Rigging the Genetic Lottery

Melanie Taylor

According to Stelarc, an Australian performance artist who focuses on the idea of enhancing the body, “Technology is what defines the meaning of being human, it’s part of being human”(Read the interview here). Technology is and always has been part of my life and has shaped my experiences and how I perceive the world around me. I have been in contact with some form of technology every day of my life and accepting that my body is “biologically inadequate” in this information age seems to be just the next logical step in allowing technology to define me as a human being. By erasing the skin as a barrier we open our bodies up to a different kind of vulnerability. Attaching mechanical limbs or inserting micro-robots is just the very beginning of the possibilities of human enhancement.

After our lecture and discussion on human cyborg and genetic manipulation I began to fully realize not only the great potential, but also the great threat of genetic enhancement to our society. I find that I sit somewhere in the middle of the debate on whether or not we should resist the technology that will allow us to design our offspring and tamper with natural gene distribution. On one hand it seems a necessary and obvious next step in technological and human evolution, but on the other it brings up several moral qualms and has the potential to change our society in massive, and possibly irreversible, ways. Whether or not we are prepared to make these choices and face these changes is not yet entirely clear to me, but considering the implications and possible outcomes of these very real possibilities is important as they slowly become realities.

Some scientists and naturalists would claim that as a species “we have reached stagnation”(Read this article about Sir David Attenborough) and “that we’ve stopped evolving”(or check out this article). Sir David Attenborough, a naturalist and celebrated broadcaster, believes that because “we are now able to rear up to 99 percent of our babies… we are no longer subject to Darwinian theories of natural selection”. However, evolution may not be limited to natural selection. With the development of medicine and technology humans will evolve as cyborgs as we “directly intervene in our own evolution, using cloning and gene therapy”(Peter Ward). In this sense, genetic intervention is attractive and it seems obvious that we must push to advance the evolution of our species if we have the ability to do so.

The biggest problem we might face if we choose this method of enhancement is deciding where we should draw the line when it comes to playing with our genetics. In The Case Against Perfection, Michael J. Sandel suggests “ The moral quandary arises when people use such therapy not to cure a disease but to reach beyond health, to enhance their physical or cognitive capacities, to lift themselves above the norm.” The “norm” or average will rise higher and higher as parents gain access to the selection of a child’s appearance, likes and dislikes, traits, and abilities, leading to a rat race caused by crossing the fine line between remedy and enhancement. It seems to be no longer a question of whether or not we can do it, but instead a question of whether or not we should.

We need to ask ourselves if we want to live in a world where our children are “products of deliberate design” and where rigging the genetic lottery means overriding our children’s’ natural capacities. Although we all may have our own opinions on the topic, once genetic modification of physical and cognitive capacities beyond remedy is in practice, our opinions matter less and less. Our offspring, if not genetically modified, may not be able to compete with those who are enhanced. Those who choose against genetic modifications, or those who may not be able to afford them, might be left behind in the evolutionary race.

Read a transhumanist’s prespective at http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FB%3AINQU.0000019037.67783.d5?LI=true#/page-1 





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