Altering Nature: Volume I: Concepts of ‘Nature’ and ‘The Natural’ in Biotechnology Debates (Philosophy and Medicine)

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B. Andrew Lustig, Baruch A. Brody, and Gerald P. McKenny Nearly every week the general public is treated to an announcement of another actual or potential “breakthrough” in biotechnology. Headlines trumpet advances in assisted reproduction, current or prospective experiments in cloning, and devel- ments in regenerative medicine, stem cell technologies, and tissue engineering. Scientific and popular accounts explore the perils and the possibilities of enhancing human capacities by computer-based, biomolecular, or mechanical means through advances in artificial intelligence, genetics, and nanotechnology. Reports abound concerning ever more sophisticated genetic techniques being introduced into ag- culture and animal husbandry, as well as efforts to enhance and protect biodiversity. Given the pace of such developments, many insightful commentators have proclaimed the 21st century as the “biotechnology century. ” Despite a significant literature on the morality of these particular advances in biotechnology, deeper ethical analysis has often been lacking. Our preliminary review of that literature suggested that current discussions of normative issues in biotechnology have suffered from two major deficiencies. First, the discussions have been too often piecemeal in character, limited to after-the-fact analyses of particular issues that provoked the debate, and unconnected to larger concepts and themes. Second, a crucial missing element of those discussions has been the failure to reflect explicitly on the diverse disciplinary conceptions of nature and the natural that shape moral judgments about the legitimacy of specific forms of research and their applications.

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The two volumes of Altering Nature consider the complex ways that concepts of 'nature' and 'the natural' are understood and the relevance of those understandings to discussions of biotechnology. Volume One, Concepts of 'Nature' and 'The Natural' in Biotechnology Debates, offers nuanced accounts of the ways that nature is invoked and interpreted, both descriptively and prescriptively, by different disciplines, including perspectives from spirituality and religion, philosophy, science and medicine, law and economics, and aesthetics. In the context of that broad discussion, Volume Two, Religion, Biotechnology, and Public Policy, reviews recent religious and ethical analyses of four specific areas of biotechnology: assisted reproduction, genetic therapy and enhancement, human-machine incorporation, and biodiversity. It identifies and explores the richer normative themes that inform particular debates and suggests ways that policy choices in biotechnology may be illuminated by devoting greater attention to religious perspectives.

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