A Bold Prediction

Many of you are probably going to laugh at this post, but just run with me for a second. Imagine this: 20 years from now, you learn you are a carrier for a recessive gene that will someday hurt your future child. You learn about this recessive gene, which is totally harmless to you, days after you marry your future spouse. Scared and confused you schedule an appointment with your local doctor. He tells you that unfortunately there is no medicine you can take to curb the effects, but Planar Genetics has just developed a gene they can splice into your DNA to negate it. However, this gene is only available through Planar Genetics because of the patent they acquired for it in 2018. The whole procedure would cost you more than you can afford, but its in the best interest of your family so you need to find a way. We see problems like this all of the time, especially with insurance companies and hospital bills. If you don’t have the money, you don’t get the same level of treatment. A privatized economy is vital to the survival of our nation, but it may be unprepared to meet the challenges that arise in the next few years. As technology advances and becomes more complex, so too does our level of morality. I fear that at some point in the near future, we may reach a tipping point where we outrun our ability to make morally correct decisinos. It seems clear to me, partly evidenced by The Island, that the realm of genetics is going to be one of the most profitable industries in the coming years.

There is no black and white regarding the privatization of genes. There are strong arguments for both sides; clearly making genes more available will help certain people, but critics have always questioned he who tries to act “in God’s place.”  The gray area here will become to thick. If Planar Genetics is going to turn a consumer down because they can’t afford a certain gene, they are essentially denying that person the right to live a full, healthy life. I think that selling genes is eventually going to lead to some sort of “super class” that has a lot of money and is in turn very healthy. Those who have more money will reproduce consistently and well, those who do not simply will drift away. This theory does have some Darwinian attributes, but it is much cloudier than it seems. I find myself very confused when thinking about this topic, I am unsure how to draw a conclusion for this. It’s been on my mind for a while, and I wanted to get it out there. Please let me know what you think.



~ by benmones on February 3, 2008.

4 Responses to “A Bold Prediction”

  1. It’s a legitimate concern, where your future depends on how much money you have. We’re just going to see an even greater widening of the gap between the rich and the poor. This time, though, money will determine how genetically fit you are.

    Welcome the new incoming era of survival of the richest…

    ~ B2

  2. I agree with B2. This worrisome scenario is all too plausible.

  3. Like you said, we see problems like this all the time; this future already exists (Like Huxley said, the future is the present projected). How many people in third world countries die of diseases for which we’ve long had cures simply because they don’t have the financial means to obtain the proper treatment? Even in the US, millions of citizens are uninsured and receive far inferior health care than those lucky enough to afford the latest experimental drug or the most expensive new diagnostic procedure. I’m not quite sure what you mean by a moral tipping point, but we are already face to face with this health care inequity and have been making the choice all along that those who can’t afford it must simply get on without our help.

  4. As an econ major, I thought I could give a few quick insights into this problem. Granting a corporation a patent on a gene essentially gives that firm a monopoly for a certain number of years, allowing the firm to charge a price that is higher than a normal, competitive market price. The idea is that by allowing a firm to make monopoly profits, the government maintains the firm’s incentive to spend all of that money on research in the first place.

    The thing is, while the monopoly price is certainly greater than the competitive market price, it probably won’t be prohibitively so. The real problem arises if the actual cost of the procedure is very expensive (chemotherapy is expensive just because it requires a lot of resources). If the procedure is expensive, then an economy with a large degree of wage inequality (such as ours) might see the rich become more talented, etc.

    But this is already happening–the rich receive better educations, live in better communities, and often have more stable home environments. Genetic engineering would simply be icing on the cake.

    Luckily, there seems to be some indication that, by 2018, the United States will provide universal health care (with a focus on preventative medicine to minimize costs). Health problems that can be solved by genetic engineering will be solved because the alternative cost of paying for a lifetime of medical care, as well as the loss of labor productivity to society, will be greater than the cost of a one-time preventative procedure.

    One last thing to point out–if the United States doesn’t put effort into improving its labor force with any available gene technology, another developed country (possibly Europe or Japan) will. If we’re to compete in a world that has a genetically engineered work force, we’ll have to follow along.

    Basically, I’m not worried about a Gattaca-type scenario. I’m much more concerned that religious and moral qualms will stifle genetic innovation.

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