We are genetic Gods, but what about our children?
The genetic revolution just around the corner
If you want controversy about our future and the moral choices we are making about our species, then look no further than the topic of Biogenetics. Not only has the method of in vitro caused some extreme reactions from the more religiously inclined, but on the horizon we are beginning to see the dawn of the human made in the laboratory. And it’s causing a storm.
I would like to take a glance at this subject from an author’s point of view, where my main concern is, what kind of ethics will make up our future, both as parents for our children, and society as a whole.
Limitless. And then some.
Serious science and technology press is touting the recent advancements not evolutionary but revolutionary. In the course of less than a decade have we gone from unprecise and methods with random results at best, to clinically precise incision into each and single gene.
This coupled with the Genome project is beginning to give us limitless powers. The genetically engineered embryoes and babies are not science fiction stuff fare but the stuff which you and I will be forced to deal with in the next decade, if you want a healthy baby. If you think that’s a mouthful, listen to this.
The company Fertility Industries which works with what they call “Balancing the family” will gladly help you out with your family. For a small sum of USD 10K they offer a treatment which will enable you to choose the sex of your child. The clinic guarantees almost 100% success rate and if it’s a failure there is even a money back guarantee. The clinic supposedly also executes close to 400 of these treatments each year.
But it doesn’t stop there. As if the sex choice didn’t ring any alarm bells, the clinic also suggest you might wanna choose the color of your baby’s eyes or hair. Through the process of Preimplantation Diagnosis, the embryos are chosen and discarded in the name of beauty and parent’s whimsical aestethic choices.
The whole thing caused quite a public stir. At which the clinic decided to withdraw the abovementioned offer. But for how long and in what other shape will this appear in?
Leveling the playing field
You would think that the ethical borders would be easy to set in this matter. Wouldn’t that be the easiest way to end this discussion? One thing is to cure serious diseases like cancer, Aids, Autism and Huntington but another are comsetical changes to our offspring with the goal of creating better versions of ourselves. Isn’t that clearly desginer babies at work?
And aren’t we forgetting a simple fact, that children are not things or objects which can be manipulated at will, but living and breathing beings who deserve even more compassion, because of their fragile and semi-concious state. But the answers in these matters are still far from clear cut.
Despite that the genetic therapies can be the root to healing even the most serious current diseases, it is still very difficult to state if these modifications will not cause any unwanted side effects. And we are not just talking about some unwanted side effects which would be relatively easy to reveal at birth. But about side effects which could ripple downward several generations without being noticed early on.
These sideffects could show up even a 100 years later and have a devastating effect on not only a single family but they could easily contaminate our whole gene pool. And if that happens, how do you reverse this kind of Godlike engineering?
So despite the best of intentions, we might be curing the most deadly of diseases or we might be playing with fire. A fire which will not be easy to put out.
“I’d go so far as to say that all causes of death, perhaps with the exception of sudden fatal injuries, could be dramatically reduced if only we were modifying our genes. Essentially all medical problems could theoretically be solved by modifying our genes.” – Human Politics and Biotechnology Science Blog
Clear cut choices? Or are they?
If we leave the whole gene therapy out of the equations. Just for a moment. Are we in the clear then? Or come to think of it, do we not make countless pro-creational choices right now?
Consciously or unconsciously, we do. Are we not prepared to supply our children with all kinds of minerals, vitamins, diet supplements. All this in the name of a healthier future for them. If we go further with this thinking, then the whole raising of our children is actually about these kind of choices. The best of schools, the best toys, and the best teachers, caretakers. All in all the best opportunites we as parents can afford.
Who would want to save money on that?
We as parents, feel naturally inclined and responsible to provide our children with the very best. So you could actually make an argument, why wouldn’t you want to give the same to your child before it was born?
“Interference into the embryo line has become a reality. A first and serious step has been made towards creating a man made to order. Before the discovery of the CrispR method, scientists thought a man made in a lab was a horror story straight from a science fiction film. But this far flung sci-fi story has turned out be here and now.” – Der Spiegel.
More ethical quandaries?
So if we backtrack a few steps here and conclude we want to stay with only curing the diseases. If that is out ethical border, then where exactly is it supposed to be placed?
Let’s see another example which I think illustrates curing diseased is far from as ethically black and white.
A deaf lesbian couple from Chicago decided to conciously choose the embryos which would give them children witth the same character traits of deafness as them. The couple were convinced that their lack of hearing wasn’t some kind of ailment but a natural human state. And they wished for their children to be exaclty like them.
So what about our children?
Are we to give them the best chance at a healthy life through different genetic manipulations? Or do we not only stop there but we supply our children with the best character and physical traits a life can give? Is it supposed to be regulated by the state or do we just leave it to the single family unit and their own moral compasses? And are we not moving dangerously close to the Hitler’s Eugenics program? How far are we prepared to go, morally and financially in this case?
And ultimately, will our children be there for us so they can meet our needs and expectiations, or will we be there for them and raise them with uncoditional love?
“The starting point should be: Do these practices (gene therapies) hurt anyone? If so who do they hurt? If they don`t hurt the kid, the parents or society, then in my opinion, they should be made legal. This is surely not the best use of the public money, but if someone is prepared to pay for it, why should it be illegal?” – Philosopher Ole Martin Moen
If you want to learn more about the subject, please see a partial list of books, net stories and other tidbits which are worthwile to expand one’s horizon.
This story, and the ideas contained here were the springboard for my Scandinavian thriller-drama fiction novel “A child made to order”. Published by the UK Publisher The Book Folks, it is available on Amazon now.
Piotr Ryczko is the author of the Scandinavian thriller “A child made to order” and a multi-awarded filmmaker. Born in Poland and raised in Norway, he loves both countries, but has a soft spot for his hometown, Oslo.
Piotr loves dark and multi-layered Norwegian thrillers which handle ethically difficult scientific issues facing humankind today. His biggest drive is to deliver impeccable writing which will touch the readers’ senses while expanding their consciousness.
Piotr loves to hear from readers and writers and can be found on his blog Storygeist where he writes flash fiction, html5 stories, non-fiction and screenplays for his films.