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The Many Faces of Technology

The State of the Union is the state of technology.

11:00 PM, Feb 2, 2006 • By ERIC COHEN
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Which brings us to the final problem of technology--the danger of seeking medical progress by immoral means. On this score, President Bush should be admired both for his forethought and his moral courage--calling for a ban on all human cloning, a ban on the creation of human embryos solely for research, a ban on fetal farming, a ban on the creation of man-animal hybrids, and a ban on the buying, selling, and patenting of human embryos. For the past four years, America has engaged in a great debate about the future of biotechnology, but so far Congress has done nothing. The most egregious types of experiments remain unregulated, unrestricted, and on the immediate horizon. By putting bioethics front and center--indeed, as the centerpiece of his "culture of life" agenda--President Bush sought to teach the nation a moral lesson: that progress should not come at any cost, and that good science needs to be morally good in order to be good for the country.

Of course, American strength depends on American optimism. We are a nation of inventors, believing that the imagined possibility will become real in only a matter of time. We are a nation of idealists, believing that good will triumph over evil, and that the oppressed of other nations deserve the same liberties as we do. And our idea of the free society is the progress-seeking society--the society of math and science education and nanotechnology and sufficient wealth for all families to live private lives of dignity. On all these fronts, President Bush should be applauded for his faith in progress. But the best part of his speech came when he invoked the virtue of the dead American soldier, dying (and killing) courageously for a cause--freedom--that is hardly assured. Virtue, not technology, is the real key to American victory and American greatness. And the problem of living virtuously in the high-tech age--as warriors against terror, as caregivers for the old, as inventors of new medicines--is the problem that looms largest in the days ahead.

Eric Cohen is editor of the New Atlantis and resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.