Genetic enhancement can not be a bad thingFriday, 10 October, 2008
In discussing whether designer babies, human genetic engineering or even cybernetic enhancements should be allowed, the arguments can fairly well be divided into those arguing that the end results would be good/ bad, or those arguing that the methods used are moral/immoral.
The argument that human genetic enhancement will be expensive and therefore lead to a class-divide between the wealthy and the poor is perhaps the most commonly encountered ends-based argument. The issue with such an argument is that human genetic enhancement is not the only means by which such a divide could occur. Other enhancements, such as expensive schooling/tuition or higher-speed internet are similarly able to lead to such a divide, as those with these enhancements use their advantage to garner even more enhancements for themselves and their children. Therefore, such an ends-based argument against genetic enhancement, while not necessarily incorrect (if we accept that a class divide is a bad consequence), is inconsistent with other more accepted forms of enhancement.
In fact, the inconsistency runs deeper. Education, exercise, vaccination and other forms of enhancement are often considered to lead to very good results. Therefore, society encourages them, in some cases to the point of making them compulsory. If one is only looking at the results, genetic enhancement seems to promise even better enhancement of intelligence, health and happiness. It is hard to imagine why method of enhancing ourselves that involve schooling or training would be encouraged and yet biotechnological methods would be strictly prohibited.
When such inconsistencies are pointed out to those making such an argument, the usual response is that fiddling around with genes is incomparable to schooling or training, as direct modification of our bodies is an entirely different class of enhancement. This effectively turns the argument into a means-based one, as it argues that genetic enhancement is bad because it involves genetic modification of human beings, commodification of human life, insufficient respect for human dignity etc etc. Those arguments don’t suffer from the inconsistency of the ends-based arguments, and therefore are worthy of further investigation.
I’m a utilitarian, however, and therefore I think that the wrongness or rightness of any given means can only be determined by looking at the ends produced. That is, the ends can justify the means. Genetic enhancement, as I said above, seems to be just as good as schooling or exercise or any other form of enhancement. I’d encourage everyone to educate themselves, and I think education is a good thing, and therefore I think genetic enhancement is similarly a good thing.