Genetics

Is it Ethical to use Dna Analysis to Create Super Humans



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Developments in the modern science continue to create new ethical dilemmas and bring up new questions: prompt us to redefine what exactly human beings are, what does it mean to be alive, how far we can go in an attempt to explore and influence so called "natural course of things".

The answer to a question of whether it's ethical to use DNA analysis to create super-humans should start with a question whether it's ethical to attempt to create super-humans by any means? And what would those super-humans would be like?

Would it be ethical to BREED super-humans? Not by tinkering with their DNA, but by selectively mating people with particular characteristics, the way crops and farm animals have been bred for centuries if not millennia? Let's assume that there would be no element of coercion involved, that only people who want to participate in such programme were included.

There is something in that idea that makes me baulk. I can't quite say why such a programme seems a wrong thing to do, but it still does seem a wrong thing to do.

And the same feeling, only stronger, extends to the idea of producing super-humans by means of DNA tinkering.

I am leaving aside the whole issue of technology and knowledge, and to what extent we actually know which human traits and abilities are determined by what combinations of genes (and most complex, useful abilities are only partially genetically determined and virtually never determined by single genes). I am assuming that there will come a time when biologists will know what and how could be tinkered with.

But still, would it be right?

Obviously, one of the reasons is that, human nature and society being what it is, there is an immense potential for abuse in such an enterprise. Because if we could breed super-humans, then, firstly, we would risk those super-humans becoming somehow socially superior and taking the reins of power firmly in their hands. But we also could, presumably, produce specialised humans - ones of lower intelligence but stronger and faster bodies, ones lacking in empathy or ones with very high pain threshold. Which opens up a prospect of not only those new people being used for evil means by those having access to them, but also their status as human beings, and their own rights.

On the other hand, there is something fantastically exciting about the idea of significantly improving the human body, or adapting it to specialised conditions, maybe even completely new environments. Humans who could breathe under water? Humans who could survive in sub-zero temperatures without clothing or heating? Humans who could live on the Moon, or Mars even? It's the stuff of sci-fi, and it doesn't have to be all bleak and horrible.

And, finally, let us look from yet another perspective, and think not about making super-humans, but rather removing disease and disability. There are many terrible conditions that are fully or partially controlled by genetic abnormalities, from Down's Syndrome to haemophilia to cystic fibrosis to certain cancers. Should we strive to fix at least those? And if we do, then, where do we draw a line - assuming we can manipulate almost anything? Removing terrible disease seems like a wonderful idea, but who and how is going to define "disease"? What about something like tendency to depression (which might never manifest itself) or neurotic sensitivity (which might bring suffering but also artistic achievements)? What about deafness, which even now is, by some, perceived as a unique way to function in the world and a sub-culture rather than a defect? What about dwarfism? And even if we all agree it's a disease to be eradicated, what about just being very short? Tendency to put on weight? Small boobs? Curly hair? Tone deafness? Lack of language or mathematical ability? So we would fix those whose IQ would be below normal (which means currently below 85), but then why not below 100? Or why not have everybody born with an IQ equivalent to current 120? And we are bang back on the original road to super-humans.

These are difficult questions, and not ones that we'll disappear, because the technological progress cannot be stopped for long. It IS certain that at least some human traits are genetically regulated, and it is almost inevitable that, sooner or later, human beings will learn how this determination works and, possibly much later, but such a day will come, attain ability to control them.

What we need is to think about those issues, and bring them to public debate and under reasoned consideration. They cannot be decided in the labs, because these are moral judgements, and science doesn't provide solutions to moral dilemmas, it only produces new ones for us to ponder over.

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