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Ethical challenges surrounding the birth of andi the transgenic rhesus monkey

Is ANDi a miracle or a monster? By Daniel Johnson and Thomas Harding 12: ANDi's case has attracted worldwide interest because of its implications for the manufacture of "designer babies": Other GM animals already exist, but the modification of primates brings the possibility of similar experiments on humans much closer. Ever since Aldous Huxley's Brave New World appeared nearly 70 years ago, thoughtful people have been haunted by his vision of a dystopian society of laboratory-bred human robots.

Until the Nazis gave eugenics a bad name, many intellectuals in Britain and America supported the idea. Now the genetic revolution has made eugenics respectable again.

Scientists at the cutting edge of genetic research are often invited to defend their work, but we hear less often from philosophers. Theirs, however, is the task of assessing the meaning of such research. The Telegraph asked seven of the world's leading philosophers a number of questions arising from the ANDi case.

Is the genetic modification of animals in general, and primates in particular, morally justifiable? Will such research inevitably be extended to humans and, if so, would that be wrong? Should there be any ethical limitations on the use of such research for eugenic purposes, as opposed to purely medical ones? If animal ethical challenges surrounding the birth of andi the transgenic rhesus monkey are genetically modified on a large scale, are there likely to be unforeseen consequences?

Is such modification compatible with our duty as custodians of the animal kingdom? Related Articles Peers vote for cloning of embryos 25 Jan 2001 All these questions boil down to this: Experts disagree about the future as much as laymen.

Philosophers, as Sir Michael Dummett points out, are not prophets. But it is clear that most of these thinkers find what Richard Rorty calls "freaky experiments", such as ANDi, more or less disturbing. The main exception is John Harris, whose scientific background and role as a government adviser gives him a very different perspective.

He welcomes a future in which humans may live for hundreds of years. At the other end of the spectrum, Roger Scruton is appalled by this prospect, while Leszek Kolakowski, who has first-hand experience of hi-tech barbarism in communist Eastern Europe, fears that a brave new world may be just around the corner. The two American professors, Noam Chomsky and Richard Rorty, are more reluctant to criticise scientists. Sir Michael Dummett has no qualms about the use of primates, but raises the important issue of inequality.

Designer babies may be all very well for the rich, but there is little possibility of the vast majority of the world's population benefiting from such technology. Sir Michael will not be the only person to find the spectre of a genetically modified master race "repugnant". Noam Chomsky Professor Noam Chomsky, 72, who teaches linguistics and philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, has argued that children are born with an innate understanding of grammar.

Professor Chomsky last week said: We have to consider whether these genetic modifications are in a fact a form of torture for these animals. Firstly, is it something we can significantly benefit from?

Ethical challenges surrounding the birth of andi the transgenic rhesus monkey

That is not something I feel qualified to answer. I think it is and this kind of work should not be wiped out. But there should be more controls and serious evaluations. Giving a person an aspirin and giving them genetic modification are far different things.

It's a matter of gradation. But I suppose we should remember that we had exactly the same fears about advanced medicines and psychotherapy. It is time somebody called the bluff of these people every time they say they have made a new step forward. The idea that they can resolve every disease under the sun and make us live for 2,000 years is ridiculous. The extremely low rate of success in scientific terms does not justify the animal suffering involved.

These primate centres in America are all looking for work to do to justify their existence. They are animals - I don't think we should give them the vote.

Ethical challenges surrounding the birth of andi the transgenic rhesus monkey

However, I don't think we should have an arrangement by which parents decide what children they want. That would not be a happy state of affairs because the rich would have magnificent babies and the poor would have to put up with what God sends. I'm not a prophet, but it goes without saying that some scientists are going to be able to do many repugnant things. We have to give that critical consideration.

He believes that 's big threat is biotechnology and genetic manipulation: I understand the medical reasons for such experiments. It is clear that genetic manipulation can be done on primates but what the capability of these hereditary changes are might well be impossible to predict. We could develop monsters. The ethics of modifying genes of humans and the ethics of preparing the way to do that by using primates.

We should be sparing on our use of primates because they are so very nearly persons themselves.

Is ANDi a miracle or a monster?

Evolution is a mechanism for genetic modification but it is not a particularly efficient one. We are already genetically modified creatures.

If we can modify genes to protect ourselves from harm it is much better than leaving it to evolution. It has left a pool of diseases that have created untold misery. We may be able to engineer resistance to diseases that may have a big affect on life expectancy, allowing people to live hundreds of years longer.

Of course, that is a long way in the future. I don't think there is anything wrong in principle with designer babies. If we can improve intelligence, that would cut out spending a huge amount of money on education. He has been called the most controversial but accessible philosopher since Bertrand Russell and made his reputation with Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature.

I think you can write science fiction situations where all natural species are disappearing and are replaced by artificial species made to human tastes. But this is not a reason to stop research that has given us cures to viruses as well as the possibility of biological warfare. You can pass all kinds of laws in the absence of global legislation but I still expect all kinds of freaky experiments in the world.

Lots of people are thinking as hard as they can about these issues and it's hard to put your finger on many of them. It's disturbing - but lots of change in science is disturbing. I have this horrible vision of a future in which there are no young people any more, except those manufactured by the bionic geriatrics who control things; those who use all the resources of the Earth, including those that belong by right to future generations, to outstay their welcome on a planet whose resources they devote entirely to themselves.