1. Find information on what the goo thing is all about. For example, from our sister Wiki - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_goo and at least two other sites, including reading The Gray Goo Problem from kurzweilai.net.
2. Now that you are informed about grey goo what should we do about the possible accidental release of self-replicating robots.
3. Yesterday we had the issue of cloning to discuss – how is Self-replication different from cloning? Or is it the same? Which is more of a threat to our little planet with only us twelve characters?
  1. Grey Goo is the end result of self-replication of robotics when all life forms are suffocated.
  2. All nano-factories should be sent to the planet ‘Peanut Butter’ where all their nanoparts will be stuck together.
  3. The main moral objection to attempts to originate a child by nuclear cell somatic transfer (SCNT) concern possible harm. Although some critics worry about vague harms such as possible harms to society or to the institution of the family, the main worry concerns harm to the resulting child.
This harm is of two possible kinds: physical, as a birth defect or as a latent genetic dysfunction, or psychological. Psychological harm is often claimed to be caused by erroneous parental expectations. In particular, there is a widespread belief that any child originated by SCNT would be harmed by unrealistic expectations created by his parents in comparing his future to the life of his genetic ancestor. Call this the argument from parental expectations; this is the subject of this piece.
One version of this argument claims that what is wrong about SCNT origination is that it is wrong for a parent "to want a copy of himself." Call this the wrongness of self-replication objection. This popular objection is vulnerable on two points. First, the objection is not about SCNT but about having the wrong motives for creating children. The implied bad motives are those of vanity or narcissism. Some people may claim that it is wrong to have such motives in creating any child, not just for creating a child by SCNT. In any case, the criticism is not unique to SCNT.
Perhaps those who make this kind of objection think that the only kind of child who would be created would be from the genome of one of the parents. But if this were the real problem, then the objector should have no problem if the parent chose the genome of someone else, say a favored uncle or a brilliant aunt. Of course, the worry rarely goes away if this alternative is suggested, allowing us to infer that the real objection here has to do with the novelty of SCNT or something else.
The second problem with the objection concerning self-replication is that it is based on a falsehood. It may be helpful at this point to explain two key terms. The genome of an individual is the complete set of his genes. How a genome is expressed in a particular individual is his phenotype, the result of the interaction of the genome with the environment. A phenotype is the resulting, entire physical, biochemical and physiological makeup of the individual. Exposing the same genome to different environments creates different phenotypes, e.g., where one fetus receives inadequate nutrition during gestation and another superior nutrition.
The idea that the phenotype of a girl originated by SCNT would copy the phenotype of her genetic ancestor is false, and false in a myriad of ways. Even in the most extreme example, we know that so-called identical twins have tiny differences in their genomes - caused partly, probably, by how much of the X chromosome is inactivated in fetal development, a random process in each twin. Such differences, writ large twenty years later, may account for why even conjoined twins, such as the famous Eng and Chang, may have opposed personalities, to the extent of one being alcoholic and the other a teetotaler.
We also know that the gestational mother of a SCNT-originated fetus will contribute a small number of genes to the resulting child, meaning that the final genome of the resulting child will differ slightly from that of the genetic ancestor. Even at its most basic level, the SCNT child’s genome will never be an exact copy of her ancestor’s.
Beyond the genome, the new child will have a different environment from her ancestor in not just the obvious ways of place and years of upbringing, specific parents, schools, and friends, but in less obvious ways of what the gestational mother does or does not drink, does or does not take as folic-acid and vitamin B supplements, and how much she talks to the newborn during the first two years of her life (resulting, some think, in how many neural pathways for language are formed). So the SCNT child would be neither a genetic nor a phenotypic copy of the genetic ancestor.
Nevertheless, some people who want to originate a SCNT child this way will believe they will get a copy of themselves. This raises a new, but much more general question, "How important should such false beliefs be in making public policy about bioethics?"
This question arose in the 1980s when many people had false beliefs about HIV-infection. Some believed that HIV-infected children could infect healthy children at school; some orderlies and hospital aides left food outside the rooms of patients with AIDS, fearing infection if they entered; other fears concerned contamination from public restrooms, mosquitoes, communion cups, and coins.
Looking back, it was a mistake and wrong to base public policy on such false beliefs. When it was, it made irrational fears seem legitimate. The best way to deal with falsehoods is to act as if they are false, while simultaneously educating people about the truth.
Similarly, and with false expectations about SCNT children, prospective parents would need to be educated about what to realistically expect. In this regard, there will be an important role for counselors in clinics specializing in this kind of assisted reproduction.
Compare such counselors to genetic counselors, who often see clients at risk for a dominant, autosomal genetic disease — such as Huntington’s — clients who have a roughly 50-50 chance of having the gene. When such clients come to be tested, their real motive is often to discover that they do not have the gene. Yet the motive of such clients must, unfortunately, be disappointed in approximately half the cases.
An important job of the genetic counselor is thus to make such at-risk clients understand and feel what they will experience with an unexpected result. When such counseling succeeds, people no longer have a false belief and many don’t get tested. Such successful counseling explains a recent report in the news expressing surprise that more Americans with such diseases haven’t been tested. But that is no surprise, given the lack of treatment for many genetic diseases and possible discrimination by American insurance companies.
One important fact is that SCNT-origination cannot be done outside clinics for assisted reproduction. There is a bottleneck and a social check in this particular kind of human reproduction that is not possible for most human sexual reproduction. Thus there is an opportunity to mandate counseling and to make sure that most parents do not have false beliefs about prospective SCNT children. Therefore, because it is generally a bad idea to make public policy based on falsehoods, and because there is a practical way to correct false expectations of prospective parents, this objection to SCNT origination is not a good one.
The objection about the wrongness of self-replication has so far been countered by saying that expectations about self-replication are generally false. But let us now consider a form of this objection that purports to be based not on false expectations but on true ones.
Some people at this point will object, "Yes, it is true that the child would not be an exact genetic copy, and yes, the expression as an adult would vary a lot, but still, there will be a lot of similarity between the genetic ancestor and the child. And to that extent, the parental expectations will be based on truth. But it would be wrong to create a child this way because, to the extent that the child is similar to one who has lived before, the parent will have expectations about him that could become true."
This objection against SCNT-origination can be called the argument for an open future. Because someone with this genome has lived before, and because this child was created in part (or even mainly) because of the characteristics of this particular genome, the future of the first SCNT-originated child is claimed to be closed in a way not true for every other human child who has ever been born.
This objection can be met in a variety of ways. First, a general comment needs to be made about the general picture of child-creation that this objection assumes, which is ultimately Kantian in its assumption that a child should be valued in itself, not as a means to the satisfaction of someone else’s desires. As such, a child should be wanted in itself, not for the particular characteristics it might have. What is wrong about SCNT is that every child should have a completely open, completely indeterminate future, shaped not at all by his parent’s expectations.
In reply, it can be argued that this sets up a false ideal of not only why people have children but also of how they ought to have them. This passive ideal may stem from first earlier times in history when people had no control over traits of children, and second, from a very recent trend to put children almost on an altar to which the lives of parents are often sacrificed by a myriad of developmental activities such as computer camps, special schools, and participation in sports.
Important as these points are, what I want to focus on now concerns what exactly is considered to be objectionable now about parental expectations about SCNT. Now we can assume that parents have been counseled and that, based on primate studies of SCNT, they have good evidence that a child with 99% of the genome of Woody Allen or Elle MacPherson will be more likely than normal to be intelligent or beautiful. Suppose also that intelligence and beauty is, respectively, what is valued.
One thing that might be considered objectionable is to give parents any choice at all about such characteristics. Many people seem to have such beliefs. The objection here is of two kinds: that such choice is intrinsically wrong or that such choice is indirectly wrong because it will create undesirable consequences.
People who believe that choosing characteristics is intrinsically wrong often believe that it is up to God, nature, or evolution to determine who is born and with what characteristics, and that it is wrong for humans to make such choices.
People who make this objection often get confused at this point between objecting that: (1) human society should not make choices about which human characteristics are desirable and try to bring about babies with such characteristics, and (2) particular parents should not make choices about which human characteristics are desirable and try to bring about babies with such characteristics. The first objection is associated with eugenics and dictatorial states taking away reproductive choice from couples; the second objection opposes expansion of current reproductive choice for couples. Fears and concerns about the first are not arguments for curtailing choice in the latter, but the opposite; a strong and regularly-exercised right to reproduce as one chooses is a good check on reproductive coercion.
Most people don’t really believe that (2) choosing characteristics in future people is wrong. People send their children to one school rather than another based on such beliefs. Prospective parents use genetic tests to determine if embryos and fetuses have severe genetic disease and abort those testing positive. Mothers avoid cigarettes and alcohol during pregnancy to protect their fetuses from similar affects.
To argue that such choices are wrong ultimately is to accept reproductive fatalism. Such a fatalism must also apply to who gets pregnant, and it is not surprising that those who oppose genetic choice usually oppose abortion and contraception. The Vatican at least is consistent.
In the Vatican’s consistency, there is an insight. On its view, humans should view everything that happens as God’s will and attempt to change nothing. Each pregnancy is as it should be, and God has a sufficient reason for it. To oppose His will is sinful pride.
Once we let people choose to take contraception and to abort because they don’t want to be pregnant, it is hard to justify not letting them abort because a fetus has a genetic disease, because it will be deaf, or because it will be very short. Once we allow for abortion to avoid extremely short stature or deafness, it is hard not to allow medical treatments at birth designed to overcome deafness, such as dosages of human growth hormone, or to overcome extreme shortness, such as cochlear implants. Implicit in these decisions is the judgment that being short and deaf is undesirable, being tall and able to hear is good. Once those judgments are made, and it becomes possible to choose children who are able to hear better or be taller, it becomes difficult to say why it is wrong to allow parents to make these kinds of choices. (Indeed, once this is granted and once it becomes possible to do so so, it becomes difficult to say why parents should not be able to permanently modify their germ cells to create taller or non-deaf children, but that is another topic.)
Here it will be objected that some parents will put too much weight on one characteristic, such as intelligence or the current ideal of female beauty, and then be very disappointed when the child does not measure up. We can put this point in a more general way: to emphasize a connection between the value of the child to the parents and the particular characteristics the child may have — characteristics which are uncontrollable, unpredictable, and morally arbitrary — is to harm any child who lacks the desired characteristics or who does not possess them to the degree desired by the parents.
If a parent has such an obsession about one characteristic, and believes that a SCNT-originated child will certainly have such a characteristic, then what we have here is a variation on the first objection, because it is very likely false that the child will have a particular characteristic to the degree of the famous ancestor. Moreover, it will often be a particular combination of traits that is desirable, such as physique or skill in solving mathematical puzzles, and such a combination will very likely be the result of the child’ s environment and education.
A different variation here concerns parents who focus on looks in originating a SCNT-originated child. In the famous Baby M case of commercial surrogacy in the United States, the Sterns chose the surrogate mother, Mary Beth Whitehead, only because she had a physique that looked like Mrs. Stern. In this, we all know now, they were very ill-informed, for they disregarded the importance of personality, intelligence, and perhaps, mental illness, in making their selection. Similarly, couples seeking embryos or eggs for implantation in older infertile women in American often choose mainly on the basis of the looks of the genetic ancestors. That, of course, is a simple-minded way to choose.
The real truth of modern genetics is that everything is complex. There may be no simple genetic test for breast cancer, because there may be hundreds of variations, such that to tell a woman she has no genetic risk, one must test for each and every variation. In the context of cloning, the author of the scientific section of the NBAC ‘s Cloning Human Beings summarized:
Indeed, the great lesson of modern molecular genetics is the profound complexity of both gene-gene interactions and gene-environment interactions in the determination of whether a specific trait or characteristic is expressed. . . . recent scientific findings have revealed that a "one-gene-one-disease" approach is far too simplistic. Even in the relatively small list of genes currently associated with a specific disease, knowing the complete DNA sequence of the gene does not allow a scientist to predict if a given person will get the disease.1
And if a disease can’t be predicted, how much more difficult will it be to predict traits such as wit or dexterity? Many qualities of the phenotype will be multi-factorial at the genomic level and multi-factorial at the level of gene-environment interaction, such that how any quality gets created in a phenotype will be difficult to predict. Originating children by cloning will not deprive them of an open future nearly as much as people think.
But learning this will be a matter of education and experience. People will need counseling. Personally, I have great faith in prospective parents and what they are capable of learning. The learning curve here will be short: a few well-publicized cases of silly parental expectations will teach thousands, if not millions, about the basic lessons of Genetics 101.
To conclude, to the extent that the argument from parental expectations is based on false beliefs, it can be countered first by saying that we should not make public policy on false beliefs, and second, that social mechanisms are available to counter the damage of these false beliefs of parents to SCNT-created children. Even then, some small damage from expectations may occur, but if so, it is likely to be no greater than any other failed kind of expectation of parents about sexually-created children.
On the other hand, even if SCNT-created children correctly fulfill parental expectations, e.g., the SCNT-originated child from Woody Allen’s genome really is witty, this does not negate the free will of such children to lead other kinds of lives.
In such matters, it is best not to be a priori, as so many were in the past in condemning many forms of assisted reproduction that later proved benign. Past critics claimed that amniocentesis would allow parents to choose only perfect children, aborting any child who was not. What critics then missed is that parents want a fetus that has been gestated for six months, and only choose to abort by choosing against a terrible genetic disease, not against having a child. Similarly, past critics claimed that in vitro fertilization would be abused, in combination with embryo transfer, and would allow parents to create only perfect babies. Again, such critics underestimated how much such procedures cost and how most infertile couples are content to get any baby at all in a process where only 14% of such couples actually take home a baby.
If twenty years of experience with such new forms of assisted reproduction have taught us anything, it is that we should be open-minded about new techniques of human reproduction, skeptical about claims of monstrous babies and about great harm to society, and think better of most parents than to caricature them as selfish.
1. "The Science and Application of Cloning," National Bioethics Advisory Commission, Cloning Human Beings, 32-33.
Gregory Pence is a lecturer on philosophy and medical ethics at the University of Alabama. The author can be contacted by email (pence@uab.edu). See also: http://www.uab.edu/philosophy/faculty/pence/


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