Genetic Determinism: Loss of Human Agency?

Genetic determinism: the mere mentioning of parents selecting the traits of their children prior to conception rings sends chills down the spines of many.  Imagine having your passionate advances delayed by a consenting partner because he or she really wants to ensure that your shared offspring doesn’t have a crooked nose.  Something about that situation reeks of objectivity previously reserved to machines.  After all, are we not biological entities, whose actions and ideas are complicated by emotion?

Part 15 of NOVA’s “Cracking the Code of Life,” entitled “Genetic Modification,” examines this possibility.  Sure, agriculturalists already use techniques of genetic determinism to produce “optimal” crops and livestock, but applying this methodology to the human race introduces unique questions.  For example, how are we to determine the “optimal” characteristics of a human being?  Selecting for ethnicity, height, eye color, and other characteristics can already be done to some degree through the conscious picking one’s partner (although by no means are the results certain), but for other traits – emotional intelligence, scientific acumen, creativity – choice implies superiority.

Is excellent interpersonal communication ability “superior” to the marginal communication abilities of a researcher?  Implicit in this type of selection is prejudice on the part of the parents; through life experiences, each parent will inevitably have biased perspectives on what characteristic is best for his or her child?  Therefore, parental decisions in selecting the “optimal” traits of a child are not objective, but rather the result of social influences.

…Unless the state becomes involved in this decision-making.  Welfare costs and medical expenses are high for those who have physical disabilities and psychological issues, so why not eliminate the genes that are responsible for these undesirable traits?  While we’re at it, why not integrate superior characteristics from other species into our own genome (such is mentioned as plausible in “Genetic Modification,” although much work is left before this becomes an issue).

Test-tube junior executives?

This interspecies fusion raises moral problems about the nature of man.  We can put on reading glasses to enhance our eyesight, but obviously we can remove them, or chose to not wear them at all.  However, if the government becomes involved, we could see those decisions eliminated from our control; the resulting agency loss infringes on human liberties commonly accepted in contemporary America.  We could become nothing more than parts in the machine to promote whatever objectives our state seeks to promote.  Fitting each person into an assigned role?  No – as humans, we’re too unique for that.

~ Jeff


~ by jsj1313 on January 30, 2010.

One Response to “Genetic Determinism: Loss of Human Agency?”

  1. You raise a valid argument on genetic determinism and engineering as so many new parents are concerned with aesthetics and overall health of their babies. Fortunately there are limitations; some traits (emotional intelligence, scientific acumen, and creativity) can not be localized to exact areas of our genome. These traits are attributed to our genes, our environment, other epigenetic modes of inheritance, and the interactions between them.

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