Wednesday, July 13, 2016

On Bioengineering and Art

There should not be limits to human creativity; however, intentionally destructive behavior (harming autonomous beings) should be limited. This begs the question as to whether artistic expression via biological mediums is destructive. Further, if a behavior is destructive in the short term, should potential long-term benefits make it permissible? This is a question of ethics.

The following interview with professor of practical ethics at the University of Oxford, Julian Savulescu, discusses some of the ethical implications or genetic engineering:

Using the principle of utilitarianism, an ethical framework proposed by Jeremy Bentham, I argue that if the positive benefits of the short-term destructive behavior outweigh the negative affects, the short-term destructive behavior may still be ethical. To an extent, this is already an established standard in scientific research: animal tests for the sake of developing medical technologies for human use. I believe the same standard should be applied to artists using biological mediums.

As artwork is more abstract than scientific research, it may be harder to determine the potential long-term benefits of an artistic work. For instance, Eduardo Kac's GFP Bunny is not obviously useful in a scientific or medical context, but perhaps the social outcome of the creation of the bunny still satisfies the requisite net positive benefit. As stated by Kac himself, the GFP Bunny project was a complex social project motivated by nine social goals (Kac).
Source: Kac

Although estimating the net outcome of a particular task is necessarily difficult, I believe it is the best way to determine whether or not an action should be taken, or restricted. And once the standard has been set, I think it should be applied universally to scientists and artists alike.

For an alternative view on the ethics of bio-engineering, please view Paul Wolpe's talk:

Images & Videos

As a species, we have a moral obligation to enhance ourselves.” TED. TED, 19 Feb 2014. Web. 13 July 2016.

TED-Ed. “It's time to question bio-engineering - Paul Root Wolpe.” YouTube. YouTube, 15 Aug 2013. Web. 13 July 2016.

Sources & Links

TED. “Anthony Atala: Growing new organs.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Jan 2010. Web. 13 July 2016.

Kac, Eduardo. “GFP Bunny.”, n.d. Web. 13 July 2016.

TED. “Barry Schuler: An introduction to genomics.” YouTube. YouTube, 23 Jan 2009. Web. 13 July 2016.

Woollaston, Victoria. “Google says humans could live for 500 YEARS - and is investing in firms hoping to extend our lives five-fold.” DailyMail. DailyMail, 9 Mar 2015. Web. 13 July 2016.

Pena, Miguel. “Stem Cells: The Solution to Living Over 100 Years?” Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Dartmouth University, 29 Jan 2013. Web. 13 July 2016.

Craig Venter unveils 'synthetic life.'TED. TED, 21 May 2010. Web. 13 July 2016.

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