Tuesday, February 25, 2014

"Genetically Modified Babies"

The science here is interesting, and complex, but this science writer is speaking out against moving so quickly into this idea that humans become machines to be constructed in the most useful, trouble-free fashion.
From "Genetically Modified Babies" in the New York Times: Some media accounts about these techniques have misleadingly referred to “saving lives,” as if they were aimed at people who are sick and suffering. Others have failed to note how very few women would be candidates for even considering them. And they could turn to safer and simpler alternatives. An affected woman could adopt or use in vitro fertilization with another woman’s eggs. Of course, the resulting child would not be genetically related to her, but neither would the child be put at grave risk by an extreme procedure.
What's interesting to me about many of these explorations is that they're being undertaken simply because it is technologically possible to do so. There is a need, yes, but no every social need should be met without regard to the consequences of the method.

I'm neither a Luddite or a religious extremist, and I know for certain that this sort of manipulation of babies in womb or in test tube will grow beyond my limited imagination. It will grow because it will become technologically possible, and when technology is a hammer, every problem is perceived as a nail.

But the questions, the questions ...

Scientific manipulation of the human genome could make slaves. A little nip, tuck, a stitch, a bit of protein, and we would have a person—oh, no, we couldn't call them people—of reduced but highly malleable intelligence and great physical strength. Why not? Somewhere in our brain there is no doubt a gene that might be tailored to reduce free will and enhance obedience. Why do we need Rollerblade when we can do it ourselves? 

It is already common that babies with Downs Syndrome will be aborted. It is easy enough to swing the other way—a little something added in the womb to birth another Michael Jordan or Stephen Hawking (don't forget to nip out that muscular dystrophy thing, though).

How will these manipulations be shared? Restricted to Europe, Japan, China, South Korea, and the United States? 

What influence will that have on the world's social and political interaction?

Science is acting in the name of good medicine and in an attempt to reduce human suffering, at least as its public motive, but is not science collectively doing with morally neutral technology what rogue regimes attempted to accomplish through brute force—create a super-race?
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