[OUTLOOK]No price on the value of ethics

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[OUTLOOK]No price on the value of ethics

Recently, I met with an acquaintance who was recently appointed to a high-level government post. This acquaintance lamented how his district, which boasted a beautiful landscape, was being destroyed by haphazard development. He also criticized the officials in charge for neglecting their duties and said they should be prosecuted. I was happy to find that there was a government official who cared so much about the environment. Until now, we had set economic growth as our top priority in order to overcome poverty. Without taking time to think calmly about important ethical issues such as the choice between development and the conservation of the environment, we rushed on towards goals such as economic growth, export growth, and industrial development. Only now are we taking some time to turn our attention to the environment that has been damaged by such development-oriented policies. Some people regret that we did not pay more attention to conserving the environment, even if it would have slowed our economic growth a bit.
The Roh Moo-hyun administration’s legitimacy lies in the fact that it is trying to rectify errors of past administrations that ignored the demands of social justice and destroyed the environment in the name of economic growth and development. However, some of the policy decisions on life science that the Roh government has made recently cause worry that it is starting to act more like its predecessors. Right now, Korea is exalting over the fact that a Korean biologist succeeded in extracting stem cells from cloned human embryos for the first time in the world. However, we must be careful. Research on human embryo stem cells could provide great benefits to humankind in ways such as treatment for incurable diseases, but it could also bring dangers such as human cloning, mutant and chimera breeding and the commercialization of human life.
Moreover, the foreign media points to Korea as the country mostly likely to conduct human cloning first. This is because Korea has world-class cloning technology, a Confucianism-based background that stresses blood relations, government policies that actively encourage science, scientists with lack of respect for life and a law that allows human embryo cloning. That is why we must once again make the difficult choice between respect for life or economic development.
Will we put aside biological ethics for economic gains and conduct haphazard experiments in biological engineering and become the first people in the world to produce human clones? Or will we find our natural sense of ethics again and become a mature people who can accept economic losses for the sake of preserving the integrity of life?
The destruction of the environment caused by reckless development is irreversible. However, the reckless biological manipulation of human genes will bring even greater and irreversible destruction than that. Biological engineering could be the Babel Tower of the 21st century that could bring the destruction of humankind. We should seriously deliberate whether the government isn’t being too hasty in its rush to encourage the progress of bioengineering in the excitement over the achievements of a few life scientists.
The biggest temptation that Jesus faced was whether he would choose bread (economy) or the word (life). Jesus chose life over economy in this ultimate choice. “Man shall not live on bread alone but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” This lesson holds a great significance for us today.
Should we rush on with human cloning and make money when other countries are hesitating for ethical reasons? Or should we take more time to consider the issue for the sake of protecting the integrity of human life in the future even if that means we might see an economic loss? The eyes of the world and the judgment of history are on us. Which will we choose? Are we an “economic animal” that would attempt all means and measures to achieve our goal of reaching a $20,000 average income per capita? Or will we choose to become a truly advanced people with a sense of ethics?
Whichever we choose, we should not neglect our duty to our descendants by allowing haphazard bioengineering developments. We should not become a “scientifically advanced but ethically backward” country. Establishing ethics in science and technology, especially in the field of bioengineering, is the price we must pay to become a truly advanced country.

* The writer is a professor of theology at Kangnam University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Heup-young
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