Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom and WorryWednesday, 5 March, 2008
This week, I’m not even sure if the quote is something that I am glad is out there or is something that I should worry about. It is from Robert M. Green’s new book, Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice. It is the closing paragraph of Chapter 7: Playing God (page 196).
The disagreements about intervening at the genetic level will grow in intensity in the years ahead. During the twenty-first century human gene modification is likely to move to the center of religious debates, possibly eclipsing the controversies about abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and cloning. Beginning with more widespread prenatal gene selection and moving on to germline therapies and enhancements, each new manipulation will precipitate a skirmish in the war between differering worldviews. The passions are strong, and the outcome of the debates probably depends on how well we implement the new technologies for choosing our genes. If we do so badly, gene modification will come under the shadow of the failed eugenics movement. If we implement it well, gene modification will become a routine and accepted part of our lives, joining anesthesia during childbirth, birth control, and in vitro fertilisation on the list of reproductive technologies that religions once opposed.
It’s scary, but that’s the whole reason I am writing this blog. It’s important we clear the air early of any instinctive objections and calm the shudder of repugnance that many would get when considering the real possibility of somebody genetically engineered to be super smart and good looking, or a cyborg with a memory enhancement chip in her brain. And it’s also important that legal frameworks and restrictions are not so restrictive that the research goes underground, where it can procede in vastly unethical ways that will only see further restrictions put in place, but also not to loose that people are openly put in risky situations to advance the science. We need to find the right balance early, and that won’t happen easily if people are still having instinctive problems with the science, and haven’t moved on to rational moral debate.