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Speech: How brave a new world?

September 18, 2007

From a commencement speech made by Dr Leon Kass at St John’s College, in Annapolis, Maryland. Full speech at MercatorNet.com.

The greatest moral challenges headed our way do not in fact come from hate-filled fanatics threatening death and destruction. They come rather from well meaning scientists and technologists offering life, pleasure, and enhancement. They are the by-products of modernity’s noble and humanitarian quest to conquer nature for the relief of man’s estate. They are, in a word, the challenges of bioethics, challenges to our humanity arising from burgeoning new technological powers to intervene in the bodies and minds of human beings.

These powers are justly celebrated for their contributions to human welfare. We are deeply grateful to modern medicine for its many successes in the battle against disease, decay, and premature death. We look forward hopefully to cures for the devastations of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and depression, cancer and AIDS. No friend of humanity today can be the enemy of science and medicine.

Yet contemplating present and projected advances in genetic and reproductive technologies, in neuroscience and psychopharmacology, and in the development of artificial organs and computer-chip implants for human brains, we now clearly recognise new uses for biotechnical power that soar beyond the traditional medical goals of healing disease and relieving suffering.

Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and psychic “enhancement,” for wholesale redesign. In leading laboratories new creators are confidently amassing their powers and quietly honing their skills, while on the street their evangelists are zealously prophesying a post-human future. For anyone who cares about preserving our humanity, the time has come to pay attention….

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