FACT OR FICTION.


a. Brave New Baby by David Rorvik.
b. We have the knowledge: Karl Rahner.



BRAVE NEW BABY: DAVID RORVIK.


Genetic engineering is applied science. It is technology. For some people science and technology go together as if they were the two sides of the same coin. This is not true. The aim of scientists and the aim of technicians are different, and they use different methods to obtain it. In science we want to gain knowledge by using the scientific method. In technology we use scientific knowledge for certain benefits, and personal profit is one of these benefits. “What is going on here? I want to know.” - these belong to science. What is the possible use of this discovery? - is a question for applied science or technology.

In the realm of technology, and genetic engineering belongs to this realm, the motivating force is usefulness and profit. As a result, that what is given is easily dominated by that what we want, and so truth and wishful thinking seem to blend quite easily in genetic engineering. The danger is that after a while we may not know clearly the difference between fact and fiction. As people encounter a number of outrageous ideas in genetic engineering, speculations, which may have some roots in reality, or they may be products of fantasy, nothing more than science fiction, they may be chocked and outraged by the immorality of it all. Having been upset by the fictitious, they turn around, back into the real world, and cry: "Stop research!" Such mentality may do real damage. Here are some specifics.

1. The forty weeks of human development may be divided into three trimesters. Most of development is done during the first trimester. The events of the second and third trimesters are mostly growth in size and maturation. Some babies are born prematurely and the earlier they are born the more they need artificial life support to survive. With the present state of art of medical technology, most babies born at twenty weeks are brought to full term in an incubator. Even at eighteen weeks some premature babies may survive using the artificial life support of incubators. In order to save the lives of these children there is a considerable effort made to improve the life support technology, and to push the limits of viability back to earlier and earlier times. The other side of the story is the effort that goes into research to extend the life of a fertilized ovum before it is implanted into a human uterus and then can develop normally. The aim of this work is to improve medical technology related to in vitro fertilization and render couples artificially fertile in cases of natural infertility. Now, what would happen if the two research efforts were to meet somewhere in the first trimester of development? This event would possibly eliminate the necessity of pregnancy because then a fertilized ovum could be brought to full term in a sophisticated artificial support. For some people this would mean the opening of doors to cloning and to all the possible abuses of cloning such as the production of perfectly designed soldiers by the thousands, meaning mindless, totally functional killing machines. (By the way, brainwashing in this regard would be much cheaper than cloning.) Others have suggested the possibility that once an artificial placenta has been constructed, we will be able to manipulate development more intensively, and then some day we will be able to produce, sell and buy any kind of designed children in supermarkets. These "possibilities" are shocking to say the least, and it seems logical then to demand to "stop research" along the line of developing an artificial placenta. As you can see, it is easy to slide from reality into fiction. Because of the intimate, hemo-choreal contact between the maternal and embryonic circulation in the human situation, and because of the critical nature of development during the first trimester, it is not possible to bridge the gap by artificial means between the end of the first week in the life of the fertilized ovum and the beginning of the second trimester of development. Some would say that it is not possible now, but it may become possible at a later time. Let us leave this problem to later time then. As to now, we should concentrate on saving the lives of prematurely born children, and helping couples to have children by artificial means if they want to have children but cannot have them in the normal way.

2. Here is another example. Amniocentesis was first used in the 1930s to monitor the progress of anemia of the fetus in case of Rh incompatibility, when the father is Rh positive and the mother is Rh negative. Consequently the offspring becomes then an Rh heterozygote with Rh positive phenotype. The first child is usually born without any problem but the event sensitizes the mother to produce antibodies against the Rh positive trait ready to destroy the Rh positive erythrocytes. The second and especially the third child has to be monitored for the progress of erythrocyte loss, and blood transfusion may become necessary at birth or sometimes even in utero before the child is born. The progress of the anemia can be determined by measuring the amount of bilirubin in the amniotic fluid through amniocentesis. Every time an erythrocyte is destroyed by the mother's antibodies a small and characteristic amount of this pigment is released. This was the case in the past rendering amniocentesis very useful. Today we prevent the sensitization of the mother in an Rh incompatible situation and the problems of incompatibility do not arise in most cases. Amniocentesis, however, is very much used today for diagnostic purposes since the fluid contains cell debris, which can be placed into tissue cultures and karyotyped for chromosome aberrations, and the fluid itself can be chemically analyzed for metabolites revealing the presence of many metabolic disorders. The chromosomal sex of the child can also be determined from the cultured cells. In this way much information can be obtained from amniocentesis. The question is what this information is going to be used for? In some cultures the information about the sex of the child may be used to discriminate against the girl child. In others it may further open the road to infanticide.

Contrary to popular belief, amniocentesis as a procedure is far from being free of dangers. It has been known that mutations, which occurred in the Petri dish led to misdiagnosis of the condition of the fetus. The position of the placenta, if it obstructs the route of access, may be a contraindication for using amniocentesis. In other words, amniocentesis as a diagnostic aid should not be taken lightly, and certainly it should not be used as a means to satisfy mere curiosity about the fetus. The real purpose of this procedure should be to prepare the parents and health professionals to provide the best environment for the child to be born in case a genetic disorder has been suspected and then identified. Abuses of amniocentesis, do not justify the outcry to stop the search for finding better and better means to help the genetically handicapped. In this effort amniocentesis is a most useful diagnostic tool.

Knowledge is good in itself and needs no other justification. The value of applied knowledge, on the other hand, depends on the value of the application. The responsibility of the consequences of applied knowledge rests with the one who makes use of it, that is the technician, the inventor, the business person, the consumer, and so on. It is true that a scientist can also be a technician or any of the other mentioned entrepreneurs but then there is a definite change in both, motivation and method, different from those employed in a strictly scientific inquiry. In the quest for knowledge, some totally esoteric discoveries were pursued without any possible application in sight at the time of discovery. Some of these became tremendously useful much later on. Such was the case with the recombinant DNA technology. (For details on this issue see the section on The Recombinant DNA Scenario.) 3. What do you think about the so called "technological imperative" saying, if we know it, we will do it, irrespective of moral values. In the popular mind there is a great deal of confusion about fact and fiction, and fear of knowledge because of ignorance. Some people use this confusion and fear for personal gain through sensationalism. The following is a classical example.

In 1971, Doubleday & Company published a book: Brave New Baby written by David Rorvik. The back cover of the book sums up the contents well saying: Some of the startling developments of the present and the near future in “participatory evolution.”

• Infertile couples, once considered hopeless, can now raise normal, healthy children.
• A woman will soon be able to be the biological mother of a child - without the long rigors of pregnancy.
• A process called cloning could produce a practically unlimited number of identical twins - from one parent, either male of female.
• Through "genetic engineering." scientists will be able within a few years, to alter virtually every human trait, creating children with blue eyes, prehensile tails, or startling adaptations for a
completely different environment.
• Ultimately, biologists may be able to give men an education through brain transplants or even injections - it's already been done with laboratory animals - and operations to free man from his
perishable body of flesh and blood are well within the realm of possibility.
It is interesting to see how easily the author slides from fact into fiction. Except for the first statement, all others are science fiction, even the one about cloning. It is true that the technique of cloning has been known at that time but it has not been done in humans, only in animals. In any case, there is much more to a human person than just his or her genetic endowment. The environment, and some random factors, including all the personal and unique experiences make development also unique even among identical twins. The idea of unlimited number of identical copies of an individual is quite unsound.

The most outrageous is the last statement of Rorvik about receiving knowledge by chemical means through pills or injections. What the author refers to "it's already been done with laboratory animals," is the story of the little, aquatic flatworm, Planaria . This animal is negatively photo tactic, which means that in response to light it will turn around and swim away from the light. The turning around is done either to the right or to the left at random. Giving the animal a small electric shock if it turn to the left instead to the right will soon teach it to make only right turns. Next, the “educated” flatworm is ground up in a small blender and the material is given to other flatworms as food. Being cannibalistic, they will eat the learned college quite readily. Then something strange happens. Exposed to light, those who “ate knowledge” will all turn to the right and swim away from the light. The explanation of this event is not quite clear. What we suspect is that some permanent changes occur in the nervous system of this animal, and this change can be passed on by ingestion. However interesting were the results of this experiment, the story has really nothing to do with human learning. As to being freed from our perishable body of flesh and blood and then function as a cyborg of some sort, that is pure science fiction.
David Rorvik was on the staff of writers with Time magazine in 1968 and 1969. His boss, Leon Jaroff, a senior editor of the Time's science and medicine section said about him: "David is intelligent, David is a good writer, David is a little strange." According to the account, when Rorvik quit Time, he was becoming enamored of UFO's.

In 1978, the J.B. Lippincott Company published a book written by Rorvik with the title: In His Image: The cloning of a Man. In this book he attributed the cloning of a boy to Dr. Derek Broomhall a British biologist. The reporting, of course, was false.

In the journal Discover, June 1987, a brief article appeared with the title: Vindication of Bromhall, in the section Skeptical Eye. The article first presented the following letter:

Dear Dr. Bromhall:
We hereby offer you our apology for the reasons herein set forth. In 1978, J.B. Lippincott Company . . . published as non-fiction a book authored by David M. Rorvik entitled In His Image: The cloning of Man. This book purports to be a true account of the cloning of a boy from the tissues of a sixty-five-year-old man. The publisher included in this book a note to the effect that it did not know whether the account was true. Lippincott concedes that it now believes the story to be untrue. Lippincott acknowledges that Dr. Bromhall did not consent to the inclusion of his name or his research techniques in the book, and also acknowledges that Dr. Bromhall never engaged in, or advocated the cloning of a human being. We regret any embarrassment, humiliation or other injury to him that the book might have caused.
Respectfully yours,
Baritone H. Lippincott
Chief Executive officer


The account also stated that this letter was accompanied by an undisclosed cash settlement for damages to Bromhall - half from Lippincott, the other half from Rorvik's withheld royalties.

Bromhall is well known for his work at Oxford having fused the nuclei of rabbit cells and unfertilized rabbit ova. The fused cells, now zygotes, then began to divide as ova would after they had been fertilized. He published a description of his work in Nature in 1975. His experiment represented at the time an important advance toward cloning in mammals.

Bromhall was worried about the reaction to Rorvik's book in the United States; concern over human cloning led some Americans to call for the control or even curtailment of cloning experiments, which are important in cancer and genetic research. The case was tried in the U.S. District court in Philadelphia (where Lippincott's headquarters are located). Judge John Fullam in a pretrial ruling declared that In His Image: The cloning of Man was "a fraud and a hoax."

The stories presented here are examples of sensation seeking confusion about facts and fiction resulting in real damage to research. It was fortunate that Dr. Bromhall took the trouble to fight Rorvik and Lippincott. The account ends with the words: “Science owes him a debt of gratitude.” We all do.



WE HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE: KARL RAHNER.



Karl Rahner was a Jesuit priest, a great theologian and a much recognized scholar. In addition to teaching and writing, he was a welcome lecturer on international gatherings. He became an official “peritus” (expert) for Popes John XXII and Paul VI at Vatican Council II, where he was a source of an open and positive approach toward the modern world, instead of being negative and defensive. (The Catholic Sun, January 18, 1978.)
Rahner wrote hundreds of articles and essays, but one of them, which appeared in the Sesquicentennial issue of Theology Digest in February, 1968, may be of special importance for us as we consider the fine line between facts and fiction in genetic engineering. The title of the article was Experiment: Man. Rahner reflects on the observation that we are all becoming more and more the active participants in formulating ourselves and our future. He looks upon human nature as an open ended process as it slowly crystallizes out through our own actions in the passage of history. God created us, but in a sense we were given the power to participate in our own creation.

Rahner describes this process of participatory self realization as taking place in several interconnected “factories”. The first plant or factory is the way we manufacture our own environment. Our houses are “machines for living”. Our houses are insulated, air-conditioned, and are provided with light independently from the outside natural world. More recently, our houses are computerized. We call them “smart houses.” We also produce our own materials for clothing, packaging, and building. Our food is more manufactured than grown. As we bring our environment under control, so we manage to control ourselves more and more.

Another factory, Rahner mentions includes the sciences of biology, biochemistry, and genetics. The results of our efforts in these fields are apparent in eugenics where we practice sterilization to prevent defective progeny, use birth control and birth prevention to cope with the population explosion. We also attempt to breed super intellects, and penetrate the genetic code to achieve our own designs for our future.

Yet another factory is that of medicine, pharmacology, and psychopharmacology. We repair and replace body parts through medical technology. We medicate our ills, and resolve our moral problems with drugs. In the psychological factory we manufacture a humanity free from friction and conflict. We control people through brainwashing, through the media and through the various devices of indoctrination. In the sociological factory population will be stabilized making use of biogenics and medicine. Means will match needs, and people’s leisure time will be properly filled. All these factories will be coordinated by the political sector through an international government directed by the superintelligent offspring of the system.

Rahner presents the well doctored future of humankind in a mixture of realities and utopias. He states that this manufacturing process is not complete yet, but it is well under way in many sectors. All these, of course, may fill us with a sense of uneasiness about a future where anything is possible. In order to retain our firm hold on reality, it is essential that we know clearly what is fact and what is fiction. Research does not work in utopias but in the framework of the realities of life and knowledge. In a similar way, technology is limited by what is given, and is balanced by need and profit. Genetic engineering is rooted in the same realism; in science and not in science fiction. Many things may be possible, but there are only a few, which are worthwhile, and even those are to be evaluated in terms of cost and benefit.

 

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