Way Beyond 1984

What is it to be human? Is the belief that we are truly unique with some some transcendent value an outdated, quaint notion? Currently, as the linked story details, some scientists have developed a technique in which the DNA of three individuals is mixed to create a genetically-modified baby. (“three-parent IVF”) To date, as far as we know — which is likely not much, this technique has only been used with monkeys.

The argument used by these scientists is that three-parent IVF would prevent a disease in babies born of some women with a certain genetic profile. So the good of this disease-prevention, in these scientists’ eyes, trumps the almost infinite magnitude of such gene manipulation. In a perfect world, all women and all men would have the genes to live an optimum life, including producing children that are disease-free. But that’s obviously not the way it is. Indeed, one might argue that in our imperfection we actually find the value and spiritual essence of our humanness. In no way is this meant to be hardened to those who want to have healthy children but likely couldn’t without this three-parent IVF. But it is to say that the price is too high if it means creating designer babies, which this most definitely does.

Naively, or maybe cynically, scientists say those opposing three-parent IVF are overreacting. They look at a narrow use of three-parent IVF to prevent a specific disease. Does it really take any leap at all to believe this will lead to much more expansive genetic modification? If three-parent IVF is allowed, on exactly what grounds would it not be permissable? Why shouldn’t prospective parents get that Hitlerian master baby? It’s impossible to believe that science won’t be able to genetically modify just about anything in time. But just because something can be done does not justify its use.

Most of us have some disease. It’s just a matter of time before it’s known to us. All of us will die. It seems to me, as we spend so much of our time and resources trying to cure physical ills and delay aging at all costs, it might be wise to spend at least as much time on the intrinsic.


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