Last month, the scientists who run the Doomsday Clock moved its arms terrifyingly close to its end – set it two minutes to midnight. The move came in response to President Donald Trump’s repeated threats of nuclear war against North Korea, and the government’s commitment under the Trump administration to developing even more of those weapons with seemingly no regard for their potential to destroy humanity.
The administration’s latest move in the direction of destruction is unsurprising but just as unsettling: the federal ban on making deadly viruses will be lifted in the name of “research.”
Here’s the question: do the benefits justify the risks? The controversial decision has long been up for debate, and as The New York Times reports, that debate exists for a good reason. The moratorium that was imposed three years ago on funding research to alter germs to make them more lethal was allowed to proceed on Tuesday.
Ebola Transmissible Through The Air…..???
Some of the efforts that were halted included attempts to make the flu virus, those causing Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), more dangerous. The latest green light could apply to projects like an attempt to create an Ebola virus transmissible through the air.
Critics of the decision warn that such research could lead to lethal germs escaping labs and creating pandemics. And these things do happen. Human beings make mistakes. Are we really willing to risk the health and safety of the world in an attempt to manipulate nature?
And let’s be clear – mistakes have already happened, which is why we imposed the moratorium in the first place. Per the new rules, a government-appointed panel will evaluate requests for funding based on risk vs. benefit.
Richard H. Ebright, a molecular biologist and bioweapons expert at Rutgers University criticized the repeal, saying he would prefer the panel be independent rather than government appointed. He also suggested a higher minimum risk threshold than the one that is currently employed.
In 2011, laboratories in Wisconsin and the Netherlands revealed that they were trying to mutate the H5N1 bird flu in ways that would let it easily jump between ferrets. Ferrets are used to model human flu susceptibility. That sounds safe, right?
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accidentally exposed lab workers to anthrax and also shipped a deadly flu virus to a laboratory that had asked for a benign strain.
That same year, the N.I.H. also found a supply of smallpox sitting in a freezer that had been forgotten for 50 years.
How about we accept our humanity and leave it all alone?
But remember: regulation is evil. Trump and his colleagues are so convinced of this fact that they’re willing to put millions of lives at risk.
Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons