The future isn’t near — it’s here.

I wrote this article in 2015 for a magazine that ended up spiking it.

With all the recent work on Transhumanism coming out this month, I think it’s time these words saw the light of day.

At a Harvard medical school lab in Longwood, a visiting scientist from China clad in the traditional white lab coat, is cleaning her tools and equipment before getting down to work on cloned pig cells behind a closed glass security door. As she leans over petri dishes, her colleagues come and go around an industrial freezer of liquid nitrogen that holds pristine DNA of humans, ready for experimentation.

In Worcester, a stem cell bank for pets is getting ready to get into the cloning business, too. Dearly departed cats and dogs can now come back from the dead for the low, low price of $75,000. The procedure has only been available in South Korea until now, but it will be accessible locally within the year.

Down the street from MIT’s main campus, a team at the Brigham & Women’s KarpLab heat up a honey-like, light-activated glue that will soon be used to plug holes in the ventricles of children suffering from congenital defects. The group of students and post-doctoral fellows stand in the shared space alongside human stem cell cultures. They create life-saving medical devices based on the movements of worms and spiders

Sounds nuts? You haven’t heard the half of it.

The Boston area is ground zero for a recent explosion of innovation, experimentation and sometimes shocking developments in science and technology, and it doesn’t look like it’ll abate any time soon. In fact, it’s only getting weirder.

You can’t throw a rock around Kendall Square without hitting a building where people are sitting on panels asking these questions, or are already knee-deep in experimentation that will perfect immunotherapy, edit the human genome, research microbiome or use nano-sized strands of DNA engineered to mimic jellyfish to catch metastatic cancer cells.

“In Boston, you have the stars in every field, the greatest tools and technologies that exist on the planet, the greatest core facilities, the most advanced technologies are being invented here and being set up as resources for others to use,” says Dr. Jeff Karp, the 39-year-old eponymous leader of the lab in Kendall Square. “Boston is like the academic Hollywood.”

But while our local rockstar scientists continue the work Karp has classified as a “biotech revolution,” it’s up to the rest of Americans to decide just how far down the rabbit hole we want to go, in a myriad of various silos of technology that will soon be available to the mass market: genetically edited IVF embryos, nanomedicine, artificially intelligent toys, cars and appliances, smart drugs, implanted electronics, cloned pets, and regenerative therapies — among many other branches of emerging science.

In the future, the questions we ask ourselves won’t be as benign as whether to let teenagers have smart phones, and they won’t fall along the lines of whether our lives were better than the ones our parents lived. We will have to decide, for example, if it is ethical to fundamentally change the DNA of our unborn children in order to give them things nature couldn’t.

All of this science is being studied in the labs of Boston now, and advances to every imaginable piece of the human body might soon be available at every Walmart pharmacy in America.

In science, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

But do we want it? Should we have it? Do we have a choice, or have we already passed the point of no return? How is too far?

The question we must now ask ourselves is, where do we draw the line?

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TRANSHUMANISM

Wander around Kendall Square and you won’t be able to take three steps without stumbling over some 19-year-old biohacker who’s about to change the universe. But he’s not alone, and the idea of permanently blurring the line between technology and humanity is happening so rapidly that it needs its own political and philosophical movement. That inevitable movement has arrived. It’s called Transhumanism.

Broadly, transhumanism centers on the idea that humans should harness technology and use it to our full evolutionary advantage to augment our bodies, our minds, and our lives, ultimately unshackling us from the limitations that exist by being merely human.

It is also an umbrella term for nearly every kind of futurist subculture. Whether it’s the armchair devotees of the Singularity philosophy, or the mad scientists engaged in using human stem cells to 3D print new organs in Cambridge, transhumanism also encompasses advocates of artificial intelligence, cryogenics, space exploration, and the ultimate quest for immortality.

The word “transhuman,” isn’t a new one: It originally emerged in the 1920s in books by noted British eugenicist Julian Huxley. In the 1980s and 1990s, self-identifying transhumanists began to organize into Algonquin-esque groups that discussed the physical parameters of what a posthuman existence could be, but also the ethical implications of applying technology to society, and the fundamental ways in which it would change us. Time magazine called it “an intellectual movement” that shaped “avant garde ideas in Silicon Valley.”

Now, the science is catching up with science fiction, and it’s happening here.

The US government is already engaged in funding for atom-sized nanotechnology research for labs at the Brigham, MIT and Harvard, while multiple local research facilities, such as the Broad and Wyss Institutes, are using cutting-edge gene editing techniques and cloning.

Newton native and renowned inventor Ray Kurzweil is considered a godfather of transhumanism and brought the idea into the mainstream present with his groundbreaking 2005 tome, “The Singularity is Near.” The book describes that looming moment when humans and machines will finally merge and “ human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Kurzweil now works as an engineer for Google, focusing on life extension.

Another famous New England transhumanist trailblazer, Vermont-based Martine Rothblatt (born Martin), CEO of United Therapeutics and founder of Sirius XM, unveiled the world’s first thinking, emoting robot “mindclone” of her partner, Bina, at SXSW this year. The robot, known as Bina48, even tweets at her own handle.

The Rothblatts’ 32-year-old son could be the first second-generation transhumanist. Gabriel Rothblatt ran for Congress in Florida’s 8th district last year as an open Transhumanist (and a Democrat) and tells people, “I’m half-Black, half-Jewish, my father’s a woman and my mother’s a robot.”

This is all to say that the singularity isn’t just near — it’s here.

Most recently, the numbers of self-identified futurists or Transhumanists have swelled from small, disconnected cliques to a significant global number as more and more futurists have latched on to the philosophy and are pushing the agenda forward online, and debating the direction of the movement itself. There are tens of thousands of members of Transhumanist Facebook groups and sub-Reddits, and conferences and meet-up groups gather hundreds of attendees.

Simultaneously, political groups have emerged, attaching transhumanist ideas to real world issues, such as using technology and science to solve education reform, climate change and income inequality. Transhumanists have even run in elections in Italy, Germany, and the UK.

In the US, however, it’s a different story. The so-called Transhumanist Party, which does not have an agreed-upon platform, is led by blogger and futurist personality Zoltan Istvan. Istvan’s 2016 presidential campaign can only be seen as an unhinged vanity exercise, and some of his closest advisors, many themselves founders of the Transhumanist movement, have characterized his spate of essays and media appearances as “science fiction,” “media mongering,” and “egotistical.”

Gabriel Rothblatt, an advisor to Istvan because of his family history and experience in politics, is cagey on the subject of Isvan representing a movement his parents pioneered. But he did admit that Istvan has put in time and effort to get a political movement off the ground, and despite admitting that it’s “easy to have reservations” about his campaign, Istvan has at least sparked a conversation about transhumanism.

“He willingly admits that he has no chance of winning, and so what he’s doing is trying to get as much conversation going as possible, and you have to credit him for doing that,” said Rothblatt, who hopes the outcome of the Transhumanist Party information campaign will be more public input on science and technology policy.

In many European countries, futurists and scientists have been brought in to consult on ethical bans on cloning and germline engineering. In the UK, there are a handful of laws that were written with a case-by-case approach to genetic engineering. Bioethics has become a big-name news item in most places in the developed world, but we’re running scared from it here, almost purposefully disengaged from it, or else facing it with torches and pitchforks.

On the whole, Transhumanists widely agree that the United States is lagging behind on the issues, both politically and philosophically. Many point to Americans as woefully undereducated and under-regulated.

We have a big job ahead of us to catch up. Namely, deciding how we feel about the technology, whether we should regulate it and how, and most importantly, the challenge of having educated public discourse on the issues now and in the future.

THE DEBATE

Zoltan Istvan, Transhumanist Party candidate for president, pictured on his bus in 2015. (Alex Pearlman)

Transhumanism was called “the most dangerous idea” facing the world by Foreign Policy magazine in 2009. That now-famous essay framed the concept as one that would destroy our society through inevitable inequality — and that’s still a big concern.

But as we move into the age of “designer babies” and the prospect of fundamentally changing the human genome very soon, ethics has become the twin focal point.

While Boston is the nexus of the most innovative “synth bio” science in the world, the political debate is happening elsewhere around the country.

This is not a discussion that neatly splits down the traditional right-left political spectrum as we know it. If anything, transhumanist issues will begin to bridge gaps between very strange political bedfellows indeed. The religious right and the far-left, for example, are both wary of futurism — but for different reasons.

The left is wary of transhumanism on economic grounds. It believes the benefits of technology will be enjoyed only by the wealthy, and that the effects of rising income inequality could become cemented in a physical divergence: Could the rich become a master race? On the right, religious conservatives are concerned about the moral implications of transhumanism: Are scientists beginning to play God?

“On the right side, if you get a kickback, there’s some kind of religious objection to technology or some other irrational fear,” said Rothblatt. “You typically run into an environmental or an economic equality argument when you get into the far left.”

That’s also not to say that those on the religious right are necessarily luddites, although many are, or that those on the far-left are anti-transhumanists, because many aren’t.

This issue will fundamentally shift the paradigms of our political parties.

My biopolitics grid (Alex Pearlman)

The problem begins to become clear.

Rebecca Taylor runs a blog from her home near Spokane, Washington called Mary Meets Dolly (a reference to the holy virgin and the first cloned mammal), where she writes on issues surrounding transhumanist politics. As a geneticist, she’s well-versed in the science, and although she considers herself “super techy” and a “geek,” she’s also a staunch anti-transhumanist, a mom of four, and a Catholic.

“I’m not anti-technology, it’s the application of that technology,” said Taylor over a long and energetic phone call. Taylor, who worked in a molecular biology testing lab until she became a stay-at-home mom, feels that because she does understand what’s happening in the petri dishes, it’s her duty to parse information in a scientifically informed way to the general public.

“Transhumanists want to set up their philosophy as providing technology for the disabled and sick, right? Bionic limbs for those who are amputees, or you know digital eyes for the blind, that’s not transhumanism. That’s just medicine,” she said, calling out what she sees as the false claim that transhumanists are in it to seek cures and medical advances. Taylor, who considers herself “pro-human” (others might see her as “bio-conservative”) charges that the agenda has an undercurrent of vanity. She believes Transhumanism carries an inherent selfishness that discounts what enhancements could do to the fabric of our society.

“The thing that scares me the most about transhumanism is that they talk about this being about the freedom to do with their bodies as they choose. But transhumanism is, by nature, coercive. If you’ve got a bunch of rich people enhancing their children, their kids don’t just have more money; they are designed to be smarter, stronger, and faster than your kid. What are you going to do then? Do you not feel compelled now because your kid can’t compete anymore?”

In Scottsdale, Arizona, Natasha Vita-More tells me via Skype that she disagrees with the way Taylor and other critics classify the movement as one that is selfish.

If Ray Kurzweil is a godfather of Transhumanism, Vita-More is the mother. Easily the most glamorous futurist you can find, Vita-More is a former actor/model who once dated Warren Beatty. She wrote one of the first foundational Transhumanist texts, The Transhumanist Manifesto, in 1983, and has been a pioneering theorist of the philosophy since then. She is now an accomplished researcher, designer, and professor at the University of Advancing Technology.

“The issue here is beyond ethics. It gets into a very moral landscape, and that morality is, ‘how dare we allow anyone to live with a horrible, devastating, disruptive disease when we have tools and the acumen to remove that?’” says Vita-More, who insists that transhumanists must focus widely on humanity as a whole — as opposed to vanity of the individual. “It’s our humane moral imperative to do all we can to alleviate the suffering of another human being [by using genomics].”

That said, as a self-identified libertarian, Vita-More feels that regulating against the use of some ethically questionable technology, the way the UK has proactively done, “intervenes with peoples’ rights.” She concedes that while people are predisposed to vanity, and that anyone who would want a designer baby has blatant psychological issues, the questions of ethics, or where the line is drawn, “should be up to parents and doctors.”

Vita-More’s libertarian bent remains a key transhumanist idea, despite a recent influx of semi-socialist rhetoric in the movement. Many believe it is an individual choice for someone to be in control of what they do to their body, but that any technical augmentation should be humane and not infringe on others. And a lack of regulation of much of the science means that, for the most part, the door is as wide open as available technology allows. This can even go as far as robotic limbs, bionic eye lenses and 3D-printed tissue.

Like many scientists, Vita-More is also of the mind that we should let the technology develop before we regulate it, as opposed to getting ahead of it from a policy perspective.

“We currently can’t do the kinds of genetic engineering that ethicists are concerned with, like designer babies. When we do, then it becomes an issue,” Vita-More said.

Still, even the most individualist transhumanists have their limits when it comes to the big issue of the moment: Hacking the human genome gives everyone something to think about.

THE NEXT BIG BATTLE

The morality wars of the 1990s raged over the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) in research, and President Bush effectively shut down it down completely during his time in office.

Then, in 2009, President Obama issued an executive order that backpedaled the previous administration’s stance, allowing stem cell research to recommence. However, the industry suffered irreparably, and fell behind the rest of the world. Where the federally-funded labs were tripped up by Bush, corporations took up the call for stem cell research and moved their labs overseas.

Since then, the debate has been pretty quiet. Until CRISPR came on the scene.

CRISPR Cas9, an enzyme discovered in 2013 and patented by the MIT/Harvard Broad Institute in 2014, makes it possible to essentially switch out, remove, or add genetic markers to the human genome by cutting apart the DNA of embryos and making changes that weren’t there in nature. For example, if you find that your fetus is a carrier for Sickle Cell Anemia, CRISPR can remove that gene, and either fuse together the links of DNA, or add in another, healthy gene in its place, and fuse that in place on either end. But the science is still out on what this maneuver will do to other parts of the germline, and if those changes could be passed on to future generations.

Generally, science is the needle of the moral compass on these issues. If scientists claim something is safe (and has practical applications for the market), we accept it, buy it, use it. We trust those four out of five dentists, and apply the same logic to basically every technology and medical device in circulation.

The scientists themselves are running scared about CRISPR and have suggested a voluntary moratorium on using it on human embryos until it can be proven to be safe. In dual editorials published in Nature and Science in March, a group of experts suggested stopping the research and pushed for engaging the public in a debate.

However, it came out in April that a team of Chinese researchers had used it unsuccessfully on a human embryo for the first time. Their results were not encouraging, and they feared they had damaged the germline to the point that they may have created a larger, heritable problem than the one they started with.

When a large group of the country’s best scientific minds come together to suggest a self-censoring moratorium on a controversial technology that is not only legal, but hasn’t even been discussed by the relevant federal agencies for many years, we need to listen.

“There is an urgent need for open discussion of the merits and risks of human genome modification by a broad cohort of scientists, clinicians, social scientists, the general public, and relevant public entities and interest groups,” wrote the group, which met to discuss the ethics of CRISPR in Napa earlier this year.

It’s obvious where we could get into trouble with CRISPR: If we can select and remove negative genes, there is really nothing stopping us from adding positive ones. Blue eyes? Blonde hair? Easy peasy. A genius gene? Who knows.

The transhumanists aren’t far behind the scientists in thinking there are severe ethical and economic implications of the CRISPR technology and it’s becoming a defining issue for the movement.

The fact that broad, private use of CRISPR could have terrifying implications from an equality perspective has made the “designer babies” debate a strong dividing line between the two big transhuman camps; “techno-progressives” on the left and the “techno-libertarian” futurists on the right.

Dr. George Church’s office in his lab at the Harvard Medical School campus in Longwood is flooded with afternoon sunlight. On the left side of his desk next to a family photo and in front of one of many messy piles of papers is a bizarrely captivating arrangement of office supplies balanced on their ends. It’s almost as if his super-complicated brain — which is capable of concentrating on his granddaughter, what his grad students are up to and game-changing biomedical advances simultaneously — has spilled into the physical world. A stapler stands ass-in-the-air, followed by an array of pens and some nickels, all free-standing straight up on their tips. “It’s a doodle,” says Church.

George Church’s desk, Boston, Mass. (Alex Pearlman)

The famous geneticist is an easy-going man who giggles at his own jokes, and his intellect is unique — and sharp. Church is actively combating the notion that good diagnostic science is only available to the wealthy. The bearded vegan is actively trying to make his treatments more egalitarian. Widely regarded as one of the greatest scientific minds of our time, Church says he’s proud of making a career out of lowering the cost of sequencing the human genome, making it affordable and accessible to everyone.

“I hope to continue to work on it until it’s $100 or $1 dollar per genome,” he says. “There are a few people who are dedicated to [making science accessible] and I’d like to believe I’m one of them.”

Church is skeptical of the transhumanist movement, despite being long-associated with futurist medicine and noted transhumanists like Silicon Valley rejuvenation expert Aubrey de Grey, as well as Ray Kurzweil. He sees transhumanism as a vague idea, which is something adherents and curious observers alike certainly struggle with as well. But Church seems to float above mere mortal philosophy.

He is also a supporter of the CRISPR moratorium, despite being a leading researcher of the technology. But, he adds, “with an asterix.” The genetic engineering moratorium, says Church, must follow the rules of science, which are the opposite of the rules of law: In science, you’re guilty until proven innocent.

“In my opinion, we already have a moratorium against doing anything that is unsafe, until it’s proven safe. And you have to prove it’s safe in small increments,” says Church. “All medical technologies are assumed to be hazardous until you prove that they are not. You have to show that it’s safe — and effective.”

And in the case of a voluntary moratorium, there is no legally enforceable way to get scientists to stop their experiments (take the Chinese, for example). Church believes, though, that the methodology for researching the science is sound.

“The way it should happen is that we are doing germline and embryo manipulation in animals for good purposes,” he says. “Only when the benefits outweigh the risks, will you take it into a small clinical trial.”

Hacking the human genome, especially, is a possibly guilty practice. As Church notes, germline editing is still very much an imprecise procedure; we don’t yet know what the outcomes will be, because changes to a human egg, sperm, or embryo could be passed down to future generations. Maybe some changes won’t be hereditary. We don’t know yet, is the point.

RUN, HIDE, THERE ARE NO LAWS!

Ultimately, the ethical and economic questions come down to how we — as a society — decide to regulate the science. But if there are no laws, despite everyone agreeing that we need some, why can’t we get some good, old-fashioned responsible policy that respects both ethics and science? Well, that’s easier said than done.

If the IVF debate of the 1970s or the stem cell battle of the 1990s and early aughts is any indication of how it goes when the discussion centers on fundamentally changing characteristics of a human embryo, well… Hopefully we’ve matured since then.

Unfortunately, with the announcement of the Chinese experiment going wrong, the government kicked into high gear, and it seems like hysteria and mass confusion may be only days or weeks away.

When scientists find something new, they want more funding to look deeper into it, whether public or private. These days, it’s not too soon before the science is evolving so quickly that no one even has time to ask if it’s safe before another round of funding comes down — let alone talk about taking a pause to debate regulation or inform the public about what’s going on. It seems like a lack of attention to innovation has left Congress holding the bag.

“Congress in general — the House and Senate — at a time when we need them most, they’ve been asleep at the wheel,” says Rothblatt.

In this case, CRISPR, and all other gene therapies, would be regulated by the same agency that is in charge of regulating not only drugs and medicine, but other genetic modification giants as well. Like Monsanto, for example.

The FDA.

But Congress funds the FDA, and according to next year’s budget suggestion from the House, the FDA would actually be prohibited from spending public money on looking into clinical applications for gene therapies. The ethical questions surrounding CRISPR seem to have Congress spooked, and they’re taking backward steps at a rapid pace, by tying the hands of the agency that would be in charge of crafting responsible policy.

In addition, a recent article in the journal Nature explained that the FDA’s Institute of Medicine (IOM) has been asked for form a subcommittee with “an independent panel of experts, including those from faith-based institutions with expertise on bioethics and faith-based medical associations.” The bill itself is not yet public, but a bioethicist at Stanford University, Hank Greely said that the idea of having religion involved “seems dumb — or ill advised.”

Meanwhile, the last time an executive branch bioethics panel looked at gene therapies was 2010. And they declined to suggest possible regulatory policy. The problem is, since the study came out in 2010, the science has taken off. CRISPR has only been in use for two years, and researchers like Dr. Church expect it to be in clinical trials in another year (which the FDA would oversee, assuming they can still fund research.)

On the other hand, there are multinational, well-funded corporations that exist in a legal grey area, doing experiments without the need for FDA approval or oversight.

“There’s a large view on the Hill that you should just allow things to go on, that’s how competition works out,” says Government Accountability Office Chief Scientist Tim Persons, who refers to this more hands-off attitude as “permissionless innovation.”

Well, the corporations are already on it.

Google Calico, for example, has begun researching regenerative therapies to cure immortality, and brought on famed technologist and futurist Kurzweil to help out.

In Cambridge, a company called OvaScience has raised millions of dollars for a reproductive therapy that Time magazine called “the next big thing in IVF.” OvaScience is based on technology that, in partnership with Church’s lab, engineers the germlines of stem cells, a process that, if it proves successful in trials, would allow parents hoping to procreate through IVF to positively select which embryos to implant — the healthiest, best ones being optimal, obviously… For a big price tag. OvaScience doctors have successfully used another kind of mitochondrial IVF therapy in Canada.

And this is where we start to veer into that shady place where the term “designer babies” doesn’t seem so futuristic anymore and we need to begin to worry about how we haven’t kept up when it comes to federal regulation, ethical inquiry and public education about facts.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark, who represents the state’s fifth congressional district (which includes large swaths of biotech-heavy Cambridge and about a big chunk of the Greater Boston technology corridor), sits on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. She is a member of the Subcommittee on Research, which deals specifically with looking into ethical questions surrounding emerging technology.

It wasn’t until the Chinese researchers published their findings in April that the HSST pushed forward. The committee held a series of hearings on CRISPR by bioethicists and scientists in June, apparently looking for different answers than the last time they heard from scientists on this issue, which was a year ago. Testimony in the 2014 hearings directed the committee back to the 2010 bioethics report that suggested no policy changes.

“We’re really at a point where the Science, Space and Technology committee needs people who really understand what we’re up against,” says Rothblatt, who had hoped to get a seat on this very committee, as his constituency includes Cape Canaveral. “It’s actually politically dangerous to be aware of the truth, all too much of the time.”

Any movement toward creating a regulatory system is happening much too slowly, and while Clark’s presence is encouraging, others on the Committee have questionable respect for science. The Chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is a climate change denier who is suing the EPA, and his counterpart in the Senate is notoriously anti-science Tea Party sweetheart Ted Cruz. Another member of the HSST is Bill Posey, the Republican from Florida who authored the infamous “Birther Bill” and demanded to see the president’s birth certificate. Ironically, he won his re-election against Transhumanist challenger Gabriel Rothblatt.

“The reason scientists self-censor is because no one else is censoring them,” says Church, who would actually welcome more regulations in this area, because, again, moratoria aren’t set in stone. But it must be the right kind of regulation, by people who understand the science. “There should be a broad discussion of people where the critics take the time to get up to speed so that they can help regulate the scientists. The reason scientists have to regulate themselves is because there aren’t enough bioethicists and other critics that bother to learn enough to do it. A lot of us invite people to come in and get up to speed… We should have more politicians who feel comfortable with facts and science and ways that you determine a fact.”

After repeated attempts to question Rep. Clark about some of the ethical implications, funding and oversight of emerging technology, she declined to comment for this story.

SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?

Don’t freak out just yet, though.

It sounds out of control — and it is. But Persons points to the fact that once the public gets ahold of the idea that more should be done and starts to “freak out,” public opinion tends to land in one direction or another, prompting regulation, as well as innovation.

“This is a time when people should be doubling down on making investments into technologies that can have societal impact,” says Karp. But, he added, “I think it makes a lot of sense to have regulations on new technologies, especially in areas where there is potential risk that we don’t fully understand.”

So, sure, there’s nothing on the books right now. But deciding if there should be or not is up to us. And we need to be educated on the issues, and help educate our elected officials.

After all, Rebecca Taylor points out, “A mailman has just as much right and responsibility to know what’s going on and decide what’s ethical. We are all responsible for this. We can’t just let the fox guard the henhouse.”

But if we can’t shift the needle back ourselves because of misguided federal interference, maybe science will save us.

As we saw with the advent of embryonic stem cell research, so many Americans were unnerved by it that a new technology was invented: Induced pluripotent stem cells, which are not embryonic, and can be used in many of the same therapies and experiments. So maybe these big moves in science will lead to something even better and we should all just stay calm until we know more.

Whatever happens, science will find a way to pivot, and society will find a way to adjust the comfort level.

“Human embryonic stem cells are much less controversial now because they’re much less used. IPS was just a better technology,” says Church. “My guess is that [scientists] would have switched to iPS anyway [without the Obama executive order]. I think that’s the lesson in general: some people panic. But once you clearly articulate what you want, as soon as you say, ‘we don’t wantany embryos to die,’ then scientists can put on their thinking hats and they come up with alternatives.”

Church earnestly continues, before launching into an explanation of just how you go about growing human organs in a petri dish, “I just want to produce stuff that people want. I don’t want to force down somebody’s throat something they don’t want.”

I look again at the doodle on his desk, and the five nickels balanced in a horseshoe shape, standing up on their rims, as if gravity didn’t exist in the Church lab.

“Some people think there’s just heads and tails, and that’s all there is,” he says.

The science is coming, whether we’re ready for it or not. We just have to decide what we’re going to do about it.