer and then grown to order”. This fills me with trepidation because it is only a matter of time before these scientists will graduate from fabricating plants and animals, to manufacturing human beings – with no ancestors!
For one thing, we cannot predict how creating humans – sans ancestors – will impact mankind; and fear of the unknown is extremely frightening in and of itself! For another thing, whether you believe in Evolution or Creationism, the mystery behind human development from conception to birth, is one that amazes us all. Thus, to take away that mystery, or easily duplicate it in a laboratory, in my view, diminishes the essence of human life to some degree.
Though a proponent of modern science much like any Liberal, I contend that scientists are treading on very dangerous grounds. I’m cognizant of the fact that similar statements were made of great scientists such as Nicolas Copernicus, but I maintain my disposition. Instead of spending time and money to conjure up creatures from the chemicals in their laboratories, perhaps, these researchers should spend such resources on less invasive cures for the many ailments that plague humankind, specifically, cancer.
The author of the piece also asks: “Have scientists got too big for their boots? Will their hubris bring Nemesis in due course? What horrors will come creeping out of the flask on the laboratory bench?” The author continues: “Such questions are not misplaced – and should give pause even to those, including this newspaper, who normally embrace advances in science with enthusiasm”.
Indeed, this news gave me a pause, more aptly a jolt, and I’ve been on edge ever since. If the new creation of Doctors Venter and Smith has given intellectuals at The Economist a reason to pause, then, can anyone fault the rest of us – average Joes and Janes – for going into full panic mode?
If you have reached this part of my article and you’re not yet filled with anxiety, then ponder over these words – my last quote from The Economist: “Now, a Non-living matter can be brought to life with no need for a vital essence or a god”. If the preceding statement did not give you a jolt, then I’m afraid you’re no more among the living!
Lola, Washington, DC