Well, here’s something to take our minds off the fruit bats. Craig Venter, the scientist and entrepreneur who was one of those who developed the human genome project a few years ago, has according to news reports managed to create a living cell through an artificial process. It is being described in the media and elsewhere as ‘synthetic life’ though if I understand correctly the process that he has used, it may not be an entirely accurate description, in that he used an existing cell that he then programmed with new genetic information. Or something like that.
And as you might imagine, a group of bishops were off and running the moment the starter’s pistol fired. An Italian bishop offered the following comment this morning:
‘In the wrong hands, today’s novelty could lead to a devastating step into the unknown tomorrow. Man comes to God, but he is not God: he remains human and he has the possibility to give life through procreation, not through constructing it artificially.’
Right now the scientists are not talking about ‘creating’ living creatures, but rather the potential of using this developing technique to treat or cure diseases. But it is clear that the longer term potential of such discoveries should prompt an in-depth ethical debate – which, however, might have to include the question why ‘procreated’ life is ethically more sound than ‘created’ life. But equally we need to ask how far we would go to develop life forms and for what purposes we would ‘use’ them.
There are interesting times ahead.