Bioethics News

The noble lie

Hi there,

I just came across an opinion piece in New Scientist by one of its feature editors, Michael Le Page. It’s not the sort of opinion that surfaced in the media before Parliament passed the “three-parent baby” law earlier this month.

Mr Le Page says candidly that the law allows genetic engineering. “The decision to allow three-parent babies is right. But the fact is, opponents were also right to describe this as a step towards tinkering with the rest of our genome.”

He goes on to argue that most scientists concealed their true opinions on the matter out of “political expedience”. “I suspect many biologists harbour similar views, but not many say so openly. Instead, they back three-parent babies but say it isn’t really genetic engineering.”

I wonder if Mr Le Page understands the seriousness of the allegation he makes here. He is saying that the scientists involved in selling the idea of “three parent babies” lied to the public — even though this was clearly of the most ethically challenging bioethical issues ever debated in Parliament.

The last time I checked, lying was deeply immoral. Perhaps there are exceptions, though, if scientists need to lie to people who are troublesome and stupid. Then it’s probably OK.

The problem with lying, though, is that one quickly acquires the habit of deceit and manipulation. Then it becomes harder and harder to trust anything the liar says.

I do hope that Mr Le Page is wrong about this. What do you think? 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.