The Importance of an life that hasn't been lived.
I have brown eyes, she has green eyes, and they have hazel eyes. I have asthma, she has eczema, he has a peanut allergy. They all have a birthmark on their arm while they have one on their neck. She has this, he has that, they have this, and you have that. None of these things change the importance of the person. What if I said She has sickle cell and he has cancer? One might start to pity these unknown people with random descriptions but this doesn’t change their importance in life. One person might see that statement and feel a personal connection because of a loss that they’ve experienced. Someone else might feel a little sad but forget about it a few minutes later. To those who feel deeply and immensely, what if someone told you that there’s a way to never experience such loss again! Coming to health care systems near you is the CRISPR! A gene editing tool that can delete the genes of your unborn child to keep them from getting cancer, sickle cell, and other diseases. To make things sound even better, it is all by choice! You don’t have to use such tools unless you want to. Doesn’t this sound like a dream?
If someone promoted gene editing tools to you in this way, then it would sound like a dream but it is impossible to introduce something in the present without acknowledging the past. Eugenics, in simple terms, was a movement that promoted reproduction from only those who were fit. If you’re wondering what it means to be fit, you’re not going to find an answer that makes any logical sense. Those who were fit were those who had no mental illness in their family, no convicts in their families, and no physical disorders within themselves or their family. They believed that if you met these standards, you had what was known as “good genes.” It sounds pretty straightforward but it wasn’t this “simple.” They would forcefully sterilize people, ban interracial marriages, and unfairly take intelligence quotient tests to see if people were fit for reproduction. At the end of the day, these eugenics policies cause mayhem within the country. Knowing this, consider that “the horrible abuses committed in the name of eugenics through coercive policies imposed by governments have obscured the fact that eugenic goals can be the subject of choice as well as coercion” (National Institutes of Health). Modern Eugenics or as the sugar coaters call it, beneficial gene editing, has the same goal as 19th century eugenic ideas. It’s the idea that there are people who have worth and those who don’t. Those who don’t shouldn’t continue to have children unless they find some way to make their child worth something.Yes, this tool has voluntary participation and is mostly for the removal of diseases but who is to say that the policies won’t transform and give people the ability to have their very own customizable baby. It starts out with people who think like when “Olivia’s own brother and his wife got news of a gene that increased risk for cancer in their kids. ‘If you could get rid of it, why wouldn’t you?’ he asked” (MIT Technology Review). If you can get rid of cancer why wouldn’t you? This is a valid remark. If I want my child to have brown eyes instead of blue eyes, why shouldn’t I? You see how that one is a little more illogical. The start of every story is slow and anticlimactic until you reach the end where all the destruction and chaos has already occurred. Is it unethical or immoral to want to decrease the cases of cancer? No. Is it unethical or immoral to want to change the physical appearance of your child? Yes and although this hasn’t been the case for the CRISPR yet, we live in a world that takes the moral and makes it immoral. Why send the message that you’re only important or fit if you don’t have sickle cell anemia or if you don’t have brown eyes? How can we dictate the importance of one’s life before they’ve even lived it? You can’t.
The Ethical and Moral Questions of the New Eugenics
Voluntary eugenics is immoral in some ways but not all because yes although it brings back the same principles as eugenics in the 20th century, altering genetic makeup could help cure diseases for future generations. Society would be “eliminating” those they see unfit to be born, whether it is an immune disease like sickle cell or a mental disability like ADD. These ideas are further discussed in the National Review article: "The New Eugenics" by Matthew Ridley, “This breakthrough will open an amazing world of possibilities for medicine– including the prediction , prevention, and treatment of many diseases, from kidney stones to cancer…” In the article, The Darker Side of CRISPR, Sandy Sufian explains how with further research, scientists were able to increase life expectancy of those who suffer from CF or Cystic Fibrosis from 15 to 44, “Today’s average life expectancy is 44, but with novel medicines called cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) modulators, people with CF are expected to live even longer with fewer hospitalizations. These transformations in life expectancy attest to the changing nature of prognosis, one for which CRISPR’s editing cannot account.” These are the same circumstances Eugenicists thrived on, the ability to create a better race and species for future generations. Ultimately the choice should be left with the parents because it would be their child. The world already seems to have different ideas about the lives of unborn children, this is seen in different abortion policies throughout the world. And with all the benefits, our history does not demonstrate a common understanding of how to use these technologies ethically. Another excerpt from the article The New Eugenics describes this dilemma perfectly, “After a cursory examination, Viavian was declared an imbecile – she was six months old at the time!– and Carrie was ordered sterilized to prevent her from bringing more imbeciles into the world…But what it actually achieved, when translated into policies, was a human-rights catastrophe: the rejection of many immigrants, the sterilization of many people whose only crime was to have a below-average intelligence, and eventually, in Germany, the murder of millions of people.” Having similar ideas or intentions only led to terrible outcomes, nothing good has come of them, and even today we still face the repercussions of our actions. If society were to continue this cycle and try again with genetically modified babies, we would only be hurting ourselves in the long run. However, if this type of technology were to gain immense traction and media popularity, then outlawing it completely would only lead to more catastrophic consequences. There is a likely chance that this kind of procedure would still be performed either way. When some places in the world banned medical procedures, like abortion, people looked to other places to have them done. And a short quote from The Harvard Gazette supports this completely, “‘...I have been involved in efforts to establish international standards of professional conduct for stem cell research and its clinical translation, knowing full well that there could be — and has been — a growing number of independent practitioners directly marketing unproven interventions to vulnerable patients … You can’t control rogue scientists in any field.’”
When we’re talking about “designer babies,” voluntary eugenics is immoral, because the traits society considers as ideal are exclusive: for example, our society as a whole values neurotypical individuals and their perspectives more than it does neurodivergent people. Therefore, voluntary eugenics aimed at creating “designer babies” could eventually cut neurodivergence out of the human gene pool. This would be a great loss to humans, as it is essential to our survival that we have many different perspectives. For example, to reduce the harm climate change is causing and will cause, we need outside-the-box, radical, science-based ideas, which means we need scientists who can be very creative and see things from new angles.
That said, voluntary, modern eugenics will not solely be used to create “designer babies;” on the contrary, it was created to cure previously incurable genetic conditions, such as sickle cell and cystic fibrosis. The answer may then seem simple: only use modern eugenics to cure and prevent harmful genetic conditions, and there is no moral problem. But, Sandy Sufian and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson explain in “The Dark Side of CRISPR” that their genetic conditions (cystic fibrosis and syndactyly) are part of their identities. They say that they receive treatments, and they do not want to go further and use CRISPR to remove their genetic code that gave them their conditions. Additionally, they explain that society sees their conditions as horrible because of the mistaken belief that people with disabilities or genetic conditions are constantly suffering. In reality, they explain, while they do suffer because of their genetic conditions, they certainly do not suffer all the time, nor do they suffer more than a person without such genetic conditions.
In light of Sufian’s and Garland-Thomson’s testimony, I think that CRISPR is an incredibly personal technology; after all, it has the ability to fundamentally change a part of someone’s identity and life. Therefore, I do not think it is moral to edit embryos, because people must be able to choose whether or not to edit their genes and change their lives; they can only make this choice by living. As buttercup said, so-labeled “bad” genes “do not mean a person is going to have a bad life.” Our own judgements about whether a trait, or even a genetic condition, is “good” or “bad” is not sufficient justification for changing the genetic makeup of an embryo, nor is it part of a person’s reproductive freedom. Rather, it is overly-invasive.
Now, despite all of my above arguments about the potential danger of CRISPR, I do not believe that it should be banned. I agree with buttercup, who explained that even if we ban CRISPR, people will still use it, posing the real question as whether or not we regulate CRISPR. I think we absolutely must regulate CRISPR, to prevent it from being used to edit embryos (at the very least until the scientific community comes to a consensus about the scientific morality of editing embryos) and to ensure it is used safely and offered to all who need it. For example, a person who wants to use CRISPR to cure their genetic condition should not be prevented by its cost.
Finally, Robert Truog, from the Harvard Gazette, makes the point that the biggest issue around CRISPR is regulation: namely, how the scientific community will regulate itself to keep CRISPR in check. To me, regulation and morality go hand-in-hand, and I honestly believe that in order to understand the morality of CRISPR and to thus properly regulate it, we need to hear from scientists, historians, and people with genetic conditions that CRISPR has the ability to change. All these differing views will make it very difficult to find a resolution, but a decision on CRISPR, a technology that will help shape the future and one that involves varying perspectives and experiences, is impossible without vast input.
The Ethical and Moral Questions of New Eugenics.
It is impossible to deny the great potential for positive contributions to society by gene-editing technology such as CRISPR. With this technology, it becomes possible to lessen the pain and suffering that comes with some genetic diseases. In the article, “Designer Babies Aren’t Futuristic, They’re Already Here,” Laura Hercher discusses the immense benefits of this technology. “Olivia’s own brother and his wife [could edit] a gene that increased risk for cancer in their kids,” she pointed out.
A world in which genetic diseases are eradicated or made less common through gene editing technology is undoubtedly a better one. However, it is also important to remember the insurmountable terror inflicted on society through the first Eugenics movement. Eugenics was used to justify genocide, forced sterilization, descrimination, and so much more. The original principles of the eugenics movement were to better the stock of human genes, artificially increasing humanities biological fitness. No matter what the specific intentions are, this is effectively the same goal as the original Eugenics movement. Society can’t be trusted to use these similar ideas differently after only about a century. It is too optimistic to think that society would manage to deal with eugenics differently. Even in our world today, there are many people who view good genetics differently. Some people with genetic differences, diseases or disabilities might see their attributes as important to having a diverse society. With the remains of eugenic policies such as redlining and the Separate but Equal doctrine still deeply affecting humanity, it would be way too easy for society to slip back into old habits, using eugenics to discriminate once again.
In addition to eliminating some genetic diversity, gene editing technology certainly has the potential to result in greater inequities in society. Gene editing technology is medical, and will cost money especially in countries with healthcare systems primarily in the private sector like the United States. More wealthy people will have access and be able to afford the usage of this technology. They can make the best edits to their child’s genes without fearing large medical costs. In this scenario, wealthy people will be able to live longer, healthier, and advantaged lives. Just being born into an impoverished family without the means to make many genetic edits could change the outlook of one’s life compared to that of a wealthy child. Even though some democratic countries could have laws regulating access to genetic editing technology, this regulation is not probable or even possible in all parts of the world. As pigeondrivesabus stated, non democratic countries in our world have a likely potential to misuse gene editing technology to create a, “more perfect society,” which could lead to ethnic cleansing of, “less desirable peoples.” Given the chance, many people will give their children and themselves any advantage they can find regardless of the consequences of inequity in society. For these reasons, the full embracement of gene editing technology into society is unwise and unjust. However, the benefits of minimizing pain and suffering from some genetic conditions do outweigh the risks of the new Eugenics movement as long as genetic engineering is kept solely to prevent disease. In the Harvard Gazette’s article, “Perspectives on Gene Editing,” George Q. Daley, the dean of HMS, and Caroline Shields Walker Professor of Medicine asserted that a differentiation could be made between two types of genetic editing. “There are stark distinctions between editing genes in an embryo to prevent a baby from being born with sickle cell anemia and editing genes to alter the appearance or intelligence of future generations,” he said. Dr. Daleys distinctions should be used to decide the moral aspects of gene editing like preventing diseases to exist while limiting or doing away with editing traits by choice.
Learn to Question Post 4: The Ethical and Moral Questions of the New Eugenics
Using CRISPR to alter the genetic makeup of offspring is not immoral when used to treat or cure a disease by genetic mutation. It poses a new question when it is used by higher class families to have their kids be born with more intelligence or certain looks compared to lower class kids, though. Greater social divide will follow when there aren’t any regulations set in place to make sure not only higher class families will be able to take advantage of gene-editing technology. Parents should have the freedom to choose what they want for their kids, and if they feel that their health and future will be better without a certain disease then gene-editing should be a choice for them. In the MIT Technology Review article by Laura Hercher, Matthew and Olivia didn’t consider themselves as having “designer babies” because their intention was to only look out for the health and wellbeing of their child. Matthew had personally been affected by dystonia himself, so he knows how difficult his life became after the weakness in his knee began to show. Now as a parent he is aware that he doesn’t want to pass this on to his kids or any kids that they have in the future, as it doesn’t do any good. Reasons like these are why parents should have the choice of gene-editing their kids to prevent them from unnecessary confusion or difficulty with their life in the future. On the other hand, changing the looks or intelligence of your offspring leads to greater inequity in society when only the rich are able to afford this technology. This creates a dystopian society where the world is bland and everyone is expected to look like a supermodel and ace SAT scores.
With CRISPR, there are many benefits but there is no guarantee that no one will use gene-editing unethically or for sinister purposes. Like many new technologies that have been introduced to humanity throughout the years, there have always been some type of sinister uses that came along but it is crucial that we set regulations and punish those who aren’t using these technologies ethnically. The Harvard Gazette’s “Perspectives on Gene Editing” states, “The concern is that with technologies that are relatively easy to use, like CRISPR, how does the scientific community regulate itself? If there’s a silver lining to this cloud, I think it is that the scientific community did pull together to be critical of this work, and took the responsibility seriously to use the tools available to them to regulate themselves.” We witnessed the consequences of Dr. He’s actions not only through the 2 year sentence in jail but also through the criticism that he has received worldwide from other scientists. The heavy criticism on his work causes other scientists to reflect on their actions and rethink whether what they’re doing is really ethical or not. If gene-editing became banned then it could lead to rogue scientists performing their own experiments that could possibly ruin multiple generations. It is better to have scientists that are well informed with guidance from others and to advance as a society rather than to have people work on their own experiments hidden from the government.
The Benefits Outweigh the Risks
Voluntary eugenics, or the choice to alter the genetic makeup of offspring, is not immoral. It’s rather a matter of reproductive freedom. In the article, “What is immoral about eugenics?”Caplan stated that “parents should be free to pick… as long as their selection imposed no risk for the child, did not compromise the child's chance of maximizing his or her opportunities, or lead to parents becoming overly invested in superficial aspects of the child's appearance or behavior.” As long as the line is drawn, it shouldn’t be considered immoral. cbgb1946 makes a valid point when they state, “CRISPR can be used for beneficial reasons, but ultimately people will take the technology too far, and promote taking risks within coding the perfect genetics for an individual’s offspring.” The concern can be understood, but to what extent is this reasoning valid if others are at a serious risk. Isn't it morally irresponsible to let others suffer, to the extent of even dying, in order to prevent a small percentage from using this technology to their own advantage? There’s always going to be people using this kind of technology to their advantage and work their way around laws, but that’s just unavoidable.
The risks of this new technology do not outweigh the benefits. Bergman states in “The Harvard Gazette” “This is a technology that holds enormous promise, and it is likely to be applied to the embryo, but it should only be applied for clinical purposes after the right work has been done. That means we must have consensus on what applications are acceptable, that we have appropriate regulatory oversight, and, perhaps most importantly, that it is safe.” That’s exactly right. The fact that there is a potential one-cure-for-all being perfected, this could solve long-standing health issues and help many. Sure, there are risks, but as we stated during our Dinner Table Debate, if we have a potential solution that could help so many people, that is worth any sort of risk that this new technology could have. It should be kept in mind that any gene editing is voluntary, so these patients should be aware of the risks.
With our history with eugenic policies over the last hundred years, it is understandable for some concerns regarding these ‘new Eugenics’. It has demonstrated a distrust in humanity’s ability to use these technologies ethically. The ‘slippery slope’ to something more sinister can be avoided with laws and regulations restricting gene editing to strictly medical use. It is important to tread carefully and treat the issue with caution in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. In addition to decreasing natural human variation, gene editing technologies do have the potential to lead to greater inequity in society because of the wealthy’s access to this technology and increasing social divisions. To prevent this from happening and causing a social imbalance, there should be health insurance to cover these procedures. It should be made accessible to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it, even more so if it’s life or death. Again, it’s a matter of drawing the lines and boundaries. For the greater good, this technology’s benefits outweigh the risks and should be implemented after more studies are done and it has been perfected, proving to having a good chance of being safe. Common medicine has its own risks, but those side effects only effect a small percentage of people. It does more good and helps solve the issue. CRISPR is the same way, just at a bigger scale.
LTQ Post 4: The New Eugenics
In the modern era a new age of Eugenics has emerged, the main difference between the old and new eugenics is choice. Voluntary eugenics is based on the choice of the individual to make a choice on who and when to reproduce. These ideas even if they are voluntary are immoral and not a part of reproductive freedom. In the past the eugenics movement has been attached to the movement to reproductive freedom, like the push for access to contraceptives in the 19th century. Even though the ideas brought forward by Marget Sanger were revolutionary for the time, with our modern lens we can easily separate the good for the bad. The same is true today, though women’s rights have been taken away due to overturning of Roe v. Wade the solution is not eugenics.
With the new wave of modern eugenics comes new science like CRISPR, which allows for gene editing. This technology has the potential to do a lot of good in the world, however humanities history with Eugenics heeds a warning that this much power over nature can be dangerous. In the past people have committed ethnic cleanses and genocide under the guides of science and the betterment of the human race. These people’s actions in hindsight had nothing to do with science, but with the take over of resources for various ethnic groups. With all of the power that comes with the ability to edit the genetic code that defines human life come many ethical questions which could lead humanity down a slippery slope.
The new technology of the modern era is not available to the general population, only the elite will have access to such life altering technology. In the US specifically the few billionaires hold so much power that they can influence the policy that will govern the technology they seek to use. These people already have a financial advantage in life, which gives their children access to high quality education, with the addition of gene editing this societal imbalance will be exacerbated. The rich will not only hold the power in the world, but will become stronger, smarter, and more creative than the general population. This will widen that already vast gap in wealth between the top one percent and everyone else, creating two different worlds, one for the rich and one for everyone else.
The premise of the final question is one that makes little to no sense. I assume that the “less democratic” nations refer to the U.S.’s enemies like China and Russia. But, if there was one country that would have the ability, resources, and desire to create super soldiers it would be the US. This is because the US spends by far the most in the world on the military and has many of the world's top universities to generate scientists to create groundbreaking technology. So, The US should not make super soldiers, because if they did it would be America that started the present allowing the creation of such weapons.
With care, responsible decision making, and strong regulations which are widely enforced, gene-editing technology could have a positive impact on humanity. Getting to this place will be difficult, but it is necessary in order for humanity to keep moving forward and to ensure that this technology does not fall into the wrong hands. Voluntary eugenics can be separated into two categories: health related gene editing and gene-editing related to other traits. The first is moral. The second one is not.
The ability to remove genetically transferred diseases has the immense potential to impact the lives of families for the better. As Richard Hammermesh, faculty co-chair of the Harvard Business School/Kraft Precision Medicine Accelerator, states, “developing safe, effective ways to use gene editing to treat people with serious diseases with no known cures has so much potential to relieve suffering that it is hard to see how anyone could be against it.” If humanity has the ability to access lifesaving technology, it should be put into use, just as other technologies are introduced into the medical field on a constant basis.
However, editing genetic traits, such as height and eye color, are more arbitrary decisions based on societal ideas of what is favorable or unfavorable, and therefore, doing so could be incredibly harmful. The article “What is Immoral About Eugenics?” accurately describes the risks, stating that “allowing parental choice about the genetic makeup of their children may lead to the creation of a genetic “overclass” with unfair advantages over those whose parents did not or could not afford to endow them with the right biological dispositions and traits.” Genetic editing that falls into this category can be influenced by groupthink and societal biases about what qualities are seen as “good” or “bad”. Allowing genetic editing in this manner would open a door to the expansion of a wide breadth of social inequalities and access issues established by the first wave of eugenics and the legislation and discrimination that followed.
In addition, the way society and the scientific establishment responded to the reports of genetic modification of twins in China is a reassuring sign in regards to ethical responses to the technology. It seems that the world is proceeding with wariness and caution regarding this technology, which is appropriate for a technology that could have devastating implications for society. As gene-editing technology is implemented for medical use, strict regulations, agreed upon by scientists and medical professionals, should also emerge.There is also strong precedence for these regulations established by the FDA guidelines on germline editing, a practice that falls into the category of gene-editing and has been used for over 20 years.
Venturing into the world of gene editing is a precarious risk, however it is a risk that must be taken. With appropriate caution and regulation, gene editing technology could be lifesaving, and to shy away from this is a disservice to humanity. This does not mean that society should ignore the many risks of this technology, it simply means that society has the capacity to deal with these risks effectively in order to use the technology for the better.