(Adelman and Zu 2016) and seems not only permissible but even compelling.
Gene drives would finally achieve what traditional vector control methods
have failed to accomplish.
Yet, many philosophers and biodiversity conservationists would question
the ethics of such a decision. For some, all species have a right to exist, or, at
the very least, we have no right to drive them to extinction. Of course, critics
within these disciplines would deny any such right exists. However, many
would still find a policy of enforced extinction troubling. The end of Ae.
aegypti may not spell the end of any of the diseases it spreads. Ae. albopictus
also is known to be a vector of dengue and chikungunya, although perhaps
not as efficient as Ae. aegypti; as noted earlier, it is also a likely vector of Zika.
Should we also drive Ae. albopictus to extinction? What if some other species
gets implicated as a vector? Must it follow the first two into oblivion? Where
do we draw a line? What about unintended ecological consequences? Gene
drives are supposed to be partly reversible, but reversion still leaves a species
with permanently altered genomes. Is that acceptable?
These are difficult questions and they need public discussion. Had sufficient
attention been paid to the recognized rapid spread of dengue, and the
possibility of using gene drives against Ae. aegypti broached in that context, a
public debate on the ethics of gene drives would have begun, and it is likely
that guidelines for practice would have been formulated. We seem to be years
away from that scenario. As with so many other aspects of the Zika crisis, we
are paying the price of neglect.
SAHOTRA SARKAR, professor in the departments of Integrative Biology and Philosophy at the University of
Texas, is a specialist in philosophy and history of science, conservation biology, and disease ecology. He is the author of
six books and more than 200 papers. He was educated at Columbia University and the University of Chicago, and taught
at McGill University before moving to the University of Texas. He was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin, the
Dibner Institute for the History of Science at MIT, and the Edelstein Centre for the Philosophy of Science at Jerusalem.
For so long, we’ve been sleeping ourselves
wrestling despair on small boats, not
meant to carry
so many, on foreign shores where I’m sure
we outnumbered the sand, the
the exhaustion of nations called to decide
if their stripes could shelter us,
if their stars could be our new night sky.
For so long, we’ve been living lives of
in the in-between, far from our un-homing.
The new war is with ourselves — with the
that drags us under waves because we
swim any longer, the un-hope that causes
us to drift
from our families, unbuoyed, no night
watch to find us.
For so long, we’ve prayed for four walls
for the moment we can release our breath,
for the letter saying, “Application
LINDSEY WEISHAR (University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign) is an MFA creative writing
student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
For some, all species have a right to exist, or,
at the very least, we have no right to drive
them to extinction.