Would you want to alter your future children’s genes to make them smarter, stronger or better-looking? As the state of the science brings prospects like these closer to reality, an international debate has been raging over the ethics of enhancing human capacities with biotechnologies such as so-called smart pills, brain implants and gene editing. This discussion has only intensified in the past year with the advent of the CRISPR-cas9 gene editing tool, which raises the specter of tinkering with our DNA to improve traits like intelligence, athleticism and even moral reasoning.
So are we on the brink of a brave new world of genetically enhanced humanity? Perhaps. And there’s an interesting wrinkle: It’s reasonable to believe that any seismic shift toward genetic enhancement will not be centered in Western countries like the U.S. or the U.K., where many modern technologies are pioneered. Instead, genetic enhancement is more likely to emerge out of China.
[full article in The Conversation]
(BTW Reg's Sunday School link this week to Pew ("future") refers to a related Pew report. In fact one report is a supplement to the other, published on the same day, so Pew put some extra work into this topic for its readers.)
I was reading this recently - Chinese scientists to pioneer CRISPR trials on humans.
I think this tech will become increasingly relevant (and irrelevant) in discussions about science, biology, and China. We're on the cutting edge of bio-ethics here, not to mention perceptions of diverse (Chinese vs West) populations about the tech.
By "irrelevant", I'm thinking of tons of myth and propaganda that will be produced and consumed. This is GMO of humans.
I'd like to see the fixing of genetic disorders before we start trying to tinker with the rest of the DNA. It's just so hard to predict the consequences of a change in genetics and epigenetics, I don't think it's worth trying to enhance anything until we better understand how it works.
So to avoid that, lets assume that the technology works perfectly and we can basically edit any and all human traits with no consequence. Why wouldn't we? In 20 years time we would have a generation of highly intelligent, healthy, workers. Here's a potential problem: if everyone is highly intelligent and healthy, who will do our more mundane jobs like collecting garbage, stacking shelves, etc?
An issue I haven't seen pop up yet is about how vulnerable we humans might be to modifications in consciousness. Most genes interact with each other in some way, and in fact the most recent evolution of our brains has happened so quickly (in terms of tens of thousands of years) that a certain percentage of us suffer from neuro-psychological diseases. (I.e. if natural evolution had more time to shape our genes before we started shaping our own, I think we'd naturally have better mental health.)
Anyway, point being (as you're also emphasizing), we're not just playing with unpredictable physical properties of humans, but mental as well. It's going to be impossible to learn of such consequences (whether positive or negative) until an experimental human has been produced "in vivo" (i.e. in the flesh).
I had a little argument with a smart and informed guy about the ethics of the genetically "three parent" child. That's where a mother with a mitochondrial disease gets the bad mitochondria in her egg replaced with another female's (healthy) mitochondria. This is actually a pretty minor change in the mother's genetics, and in fact it doesn't even affect her copy of DNA chromosomes. Anyway, this guy (with good intention) had the misperception that it was "messing with DNA", which wasn't easy for me to correct for him.
Maybe the story would be less confusing if it's just described more simply as "replacing one woman's egg DNA with the actual mother's DNA", and then implanting the egg into to the mother, which is even less foreign than implanting an entire other woman's egg into a surrogate mother (which we've been doing for decades).
Most people seem to associate any modifications to others as wrong. If THEIR diabetes or cancer or whatever can be cured, that's different.
Most also don't really understand genetics. This is why there is such as furor over GMO food.
IE: There's no real difference between husbandry/farming techniques practiced for thousands of years to select crops/livestock for desirable traits...and selecting the traits genetically.
BOTH techniques can have unintended as well as the intended consequences, such as English Bull Dogs having a lot of medical issues, bannana's no longer being able to self reproduce or have tough protective peels, cows that are great at milk but not survival in the wild, etc.
When two tall people breed, the kids are proportionally likely to be taller too...that is selective breeding, and, woman tend to prefer taller males as a pattern, propagating it.
There are scenarios where taller people are not adapted to the environment, environments where people tend to be shorter for example.
There are also environments where being taller is an advantage, and shorter people are not as adapted, and so forth.
Humans have, overall, very low genetic diversity for a species. If we over specialize our traits, we run the risk of future conditions leaving us with no "genetic hole cards" to draw on to adapt to them.
So, on one hand, the objections I see are mostly centered on it being wrong to mess with DNA...yet its been done for millennia...and they never questioned it before...but the real issue, IMHO, is that the objections, if to be made, should center more on the future adaptability of a trait than its "moral" issues.
I have read that "blonde" is an endangered hair color (recessive gene). It was predicted that in the next century or so, almost no blonds with be left due to interbreeding with non-recessive hair colored mates.
Would it be "wrong" to try to make some blonds to preserve this disappearing trait?
Would it be "wrong" to allow the trait to disappear?
What about freckles?
What about genius or mental handicaps?
What about depression or creativity?
What about strength or speed?
And so forth.