be within limit

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 29 Nov 2018 13:19:28

THE initial claim by a Chinese scientist that he had created the world’s first genetically-edited babies and the subsequent denial by the Shenzhen Harmonicare Women’s and Children’s Hospital of its involvement in the experiments on grounds of ethics, has raised once again the issue of the limits of morality within which science must stay for the larger good of mankind. For record’s sake, the issue is fairly old and has often dogged human community. Yet, time and again, the people engaged in seeking farther and further frontiers of science often try to push human interference in Nature’s laws deeper in the quest of something fancy. More critically, they are fired by the idea of mastering Nature and even achieving what some call divine abilities.

However, at least at this stage, it is necessary to appreciate the candidness with which the Chinese hospital management refused to get associated with the claimed research on grounds of ethics and morality. Such a stand is most welcome as it addresses a very basic norm that the human community must never violate in whatever manner. 

Even when he perfected the theory of possible atomic fission and fusion, Professor Albert Einstein had cautioned the scientific community against abuse of the work in destructive endeavours. That the political leadership did not pay heed to his sane advice, is another story, but Prof. Einstein later devoted his energies in combating the raucous effort to develop ‘divine’ abilities by way of science. Even when the scientists started engaging themselves in the research for ‘God’ particle, they kept reminding themselves of the ethical rubicon they must never cross. A scientific inquiry into Nature’s secrets is perfectly fine, but any effort to outdo ‘God’ is something human civilisation must never get engaged in.

A lot of science fiction toys with the idea, however, and tries to create imaginary scenarios that cross the limits of human imagination in rather undesirable manner. Early authors like Aldus Huxley imagined similar situations of control and edit human gene. But all those ideas have got to be under strict moral norm whose limits should be treated as sacrosanct. Test-tube babies, cloning of animals, and other genetic experiments have often succeeded and been appreciated. Yet, a civilised human conduct does not pass any of those experiments beyond the norm of ethics circumscribed by ultimate and uncompromising respect for the Divine.

Very ancient Indian literature does describe some such successful experiments, but history does not record any replication of those, thanks to the great and sensible human tradition of respecting Nature and its normative ethics.

That was also the reason why Prof. Einstein drew the line never to be crossed. He talked about critical importance of religion in keeping a check on science: “Science without religion is lame, and religion without science is blind”. The world has never disagreed with Prof. Einstein, and has, in fact, thanked him for providing this sane word of caution. In the light of this thought-process to restrict a sense of recklessness of scientific work, we appreciate the action of the management of the Chinese hospital, and insist that no matter its prowess, science must be kept in limits of human sanity and dignity.

Overdose of science in modern times has already started threatening human sanity and dignity in the mad quest of something novel. But that temptation must be avoided and banished from human thought. Inquiry into secrets of Nature is welcome, but should not be allowed to foray into the domain of ethics. If this sense is not kept alive, the human race may find itself at the end of the leash of morality against which all scriptures have warned us. It is time, we heard that inner voice of restraint.