chapter  7
BIOLOGY, ENGINEERING AND ETHICS
The issues
ByRaymond E. Spier
Pages 32

Living organisms have a special place in our picture of the world. While not constituting a major portion of the mass of the Earth (the biosphere weighs about 1/1010 of the Earth’s mass), life is certainly a rugged and determined survivor of some four billion years’ existence on this planet. Based on the chemistry of the nucleic acids, which make up our genes, all life forms engage in processes of growth and replication. Additional features such as perception, cognition and memory give some organisms the ability to contemplate themselves, to begin to appreciate their nature and to understand the processes that made them the way they are. Standing on this foundation, humans have recently learned that they can acquire the ability to change the nature and functioning of the life forms occupying planet Earth, including the humans themselves. The issue, which this presents, is to determine how we might make the best use of such understandings and abilities. This in turn requires that we have a sense of the direction in which we should progress: a view of what would be beneficial and some sort of human-wide consensus that this is indeed the way to go.