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Ethical issues concerning transgenic humans

Sunday, 21 December, 2008

Two Australian bioethicists, Julian Savulescu and Loane Skene, have a brief paper in the American Journal of Bioethics. It looks at using plant and animal genes and cells to enhance human beings and inserting human genes and parts into animal models, dealing primarily with a few of the commonly encountered ethical objections.

Issues such as ‘Playing God’ and  feelings of repugnance or confusion about animal-human mixing. But especially pertinent, I think, is the assertion about human dignity:

One of the authors of this commentary (Savulescu) has argued [that] being a member of the species [H]omo sapiens confers no special moral significance. Dignity is conferred by properties that are typical of humans, such as rationality or capacity to respond to normative reasons, but there is no necessary or sufficient relationship between species membership and these dignity-conferring properties.

I think this assertion, if accepted, basically demolishes most arguments for the prohibition of mixing humans and non-humans at the cellular or genetic level.

Also amazing, in my opinion (and possibly the opinion of any transhumanist), is this paragraph near the conclusion:

The animal and plant kingdoms—the kingdom of genes—contain vast amounts of genetic information of potential value to humanity. Humans have many unique and valuable qualities, like the capacity for high-level moral reasoning. But they also have many limitations, which other animals and plants do not. We age faster than some animals,we do not have sonar, acute sight, hearing, smell, or the capacity to photosynthesize or produce our own essential nutrients.
And we are susceptible to diseases other animals are not.
These limitations are genetic. By understanding how genes
contribute to function we could use these genes, or artificial
copies of their sequences, to overcome the limitations of
being human.

Damn straight. Evolution has created some pretty cool things in many organisms, and we would be silly to waste that resource of ingenuity that took so many eons to formulate. We should mine it for all we can!

3 comments

  1. […] than any concerns regarding human dignity, which is tied to our ability to reason rather than our genetic integrity. We could borrow genes from chimps to increase the efficiency of our muscles and performance on […]


  2. […] Transgenics Playing God?? […]


  3. […] a deeper look. Transgenic humans and animals are generated in laboratory settings. There are many ethical issues concerning transgenic humans and […]



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