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Robert P . George Ethics, Politics, and Genetic Knowledge THE DAY MAY COME W H E N BIOTECHNOLOGICAL SCIENCE MAKES IT possible for parents to custom design their offspring, m anipulating genes to produce children w ith the “superior” traits—strength, intel­ ligence, beauty—the parent or parents desire. But th at day is still a long way off. The relationship betw een genes and qualities such as intelligence and athletic prowess turns out to be so complex that the dream or nightm are of “designer babies” may never become a reality. That does not m ean we should not worry about the possibility. But, for now, we should not spend too m uch of our w ony budget on it. There are far more urgent things to be concerned about today in the field of biotechnology. Before discussing these things, however, we should pause to reflect on the blessings th at genetic knowledge and the biotechnolo­ gies it makes possible have delivered or will deliver soon. Much genetic knowledge has been generated by inquiry aim ed at curing diseases, healing afflictions, and am eliorating suffering. Valuable biotechnolo­ gies have been developed for the purpose of advancing hum an health and well-being. This is to be applauded. Moreover, genetic knowledge, like knowledge in other fields of intellectual inquiry, is intrinsically valuable. Even apart from its util­ ity in m edicine, such knowledge is hum anly fulfilling and, indeed, fulfilling in a special way since m uch genetic knowledge is a species of self-knowledge. Advances in genetics help us to explore and under­ stand more fully that greatest of mysteries, namely, the mystery of m an himself. These advances, too, deserve our applause. Now let us turn to the worries—the urgent ones. Roundtable Discussion 1029 The first worry is that we may compromise, or further compro­ mise, in both science and politics, the principle that every hum an being, irrespective of age, size, m ental or physical condition, stage of develop­ m ent, or condition of dependency, possesses inherent w orth and dignity and a right to life. Proponents of research involving the destruction of hum an beings in the em bryonic stage for biomedical research began by proposing only that “spare” embryos held in cryopreservation in IVF clinics be sacrificed. These microscopic hum ans would, they argued, likely die anyway, so nothing would be lost (and no wrong would be done) by destroying them to harvest stem cells. Soon, however, many of these people were calling for the mass production by cloning of hum an embryos precisely for use as disposable research material. For now, most insist that they desire to use only embryos in the blastocyst (5- to 6-day) stage, and are not proposing to im plant and gestate embryos that would then be killed at later stages of development to harvest cells, tissues, or organ primordia. But this is bound to change. Having abandoned the m oral norm against deliberately taking innocent hum an life, m any will be carried by the logic of their position to the view that producing hum an beings to be killed in the fetal and even early infant stages is justified in the cause of regenerative medicine. The second worry is closely related. It is th at m any people are coming to view procreation as akin to m anufacture. They also regard children not as gifts to be cherished and loved even w hen “im perfect,” but rather as products that may legitimately be subjected to standards of quality control and discarded or killed in the embryonic, fetal, and even infant stages if they do not measure up. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) of embryos in the context of assisted reproduction is increasingly widely practiced. In IVF clinics in the United States, it is common for a larger num ber of embryos to be produced than can be safely implanted. So, people reason, why not choose the ones likely to be healthiest? Embryonic hum an beings are considered m ore or less w orthy of life, and sometimes not w orthy of life at all, depending on their “quality.” And the eugenic ethic embodied in the practice of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-768X
Print ISSN
0037-783X
Pages
pp. 1029-1032
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-30
Open Access
No
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