The Ethics of Genetically Modified People
In the modern world, people tend to look down on anti-vaxxers, seeing them as backwards, and rightly so. It’s dangerous to society not to have children vaccinated. That’s basic science. This kind of preventive medicine should be standard, but unfortunately people are allowed to opt out.
Although, in the not-too-distant future these kinds of decisions are going to become more and more extreme. For instance, with the development of new technology like that of CRISPR, scientists will be able to look at several different human embryos to determine which one is the healthiest. This will allow parents to choose the most viable option.
That sounds great, but it ignores one crucial fact about human nature. Sometimes what we would see as a disease or disability is in fact the very thing that makes someone the special person that they are. Consider a genius like that of Stephen Hawking or Temple Grandin. Without their particular illnesses, these individuals would not be who they are.
Granted, I understand the instinct to want to protect our children and to provide them with the best lives that we possibly can, but without the need to overcome things in life we may very well inadvertently rob our sons and daughters of any real sense of character. This doesn’t even factor in the notion that people won’t stop there. In our increasingly customizable world, parents are going to want to artificially select for certain features too.
After all, why stop with just making sure that your daughter-to-be won’t have Down syndrome, when you could just go ahead and determine how tall she will be and what color eyes she will have? The problem is that in predetermining everything that a child will be, we will effectively limit them from being whoever they could. This will also create a class divide between genetically modified people who are seen as superior and those that are naturally selected in the old fashioned way.
Another unintended consequence of this will likely be a further reduction in our genetic variability, which will make us highly susceptible to extinction, by making us more vulnerable to disease as a species — although individuals will be healthier in the short-term. By converging on certain standards of beauty or athletic ability or whatever, we will be making everyone more and more like everyone else. That’s the last thing we need. The world should have people who are tall and some who are short, some who are thin and some who are thick, some who are darker or lighter than others, and so on and so forth. This makes humanity stronger.
Human genetic modification has the potential to do many great things, but there is also a great deal that could go wrong. What’s more, China has already begun work on this in their laboratories and nations like America have nothing in place to regulate this kind of research, so there is nothing stopping anyone from pursuing this course of action. That’s why we need to be far more careful with this technology if we want to stay safe. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go down this path, in fact it’s probably inevitable. I’m just saying that we need to proceed with extreme caution.
We now have the ability to literally rewrite the human genetic code. That is a tremendous power that needs to come with an appropriate sense of responsibility. Unless we all want to die at the hands of mad scientists or their mutant monsters, then we need to pay very close attention to who is playing God and why.