The past century has been marked by tons of discoveries made in numerous fields such as technology, science, and engineering. One of the fields where the biggest leaps and breakthroughs have been made within that long period of time was in the field of genetic engineering. Ever since the human genome project was first conceptualized, genetic engineers and scientists knew that they are about to discover a lot of things just by simply sticking to what they are going to learn from the human genome project and in studying more modern genetic engineering concepts such as cloning and even stem cell transplant. This paper revolves around the debate question should medical research and practice focus on curing existing conditions or should it aim to enhance the physical and psychological condition of healthy human beings such that we will, in effect, be creating a healthier, and a stronger human species. A transcript of a debate featuring Gregory Stock, the author of the book Redesigning Humans and Michael Sandel, author of the article The Case against Perfection will be written, focusing on what each author would most likely have to say in case a real debate between the two takes place.
My position in this issue on whether the human race must focus its resources on continuously combating the diseases and existing medical conditions that come its way or it should just focus on enhancing the physical and psychological factors and variables that make up a healthy human being supports the latter. That is, I think that it is necessary for the survival of the human race to make full use of all the available strategies and technologies when it comes to health and medical research and practice. After all, it is the lives of billions of medically vulnerable people that we are talking about here. The next question for the conservatives (at least when it comes to this issue) would be whether they are willing to risk the lives of billions of people just because of their morality or their resistance to change—the change that suggests that humans must be and must be capable of being redesigned. In my book entitled Redesigning Humans, I said that “remaking ourselves is the ultimate human expression and realization of our humanity” ; that “if we are in general physical decline and every aspect of our physiology is gradually running down as we age, then by avoiding death from specific age-related conditions such as atherosclerosis we simply ensure that the decline in all our bodily systems is relatively balanced”; that “technology does not stand still’; and that “a different kind of health concern relates to humans as a species” .
All of these statements from my book strengthen the notion that society, once and for all, must allow and in fact make the necessary arrangements for the approval and complete acceptance of the idea of human redesigning. We are not living in the dark ages where people’s attention are locked in on the church and what the church is trying to teach us to do and not to do anymore. We are now living in a highly enlightened era where technology, innovation, and continuous progress are the characteristics that matter the most. Unfortunately, it would be impossible even for the most genetically gifted humans in terms of health to successfully and reliably (within the context of longevity) excel in these three areas if we are just going to die as a result of a life-threatening disease. Diseases have so far been a common part of human existence. People’s life expectancy as a result of continuous ground breaking technological advancements in the field of medicine has dramatically increased. Humans tend to be fidgety; they do not get contented easily and so now, they are yearning for an even larger improvement in terms of life expectancy. While this may be a good thing for this type of mindset encourages discovery and innovation, the chances that it would later on turn into greed are quite high.
This is, in fact, what conservatives, specifically those who are against the concept of genetic engineering or human redesigning are worried about. They fear that the situation would eventually go out of control in the future to the point that they are missing the opportunity to improve the quality of life of a lot of people. It has always been said in the field of medicine that prevention is and will always be better than cure. Now, I do not see why we fail to apply this concept to the field of genetic engineering. By genetically modifying, or basically redesigning certain aspects or characteristics of modern day humans, we can actually become healthier, resistant to diseases, and therefore live a happier and longer life. This is what everybody wants for themselves.
Unfortunately, the conservatives apparently are too apprehensive of the intentions of the ones who are pushing for this policy or agenda to the point that they are willing to trade the huge benefits of being genetically redesigned on everyone in society’s health and wellness. This is, in fact, one of the situations where I can say that humans’ apprehension and resistance to change can do a lot more harm than good. I believe such natural reactions to change were put in place as a form of defense mechanism but it seems that in this case, it is working the opposite way that it has been intended to work.
I do not think that society must focus more on enhancing the physical and psychological condition of humans in order to create a healthier and more disease-resistant generation of humans because this goes against the established norms and code of ethics in society, especially when it comes to the issue of free will and autonomy. Additionally, the safety, reliability, and success of the current lineup of genetic engineering-related procedures to enhance the health of a typical human are not yet proven. In my article, I stated that “the birth of Dolly the cloned sheep in 1997 brought a torrent of concern about the prospect of cloned human beings; there are good medical reasons to worry; most scientists agree that cloning is unsafe, likely to produce offspring with serious abnormalities” . Dolly died prematurely. This only shows that with the current knowledge and technology available to us, it still remains unsafe to redesign humans. This is simply a risk we cannot afford to take, at least yet because lives are what are at stake here.
I also mentioned that “cloning is wrong because it violates the right to autonomy” and that even “at first glance, the autonomy argument seems to capture what is troubling about human cloning and other forms of genetic engineering” . This is true because by genetically redesigning would-be born children, we are basically stripping them off their rights to have an open future just like how we did when we were born.
The only way I see to solve this dilemma on whether society must focus on combating diseases the conventional way (which is the position I support) or just shift its attention towards genetic engineering and start to modify and redesign humans, is to “confront the questions largely lost from view” . These questions are those related to the moral status of nature and the proper stance of human beings toward the given world. By redesigning humans just for the sake of making them healthier and perhaps more resistant to diseases, in other words, almost perfect if not completely perfect, we are effectively changing and defying the laws of nature.
These sums up my argument and position on why I think we must take things more seriously and slowly and therefore focus on what has been proven to work and that is focusing on combating diseases and medical disorders the conventional way instead of taking more risky moves such as genetically redesigning humans.
Sandel, M. "The Case Against Perfection." The Atlantic (2004).
Stock, G. "Redesigning Humans: Out Inevitable Genetic Future." Science (2002).