Wednesday, May 22, 2002

No Need to Fear Designer Clones
Despite Fukuyama's fears, technology to clone designer babies is far off

Libertarians have been having a field day attacking Francis Fukuyama's arguments that cloning should be restricted. (Mr. Fukuyama first brought up this argument in the Wall Street Journal, but I think his later arguments are clearer.) I agree that cloning should not be restricted. However, my reasoning differs from the libertarians'; I believe that the Fukuyama fears are not technically feasible.

What worries Mr. Fukuyama is the prospect of parents custom selecting traits to make designer babies. Suppose, for example, someone creates a "medical procedure that would guarantee that your child didn't have a biological propensity to be gay ....through the result of millions of parents making this kind of decision, you [have] basically eliminated gays from the population." Similarly, "what if you decide you don't like aggressive children .... Then you no longer have either innovation or people just standing up for principle, because it turns out that in the human psyche it all comes from the same source."

Fortunately for Mr. Fukuyama, we are nowhere near creating even one "designer baby" through cloning, let alone having all babies be custom-designed clones. Even if someone succeeds in cloning a human soon, cloning will still be immensely difficult and expensive, since it requires IVF (in-vitro fertilization) as well as a whole host of even higher-tech treatments. For the foreseeable future, and perhaps forever, having a child the old-fashioned way will be immensely easier, cheaper, and more fun.

Secondly, even if cloning itself were easy, that still leaves the problem of specifying particular traits. We have no idea what genes might code for homosexuality and aggression, or even if there are genes that code for these things. (Well, I suppose some people might consider the Y chromosome as the aggression chromosome, given men's tendency to be more aggressive than women. But, techniques for sex selection already exist, that are far easier than cloning.) As someone who studies human social interaction, I can assure you that progress in this area is agonizingly slow. By the time we have the technology to engineer specific behaviors into cloned babies, our local government may well be the United Federation of Planets, and any laws passed today will be moot. We don't need to give designer clones a high priority in the good ol' U.S. of A.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

EU Countries Agree to Take 13 Palestinian Militants
Why isn't France taking any?

CNN.com reports that "The European Union has agreed how to distribute 13 Palestinian militants exiled to Europe.... The men, who were holed up in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem during Israel's military offensive, are currently in Cyprus, where they are awaiting relocation to the European Union." According to the report, Spain, Italy, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Belgium will each take one or more, with one of the Palestinians remaining in Cyprus.

Conspicuously absent from this list of countries is France. This is surprising because France, of all the European countries, has been the most adamant that the Palestinians are not to blame for the violence in the Mideast. It was, after all, one of France's ambassadors who said the problems were all the fault of that "shitty little country," Israel.

So, if the Palestinians are blameless in the Mideast violence, then these 13 alleged militants must in actuality be nice, peaceful guys, right? In that case, why isn't France eager to invite all of these upstanding individuals into their country?
LA Ponders Charging Cardinal Mahoney
Cardinal Mahony knew priest was a child molester but refused to inform the police; he then gave priest continued access to children on the grounds that the priest had not been convicted of molestation

According to cnn.com, "City officials Friday asked the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate whether Cardinal Roger Mahony and others within the archdiocese may have violated criminal laws by failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse."

The most damaging allegations against Cardinal Mahony concern the case of Rev. Michael Stephen Baker, accused of molesting boys as young as 5 years old. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Baker described going to the offices of the archdiocese in 1986 and telling Mahony of his problem with sexual abuse. He said that in one meeting, an archdiocese lawyer suggested calling the police but that Mahony said no….. Baker continued to have frequent access to children over the next 14 years while he was assigned to nine different parishes. Six of the churches where Baker worked had elementary schools adjacent to the rectory… In an interview last month, the cardinal said the archdiocese had few options in dealing with Baker because the allegations against him were unproven. ‘Our biggest problem was that ... he wasn't found guilty of a criminal act,’ Mahony said. ‘That's a big problem.’”

So, just in case you missed it, Cardinal Mahony knew that Baker was a child molester and refused to inform the police, and then gave Baker continued access to children on the grounds that Baker had not been convicted of molestation. Hard to believe, isn’t it? But wait, there’s more. Not only weren’t the police informed, but the victims’ parents, and even the other parish priests, were not informed that Baker posed a danger.

Some additional details, courtesy of the LA Times: Two years ago, Cardinal Mahony authorized a secret 1.3 million dollar settlement with two brothers who complained that Baker had molested them for years. However, Mahony was still trying to keep the case from the police: “But leaked e-mail correspondence between top archdiocese officials reveals that Mahony was reluctant to turn over Baker's name to police as recently as late March.”

By the way, the idea that Cardinal Mahony’s hands were tied due to lack of a criminal conviction is ludicrous. There is absolutely no requirement that the Church wait for a criminal conviction before removing a priest from his post or defrocking him. In fact, clergy who challenge Church authority are routinely sent to posts in isolated places or defrocked, even though they have done nothing worse than exercise their freedom of speech.

Unfortunately, the Church has done a poor job of policying itself. Involving the civil authorities may be the only way to protect children in the future.