Clearly a gigantic portion of this class concerns genetic engineering, and since we’ve just started to discuss the ethics of doing so, I figured I’d offer up some of my own thoughts about it. A major facet of this technology discussed in the readings up until this point has been the manipulation of embryonic development, and it is this practice that I find most troubling.
Where to begin…
At the end of the last class, one of our peers offered up her own perspective. Referring back to the scene in Gattaca where Vincent’s parents speak to the geneticist about the embryos for his upcoming younger sibling, she did not have a problem with any of the ramifications they (or, rather, the geneticists) were planning for them. Pale skin, dark hair, hazel eyes, tall stature, intelligence, minimized susceptibility to genetically-acquired diseases or defects…laid out so plainly, these do not seem so offensive. In fact, they’re pretty harmless, the last request actually quite beneficial and something that I would embrace in a heartbeat.
For me, however, a line is crossed when they move from trying to protect the embryo from illness and a healthy outlook for life and into the realm of picking and choosing between personal qualities and characteristics.
You want your child to have golden hair the color of the sun? Great. Deep blue eyes that sparkle like sapphires, dooming your child to innumerable poorly-inspired pick-up lines on a night out? Fantastic. Or how about an impressive set of genitalia so as to avoid that awkward exchange of dialogue as he envies the equipment of another man while administering a mandated urine test? Whatever floats your boat.
Exceptional intelligence? Exceptional athleticism? Six fingers so they can play the crap out of a piano (a blogger from an earlier year has an awesome still that captures this brief moment from Gattaca, definitely check it out)? To me, modifications like these reek less of the happiness of bringing a child into this world and more of purchasing the perfect new armoire for the guest bedroom. Less like a family member, and more like a trophy to show off to your neighbors.
I’m so strongly reminded of the assembly line production of babies from Brave New World. Embryos cultured in bottles, thousands of identical individuals doused in alcohol to claim their intellect, deprived of oxygen to stunt their growth. Those destined to work in the tropics are periodically bombarded with heat to acclimate them to such environs before they’re even born; others are tilted upside-down so that they only feel truly happy when their orientation is inverted. In the same way that those individuals were predestined for their lifestyles, parents who would gift their children with these well-intentioned (though probably motivated somewhat by their own selfishness and pride) characteristics would force them onto a predetermined path of life. To shun these privileges they had been given would be shameful, and even worse, wasteful.
What I mean to say is that part of the great excitement of raising a child (admittedly, from the perspective of somebody who is not a parent) is the magnitude of the potential that lies dormant inside them. They can decide to do whatever they want to do if the effort is put in. Their choices are their own. And while not everybody is happy with their lives, and many would wish they had the opportunities that others receive, I perhaps naively believe that therein lies a certain satisfaction in knowing that your life is your own, your decisions have led you to where you are today, and your achievements are a result of your own hard work and determination.
That sounds really idealistic (because it is), and there’s a lot more I wish I could say but an hour and a half has already been poured into this and I feel like I’ve barely even scratched the surface. This would probably make for a better paper topic only because there are so many factors to consider. (Economical, social…let’s be honest, considering how expensive this process is likely to be, what kinds of people are going to be able to take advantage of it, and what others will only be further marginalized by the benefits provided to them?) But in the end, this is just an opinion. Feel free to voice your own in the comments and I’ll try to respond.