Eugenics: A Dangerous Idea

Eugenics: A Dangerous Idea
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Should mankind take the reins of genetic evolution in its hands? This question needs to be debated internationally, just like nuclearization, and some regulations must be put in place. The potential for misuse & disaster is enormous. One cannot arbitrarily decide to make a gene change and get a desired result such as a superhuman being. I think that there are some research areas which are no-no (moral code of research). I am sure arbitrary, secret genetic modification will be added to those restrictions.

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"Sapiens - a brief history of humankind" Dr Yuval Harari, I read it. Factfulness can help people learn to overcome their evolved instincts and make rational decisions with data. Enlightenment Now can give you a counterintuitive understanding of macro trends, see that humans are improving at so many things and the opportunity exists to contribute to accelerating that. Hariri's books (Sapiens and the two sequels) are meant to be light, but scholarly readings and ideal for freshman year students to gain a broad perspective about history and the various contours that shape it.

In fact Harari in his second book "Homo Deus" describes a future in which in his opinion is inevitable, that contains a race of superhumans who have been genetically engineered and the rest who are subservient to them. Can legislation stop this? Given the history of the effectiveness of such legislations in other areas, the prospects of it succeeding are bleak indeed. Especially because of those who have the means, the gains could be so enormous.

Sought After Designer Babies

While procreating, humans should desire babies that duplicate the traits of parents rather than some superhuman. At least I would. But human nature being such, and also susceptible to inducements & cupidity, it is very likely that designer babies will be sought after, at least by some percentage of parents. In future it may also be possible to create babies without parents. That will be akin to 'Baby Farming', similar to poultry or stud farm. Who will 'own' these babies?! Will then have all the rights of citizenship? A country like China will not hesitate to create such babies for becoming cannon fodder in wars.

The problem is a technology for genetic manipulation exists. And the social pressure alone is unlikely to either stop its development or mould its future in what one might call "right" direction. Firstly, because there will never be any consensus about what is the right direction. Secondly, those who can afford to employ this technology for their selfish gains will do so, in a clandestine manner if necessary.

The potential for addressing diseases of genetic origin and thwarting or at least delaying the one genetic disease "aging" that all of us dread, is so huge that at least for medical purposes, social pressure to continue development of genetics will be enormous. But the same technology can also be used to genetically engineer designer babies..

The gene engineering will become cheap enough in a decade to be used by all and sundry. But there is a downside: while modifying a known gene may cure some diseases, it can still cause unknown side effects which may be detected in continuous follow-up of cases where this is applied. This is akin to the side effects of a new drug which cannot be all detected through field trials. Discovery of genes to be modified and its replacement itself will emerge out of the work of many researchers in the field.

Investing In The Defense Field

Thus, in my opinion, we can rule out rouge elements using this as a weapon of some kind. This still leaves country states who may do it with the might they invest in the defense field. Recall that nerve gas and likes were developed secretly and their existence is not revealed to the public. A wiki-leak may be a weapon to discover such instances (same as in clandestine nuclear weapon development).

Are we capable of making such far-reaching decisions with our meagre mental abilities and self-centred attitudes?

Can and should such developments be prevented by national legislation? Or should they be encouraged? I really don't know.. To some extent, we already have designer babies. E.g. if it turns out that the fetus has some serious disease, will be born with Down’s syndrome, the mother will many times abort. So to some extent this has already takes place. Also, if a technology is available, people will use it, look at sex selection abortions in India. It has been outlawed, but it is still widespread. So while government should frown upon the practice (except in the case of genetic diseases), I suspect in practice it will be very difficult to ban. Once technology becomes available, people will use it. Mankind's wisdom has always severely lagged its technological prowess. A few wise individuals have always managed to step in and save mankind from itself. Perhaps this will be no different...

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