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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Children by Design

By Silvia Uribe

Children made to order will be possible in not too long! As a society, we have accomplished a lot in the science field, and now we also need to think about how far we want to go. It is almost certain that during our lifetime we will have to face important decisions on whether we want to create a new kind of humanity; namely an enhanced one, or to be more specific, one with "super-humans". How will this be possible? Genetic engineering is the answer.

Genetic engineering is defined as the process of inserting new genetic information into existing cells in order to modify a specific organism for the purpose of changing one (or more) of its characteristics.

This genetic manipulation is still imperfect. Many of the lab trials with rats have not yielded the expected results. In these cases, scientists get rid of the imperfect creatures, keeping only the "successful" ones. Because present laws stipulate that the same cannot be done with a human embryo or fetus, scientist will have to perfect their systems before genetic engineering is considered a safe practice. Then, it will be widely launched to the general public. This means that we still have some time to think about the repercussions, whichever they may be, of creating improved human beings.

If we just take it at face value, it sounds like a dream come true. It seems like everyone will be better off in every possible way. But is that so? Perhaps we need to be a little more analytical and think, for instance, that even though scientists will get to an acceptable level of safety, the truth is that we cannot expect it to be 100% safe. When messing with genetics, we cannot begin to imagine what the consequences may be should things not go the way we want them to.

We should ask ourselves, are we willing to take the risk? And if we were, what would happen to those human beings to whom science fails? Would we allow them to live, or would we decide to terminate the lives that are negatively affected? As I'm writing this, minuscule electric shocks go up and down my spine! It is almost as if we're talking about an inanimate object, not about a person … certainly not about our children, or our grandchildren!

But why be so pessimistic! Let's think about those instances in which science will be successful. First of all, let's take a step back and bring it more to a personal level. Think about what traits you would want to ensure in your children. You could choose the gender and the color of their eyes and hair. Would you like to select their height or a particular type of body? Longevity could be also a choice. Have you thought about giving them a superior intelligence and bullet-proof health (i.e. no infancy related illnesses?) Why not have it all?

As we can imagine, all these enhancements will cost money, a lot of money! This mere fact faces us with yet an additional set of considerations. If only those who have the financial means could pay for genetic enhancements, what will happen with the rest of the world population who cannot? It is not hard to imagine that automatically there will be two classes of human beings: those enhanced, and those who are not. There will be a truly superior class, and, by consequence, an inferior one. Sounds familiar? Wasn't this Hitler's dream?

Like I said, time is on our side to ponder about this now. We need to think about these issues not only from a pragmatic, but also from an ethical point of view. If we are spiritual or religiously oriented, is our conscience ok with this? And if we are not spiritual, nor religious, but we hope to live in a world with more social justice, what will the social consequences of having two different classes of human beings be? Are we prepared to deal with those consequences?

We live in a world that is mostly driven by the rules of supply and demand. It is we as consumers and donors who will be able to determine how far we want scientists to go in their pursuit of human perfection. We're not only talking about animals' lives that are being spared now (frequently, in an extremely cruel way) in the search of the "super-human." In this case, we are also talking about promoting the most extreme inequity among human beings.

This goes beyond borders, cultures, and languages. Everyone will be affected. We will not be able to evade our responsibility.

Where do you stand?

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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