January 20, 2022

“To boldly go where no man has gone before!” – forging space bioethics

Feminism offers the best framework for shaping a new approach

Space colonisation is no longer just a dream of science fiction novelists. It is seriously being considered by governments and corporations. Space entrepreneur Elon Musk apparently believes that there will be a million people on Mars by the year 2050.

With all that activity the colonists will almost certainly be in need of a bioethicist. Polish philosopher Konrad Szocik is one candidate. In an article in the journal Bioethics, he outlines some of the issues that people will face in space. He says that “the new space bioethics should be a feminist new bioethics that is free from many of the historical biases associated with a male-centred perspective in philosophy and bioethics.”

What are some of the issues that space colonists will have to deal with?

The first thing to be noted is that “we should be open and ready for all kinds of ethical rules in a space colony—including those that go against our current moral intuitions.” It may be that space will be a new frontier ethically as well as technologically, giving the Star Trek motto, “To boldly go where no man has gone before!”, a new twist.

Human reproduction. On earth, the right to reproduce is fundamental. But in space, children might be genetically impaired or might strain the slender resources of a colony.

Sterilisation. This might have to be mandatory in space to prevent births.

Human enhancement. Assuming that it is possible, earth-bound scruples might have to be discarded if the survival of the human species were at risk.

Pre-birth screening. Should space settlers have the right to select embryos for intelligence or capacity to survive?

Szocik believes that feminist bioethics offers the best framework for space bioethics because it is more attentive to reproductive and environmental issues.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge

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