A review of Babel’s Shadow. By Pete Moore.

Lion 2000.

While there are many good books on bioethics, not all are of equal value. Many quite good books on the subject are written in highly technical jargon, making them less than useful for the common reader. Even those that seek to cater for these readers can miss the mark. The value of Moore’s new book is that he is quite adept at rendering highly technical scientific information into quite plain language. Indeed, the first third of his book offers the reader a crash course on the basics of the new genetic technologies: the nature of cells, genes, DNA, etc.

These opening chapters help the reader understand many of the basic issues involved, the scientific background to the debate, and the way healthcare and the new reproductive technologies will advance in the future.

After providing this easy-to-understand foundation, he goes on to discuss some of the difficult ethical dilemmas involved: human cloning, genetic testing, designer babies and the various reproductive technologies now on offer.

With a scientific background, and writing from a Christian perspective, he ably steers the reader through the ethical and theological mazes raised by the new genetic technologies. He argues that in many ways modern man is repeating the experiment at the Tower of Babel: trying to become God. Many involved in the new medical and technological breakthroughs seem to know no limits, and seem intent on developing a new man through the new technologies. But, as Moore argues, such attempts may do more harm than good.

While no Luddite, seeing the value of much of the new genetics, he is aware that there is a dark side to human innovation, and therefore it is necessary that we proceed with caution. The future developments of such areas as human cloning and genetic testing will not likely be stopped. But how we proceed must be carefully assessed.

Says Moore: “Part of being human is the desire to care for the weakest and most vulnerable in society, to give dignity to people who may feel that they have no value and to supply for their needs. Developed nations are richer than ever, and have never been in a stronger position to provide the care and to use genetic knowledge to enable that provision. The question is, do we really care? Are we going to create our future by moulding and recreating individual people or by moulding and regulating our society?

“Increasing the amount that we understand about genetics will affect all future generations. Our generation is charged with the task of setting the foundations to the project and building the first few stages. It is important therefore that we think clearly and plan well. We need to encourage scientists and financiers to step outside the tower and look at what they are creating. We need to encourage the public and public policy makers to stop moaning about the technology and the problems of containing it, and take the effort required to understand enough about it so that they can make enlightened decisions. Let’s step out of the tower, move away from the shadow and enjoy the light.”

This is a very helpful introduction to some of the ethical, social and philosophical concerns raised by the new genetics. While the reviewer is concerned with his view that human life (more specifically, personhood) does not begin at conception, the book is otherwise a very good volume to help us understand and assess the new Babel.

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