March 10, 2004

VIRGINIA POSTREL NOTES more problems with the Kass council (“Get ready to hear about how authentic human beings don’t take Prozac”) and James Hughes writes that George W. Bush is being brain-jacked.

Meanwhile Ron Bailey notes that public attitudes have shifted in favor of new reproductive and life-extending technologies over time, as people come to understand them better:

After all, in 1969, a Harris poll found that a majority of Americans believed that producing test-tube babies was “against God’s will.” Christiaan Barnard was condemned by many as a “butcher” when he transplanted the first heart into the chest of 55-year-old Louis Washkansky on December 3, 1967. The contraceptive pill introduced in 1960 was outlawed by many states until near the end of that decade. And much further back, Edward Jenner’s 1796 discovery that inoculation with cowpox scabs would prevent people from getting smallpox was mocked by newspaper editorials and cartoons depicting men with cow’s heads.

As history amply demonstrates, the public’s immediate “yuck” reaction to new technologies is a very fallible and highly changeable guide to moral choices or biomedical policy. For example, by 1978, more than half of Americans said that they would use in vitro fertilization (IVF) if they were married and couldn’t have babies any other way. More than 200,000 test-tube babies later, the majority of Americans now heartily approve of IVF. Globally nearly 50,000 heart transplants have been performed, and 83 percent of Americans favor organ donation. The contraceptive pill is legal in all states and millions of American families have used them to control their reproductive lives. And smallpox is the first human disease ever eradicated.

What the polling data and history clearly show is that as people’s understanding of new technologies increases, most of them overcome their initial fears and end up welcoming new technological advances rather than rejecting them.

Yes. Which is why opponents are so anxious to stop research early.

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