Bioethics Blogs

King for a Day? On What’s Wrong With Changing the World for the Better

Philosopher Russell Blackford argues that regulatory authorities should not allow “the tyranny of mere public opinion” to impede technological advances in genomics. I disagree strenuously. To explain why, let’s talk for a minute about … Mark Zuckerberg.

It was perhaps the last big Silicon Valley news story of 2015: Facebook’s CEO blew the headlines wide open when he and Dr. Priscilla Chan announced that they will dedicate 99% of their Facebook shares to their eponymous charitable LLC within their lifetimes. Widespread adulation was the order of the day.

You don’t have to be Gawker gadfly Sam Biddle to find some cause for concern, though. Two unelected, unaccountable magnates now wield a $45 billion policymaking LLC, unimpeded by the usual tax-law strictures for charitable organizations. They can and will remake swaths of the world as they see fit. What’s your recourse if you disagree with their definition of “better?” (Think you’ll never disagree? I’ve got some New Jersey charter schools to sell you.)

So, why rehearse the well-worn debate over philanthropy’s democratic legitimacy on a law and biosciences blog? Money isn’t the only way to change the world. Teams of scientists are closing in on the ability to alter the entire biosphere on the genomic level. With Blackford (and other august voices) calling on bioethics to “get out of the way” of advancing genetic technology, I want to discuss a reason to get in the way. It’s not so much about ethics (as we usually envision it) as about political philosophy. I’d exhort us to be quicker to ask: who died and made you king?

Playing God, or Playing King?

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.