Liberalism and Biomedical Progress: a positive view
Since the very origin of this learned Society, it has appeared clear that there were two issues which were never going to be resolved by any rational and friendly discussion: God and gold. As a matter of fact, there were religious as well as atheistic or agnostic members – the former considering liberalism as fundamentally linked to religion (especially Christianity), and the latter as purely secular; and there were members that considered the gold standard as the indispensable foundation of any sound market economy, while others considered it a relic of past ages. While the issue of the gold standard faded away quite quickly, the issue of God – or, more exactly, of religion and liberalism – was doomed to stay well alive in our Society.
I believe that there are good reasons for assuming that bioethical and biotechnological issues will increasingly play a similar role amongst our members and, more generally, amongst liberal intellectuals. As a matter of fact, bioethical and biotechnological issues seem to call for a deep re-consideration of some of the basic moral, political, and even economic concepts that are traditionally associated with the liberal view of man and society.
This should come as no surprise. Indeed, it could be seen as just one case in a more general process: namely, that the consequences of science and technology – be they actual or prospective – are so new and so pervasive for present and future generations as to call for a deep rethinking of the classical political categories. There is probably an element of exaggeration in the thesis that the choice between favoring and opposing an (almost) unlimited application of the new biomedical technologies – especially genetic and reproductive – will soon come to represent the fundamental political cleavage of our societies, overshadowing the classical left/right or progressive/conservative divide. However, the simple fact that biomedical issues have rapidly come to play an important role in any political program or agenda in democratic countries cannot be denied; nor can it be denied that they are crossing the traditional ideological spectrum.