Monday, April 14, 2008

What is "Perfect," Anyway?

Don't worry, this isn't going to be some asinine philosophical rant about the subjective vs. objective interpretations of perfection. I will admit to enjoying a good verbal sparring match over such topics, but in order to spar one must have someone to spar with. So until Steven and I start generating some traffic I'll keep to simple one-sided bloviation.

This post was partially inspired by Steven's earlier post on genetic manipulation of human embryos. The possibilities for these sorts of technologies are, quite simply, beyond comprehension at this point, but they do seem to fall into a few major categories:

  1. Selective implantation of only the most "fit" embryos (a la Gattacca - a movie where, against all common sense, it is claimed that Uma Thurman is not one of the most fit)
  2. Selective removal of only those embryos deemed "unfit," without any further tampering or selection (this is already being done to a certain extent today, as mentioned in Steven's post).
  3. Enhancement (or, if you prefer, alteration) of embryos via targeted genetic manipulation to include traits not already present (there are so many different ways to adjust genetic makeup that providing an example seems silly. I'm sure you can think of one on your own).

I make no claim to any greater philosophical or ethical knowledge than anyone else, and this issue is one in which there is no clear black/white answer. The possibility of genetically altering humans to eradicate hereditary diseases is a wonderful prospect, but with such power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben would say. As was clearly depicted in the film Gattacca, those people whose parents opted to avoid such genetic screening could become outcasts - part of a lower caste not because of how they look or some past crime, but because of their supposedly inferior genes.

On the other hand is the enhancement of humans through manipulation of genetic material beyond simply "fixing" areas that could lead to disease. This brings up fears of creating an entirely new species of humans, call them superhumans, posthumans, transhumans, or, if you are a fan of one Hubert Farnsworth, call them Atomic Supermen. Whatever you call them, you best make sure they approve of the name, because they're going to be bigger, faster, stronger, and smarter than you could ever hope to be, simply because you had the misfortune of being born before the era of rampant genetic modification.

No comments: