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GE debate dangerously polarised, says Vic lecturer

The moral debate over genetic engineering has become dangerously polarised, says Victoria University senior lecturer in philosophy, Dr Nick Agar.
Dr Agar’s book unravelling the cloning debate – Perfect Copy – has just been published and next year he will be taking a new philosophy course at the University, Ethics and Genetics.
The new course, which is available to undergraduate science and humanities students in either the second or third year, builds on a successful one-off course run this year.
Dr Agar said there was an unhealthy trend in the way society is confronting the new genetic technologies.
“People are right to think that genetic engineering and cloning raise serious moral issues. But many are making ethical decisions in ignorance of the relevant science. It would be a mistake, however, to think that because scientists hold this special knowledge that we should just pass the issues over to them.
“An expert in genetics is not necessarily a moral expert. Scientists may know best how to make a human clone, but they are no better than the rest of us in deciding whether or not we should live in a society with human clones, or with people who have replacement body parts manufactured from clones.”
Dr Agar’s new book on cloning and the new course present the new genetic technologies in a way that brings to the fore both their ethically troubling and promising aspects. “I don’t promise straightforward black and white answers to the perplexing moral questions raised by cloning and other biotechnologies but I do provide a framework and some common values on which to build a more rational debate.”
Dr Agar said the one-off course probed such issues as the claimed discovery of a “gay gene” and fears that this might reinforce prejudice, therapeutic and reproductive cloning, genetic engineering of food and whether parents should have the right to select the genetic makeup of their children. Next year’s course may involve guest lectures from University staff actively involved in genetic research.
Dr Agar said Perfect Copy was written to be widely accessible. It not only probes the ethical issues but backgrounds the history and some of the people involved in cloning.
“Many of the personalities involved are very odd, including the Raelians whose founder says he was told to clone humans by four-foot aliens, through to media-hungry Italian scientist Severino Antinori who says he will produce a human clone baby within two years. Focus on these personalities complements an account of some of the most fascinating science of our times.”

Issued by Victoria University of Wellington Public Affairs
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