PLAYING GOD: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life by June Goodfield
Kirkus Star

PLAYING GOD: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life

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It was a microbiologist at the Asilomar conference on recombinant DNA who remarked, ""Nature does not need to be legislated. But playing God does."" Goodfield would agree, or at least proposes that the time has come for hammering out a new social contract between science and society. A skillful expositor, she describes the step-by-step procedure that Peter Carlson of Michigan State University introduced her to in an actual recombinant DNA experiment. The big question was would the bit of human DNA they had stuck on to some plasmid DNA and then introduced into the well-known gut bacteria E. Colt actually function. That is one question among others fraught with hope (to make insulin, to cure genetic disease) or hazard (make new lethal viruses, cancer viruses) that center on recombinant research. Goodfield reviews the present climate of suspicion, hysteria, paranoia, and sheer exhaustion of the pro- and anti-forces with considerable compassion. She does not argue that the experiments be discontinued and makes a point of distinguishing between arguments about safety and arguments about purpose. She would rather introduce questions of morality and ethics, aesthetics, feelings, and social priorities into the discussion. The legal, social, scientific, and moral questions she raises are critical ones with no easy answers. The very airing of them, however, can be a force for enlightenment and cooperative exchange. In contrast to Michael Rogers' more sharply focused pro-scientific treatment (below), Goodfield's approach tends to be philosophical and historical, turning on questions of what is good in the long run for humankind. Both books do a good job of explaining the basic science and presenting the issues. Both make dear that the general reader would be well to be informed on the issues because they will deeply affect our lives.

Pub Date: Sept. 6th, 1977
Publisher: Random House