In 1990, the government decided that they wanted to know more about humans and what made us unique. To do this, they started the Human Genome Project in order to try and sequence the entire human genome and get a better idea about how the human body works. In 2001, this goal was realized with an entire map of the human genome was sequenced. From there, doctors and researchers were able to start to have a better understanding of human genetics, and could start working out potential cures for certain genetic diseases.
Though this step seemed to be the milestone for understanding of human genetics, it only really scratched the surface of how genetics work and how we can make it better for the future. From the very start of this project, controversy arose about the intent of the project and what it could mean for the future. Though at first the project seemed to be driven by gaining more knowledge and potentially saving lives, there were questions about whether or not it would stop there. There was, and is still currently, concern for what this knowledge of genetics will be used for.
Scientists have been working with this knowledge to potentially alter genes that negatively affect a patient, such as those with cystic fibrosis, but what is stopping them from altering traits that are not equivalent with a disease, like hair colour or height. These concerns are what fuels most of the argument of those who oppose the use of gene therapies and other genetics based treatments. In George Pence’s 2012 book titled How to Build a Better Human: An Ethical Blueprint, Pence refers to those opposing the movement as Alarmist and those who are for it as Enthusiasts.
Looking past when the Human Genome Project successfully sequenced the entire human genome to today, we can see that there have been tests and treatments worked out in the medical field of the genetic variety. Though some have been significantly more successful than others, the overall consensus is that we still do not know enough about out genetics to really use it properly in medicine. Coupled with the still present fear of what genetics can do leaves little rooms for successfully applying more.
However, even though there is no large scale use of genetic treatments today, it is still important to loo ahead to a possible future where these procedures have been developed. There seems to be little debate about using genetics to cure obviously disastrous diseases. There real argument come in with where curing disease stops and enhancements begin. Merriam Webster dictionary defines disease as an illness that affects a person, animal, or plant: a condition that prevents the body from working normally. Merriam Webster also defines enhancement as to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability, or attractiveness.
Without a doubt there can be some overlap between the two on whether something is a disease, an enhancement, or both and whether we would consider it moral or not to change it. For now, I would mostly like to look at what is considered enhancements and their morality. To get a better look at how societies may look at genetic enhancements, it would be helpful to look at enhancements that have become common in some societies today and how they compare to each other and possible gene enhancements in the future.
There are several thing that can easily be considered enhancements that are very much common place that most people have no problem with. Some examples of these include hair dying, private tutoring, and working out. Though these may not seem like enhancements, they are being used to increase some aspect of a person. Then there are those physical enhancements that are considered immoral, like steroids. Enhancements like these are usually considered bad because they give an unfair advantage to someone.
They are also looked down upon because the abilities gained by these enhancements were not achieved through hard work or raw talent, two things that revered in many societies. However, there are some physical enhancements that give an unfair advantage that do not cause as much uproar when they are used to help someone do better. An example of this, is that no one would ban someone from entering a beauty pageant for having breast implants, but athletes get banned from their respective sports for taking steroids.
Both give an advantage that was not already there, so what makes these two enhancements different? For the less controversial physical enhancements, no matter how small the change is there will always be some backlash. Some people do not like the idea of changing any aspect of that person, and will criticize others for trying to make themselves different from their original self. However, I think that a quote on page forty-six of Pence’s book really helps in establishing the normalization of some modification.
He said: “even if justified in banning a particular case, the general principle is more important, which is that competent people should be left free to do what they want in their own lives and modifying their bodies is about as personal as ‘their own lives get. ” As important as this quote is, there are two words that sticks out as being important for its implication. Those words are “competent people. ” This is important for normalizing physical enhancements that people decide to do to themselves, but brings up a question when it comes to genetic enhancements.
To have a genetic enhancement be truly effective, the change must be made to a gene as early in life as possible. If doctors want a sure guarantee that all of the cells of that person will contain this new gene as they grow and develop, they have to implement the change as early as the single celled zygote or even the parental gametes. By making these changes so early on in a person’s life, there is no way that it is that person’s choice about the change. The phrase “competent people” comes up again. At a stage where there is very little activity, there is no way the child would have any say in the matter.
This is another argument that Alarmists have against genetic enhancements. Along with this objection, Pence describes five main objections that Alarmist have regarding genetic enhancement. The first objection is the gifts objection that states that we will lose the “giftedness” of human life. The second objection is the changing nan nature obiection or that we will pervert our essential nature with these changes. Another objection is that badly motivated parents will desire designer children, similar to the argument mentioned before.
The fourth objection is the unjust objection that is best described by a quote by James Sabin that says: “the rich will not simply get more-they will become more as well. ” The final objection is the Nazi researcher objection that accuses researchers of being like previous Eugenic researchers, such as Josef Mengele. This argument has become a bit of joke amongst ethicists in the field that led them to estimate how long it will take before someone raises the Nazi objection. This estimate has been facetiously referred to as Godwin’s Law.
Though the comparison of Nazi eugenics and possible gene enhancement seems unjustified to some, it is a genuine fear that has to be addressed when looking at a future where genetic enhancements are used. Eugenics generally refers to the controlled breeding of humans to increase the frequency of more desired traits. However, what is considered desirable traits is not a uniform list. In history, there has been some cases where eugenics has been used in societies. The most wellknown example is Nazi eugenics movement. This is what most people think of when eugenics is brought up and continues to mar the belief of eugenics to this day.
Another example is at an institution in Red Deer, Alberta called the Provincial Training School. This was a place where hundreds of children and adults alike would move through and be brought before The Eugenics Board. Those on the board would be the ones to decide whether the people brought before them had the desirable traits that would be beneficial to future generations. If they were not considered desirable, they would be sterilized at the facility. Most of the people who were chosen to be sterilized had some kind of mental illness and it is still unclear the level of consent was given for these procedures.