The “Abuse” of Technology
In Holy Sonnet X, poet John Donne wrote the immortal words, “Death be not proud…for…Thou art slave to Fate, chance, Kings, and desperate men” (Harvard Law Review, 1990, p. 1519). Such words are true especially today when some researchers, zealous in their efforts to the point of desperation, push the limits society imposes.
Although some may consider restraints to medical research abhorrent, especially when it involves genetic manipulation, others hold quite the opposite view. Many national groups attempt to separate law from morality, but this goal often proves elusive. When considering potential abuse of technology, the mere concept is filled with moral overtones. In a nation maintaining a separation of church and state, any attempt to legislate morality tends to face fierce opposition. Laws governing medical research, especially involving human genetics, fall into this category.
The reason this is important to our study of the criminal justice system is two-fold:
- Depending on the law, researchers may become criminals or those who oppose their research may become law-breakers in their opposition, and
- Some research which is conducted has a direct impact on the criminal justice system, via genetic/DNA testing for forensic and other purposes, or in any number of ways we can barely imagine until headlines are made.
Thus, students of the criminal justice system and criminology should pay close attention to advances in technology because ultimately, these will play role in how we do our jobs.
Two Perspectives on the Criminalization of Technology
In recent years, the United States’ Supreme Court has been called upon to settle a variety of cases involving genetics, especially when these involve the patenting of new technologies. In a case involving bacteria and seeds for producing foodstuffs, the
In one case involving bacteria and seeds for producing foodstuffs, the court noted that all aspects of nature that exist without human interference belong to “the storehouse of knowledge of all men” (Anderson III, 2008, p. 1204).
In the case of the doctor inventing a way to create a new organism via stem-cell research, the case becomes more difficult.
The only sure way to conclude such a position is to reason using two possible scenarios: Either humans were created or they evolved.
Through the use of these two possibilities, many questions related to technological advances may be sufficiently answered. In addition, potential victimization need not play a role in the reasoning process, for victimization ultimately becomes a morality issue. Last, if the research is determined not to be an abuse of technology, then the screening of the tech will be unnecessary. If it is deemed an abuse, screening is a must. So the issue becomes quasi-religious (Hefner, 2007).
To better illustrate this point, consider that just as a baseball bat can be abused and used to kill another human, so too can people abuse technology. The only issue bearing on the matter then is how to define “abuse.”
Defining “Abuse” when Considering Technology
Assume that humans were created. If this is the case, consider that all the holy writings from the Bible to the Koran to the Vishnu indicate that creation is complete. Therefore, there is “nothing new under the sun” (Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9) and the moralists in society can accept that there is nothing to fear from the researcher’s interventions in nature. According to the holy writings, the doctor is certain to fail in his attempt to create a new organism. Hence, he should be permitted to proceed, for he cannot abuse technology; he will be unable to create a new organism.
On the other side, let us assume that humans evolved. If this is the case, morality is nonexistent, for morality only exists within the realm of the deities. Without a deity to determine morality, none truly exists. Hence, there could be no abuse of technology for technology is what has permitted humans to advance as a species according to the evolutionary view. Ergo, the doctor should be permitted to proceed.
Thus, Logically Speaking, No One Need Fear Abuse of Technology
Because there are only two camps of thought, it is not difficult to take the position of either when debating advancement versus abuse of technology. Indeed, through the use of sound reasoning, one can conclude that regardless of the position, technology should be permitted to proceed provided it does not impede the rights of others. The ability to bring about change has been a foundation of our nation from the onset; this principle can more than adequately guide the nation into the future as technological advances continue to accelerate.
- Anderson III, J. P. (2008). Distinguishing Patentable Process Claims From Unpatentable Laws of Nature in the Medical Technology Field. Alabama Law Review, 59(4), 1203-1225.
- Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:9
- Hefner, P. (2007, March). Genetic Frontiers: Challenges for Humanity and our Religious Traditions. Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, 42(1), 183-191.
- Medical Technology and the Law. (1990, May). Harvard Law Review, 103(7), 1519-1676.