In Professor Matthew Liao’s “Selecting Children” paper, as well as in his presentation to our class two weeks ago, Liao discussed the ethical implications of genetically engineering embryos and the idea of biotechnically designing babies. Liao argues in his research that, given the technological capabilities to engineer embryos, it is ethically in our favor to encourage the bioengineering of embryos so that humans are born without certain, arguably faulty, genetic “flaws”. Of these genetic flaws include the susceptibility for blindness, deafness, and so forth. According to Liao, it is morally obligatory for us to select the best life that we possibly can for any future offspring, given that we are capable of guaranteeing so.
Antonio Regalado considers the theory of bioengineering human embryos in the MIT Technology Review published paper, “Engineering the Perfect Baby“. In this article, Regalado interviews key players in the current field of biotechnology to discuss both the prospects of the science, as well as the implications that will result. Most researchers confirmed the notion that the current research on biotechnology indicates that it is not a question of ‘if’ the science is possible, but rather a question of when. Furthermore, Regalado presents a selection of views on both the ethical and practical implications of successfully engineering embryos, and therefore, actual human beings. One viewpoint which he mentions is that of philosopher Nick Bostrom, who claims that as
“the human genome is not perfect. It’s ethically imperative to positively support this technology”
Here, Bostrom makes a similar argument as does Liao, both implying that we have the ethical desire to attempt genetic perfection in creating our offspring. And while it may seem logical for Bostrom and Liao to desire the idea of human genetic perfection, the implications of such sciences are multi-faceted.
To begin with, once biotechnology is fully advanced and practiced, the future of human evolution will forever be changed. For one, we wouldn’t know what the ramification of engineered genes will necessarily be for future generations, as the possibility of mutated genes as a result of biotechnology is certainly possibly, yet currently unprecedented. Furthermore, the argument arises that once such technology is created and officially put into practice, where will it stop? Will the aforementioned standards of ethically guaranteeing the “best quality of life” to offspring really stop merely at that? Or rather, at what point does the manipulation of genes continue to infiltrate the human design? Most of all, I am concerned with the question of the social implications of such an advancement of technology. Even if we are merely assuming a limited scope of genetic engineering capabilities, such as what is discussed in Professor Liao’s paper — how do we expect such a drastic innovation in biotechnology to alter the socio-economic standards of society? In all discourse on the bioengineering of genes, it is commonly assumed that the practice of such (whether ranging from merely IVF or genetically designing the IQ of your baby) come with an arguably hefty price tag. Given that fact alone, how is society expected to cope with such a socio-economic divide that will drastically alter the biological separation of those in varying socio-economic classes?
While the notion of socio-economics may seem tangential to the discussion of the scientific achievements and pitfalls that are to come with biotechnology improvements, I am of the belief that it is a core issue that must be addressed before we can allow biotechnology to fully materialize. Unlike other scientific feats, the generation of biotechnically engineered humans will the immediate societies of the near future by creating an irreversible divide in the human race, so the question remains– can this be a decision made by few?