Parents spend thousands of dollars each year on their children hoping to give them an edge by sending them to private schools, training camps, and anything else that helps aide success. What parent, after all, does not want to give their child a leg up and provide the best for them so that they can succeed? The problem is there are certain advantages that can’t be bought. Due to genetics some kids will naturally be slower, shorter, or less capable than others in specific areas of life. What is a parent to do? You can’t naturally change the height of your child, nor can you change a child’s build…or can you?
A recent scientific development called CRISPR is challenging the thought. CRISPR or Cs9 is a gene editing technology that cuts through DNA sequence allowing scientist a way to remove portions of genetic code while adding in others. The discovery came from analyzing the immune system of bacteria and noticing how it would send out enzymes that would destroy the DNA of foreign bodies.
As one can imagine, the use of this technology can help in all sorts of ways such as removing disease or other traits within plants, animal, or human DNA that may be harmful. While eradicating diseases and other harmful DNA are all beneficial ways to edit a genome, the question now being raised is what about editing human DNA so that someone is engineered to be more handsome, athletic, or even intelligent? This topic has reopened the heavily debated subject of eugenics.
Eugenics is the process of using controlled breeding to increase desirable traits. It stems from evolutionary biology, most notably the belief that through selective breeding the human race can advance itself by minimizing less desirable traits and increase desirable ones. CRISPR has effectively reopened the discussion on eugenics. The thought of developing a better person is exciting for most. Again, who wouldn’t want to afford their kin with a higher IQ and athleticism? However, putting aside the benefits of tailoring a “super” child, the fallout of manipulating genes could be catastrophic. Here are some reasons why.
1. Desirable traits are subjective
There is already a struggle in our society to decide what praiseworthy qualities one should possess. Recently a couple in the UK attempted to use in vitro fertilization and egg donors with deaf genes to increase the likelihood of having a deaf child. The action was blocked and the couple is now trying to have the child naturally since they are more likely to have a deaf child since they possess the deaf gene. What if a society decides that shortness or having brown hair is less desirable? It would then be the job of those who control the populations genes (likely the government) that would sterilize individuals by making them infertile so that their genetic code won’t be passed on. Thus, eliminating specific genes from the population’s gene pool. However, this is a very difficult and subjective task. After all, who decides what genes are favored? While it may seem obvious that certain traits like athleticism or being handsome are better than being uncoordinated and ugly, it is too subjective to know what forms of athleticism or good looks are worth having. For example, in some sports like horse racing being short is an advantage, yet this would be a complete disadvantage in basketball.
2. Editing genes would be the death of diversity.
Everyone would likely possess similar qualities based on whatever society believed desirable at that time. And if that weren’t the case, children would become a corrupted version of whatever a parent (or God forbid a government) assumes as desirable. And if gene editing continues to advance in a way that temperament could be edited, a person could potentially be predisposed to be feel certain ways. Who then would decide what temperament a person should have? It could be easy to foresee a parent editing their child’s gene to be less sensitive because maybe being sensitive brought them a lot of pain in life, yet who is to say that sensitivity does not bring about good in this world. The world might end up losing an important voice in the community. After all, one of the beautiful pictures of humanity—and really the kingdom of God—is that each of us are unique and created in the image of God. This means that our differences—though they may be stark—each represents a picture of God.
It may seem as if I’m dramatizing the outcome, however, it really isn’t as far fetched as it may seem. A lesser known fact is America had a eugenics program until the 1970’s. And through it 60,000 people involuntarily had their reproductive systems destroyed to remove their genetic makeup from our society. This may come as a shock considering people typically associate cruel eugenics practice with Nazi Germany, but this dark side of the eugenics history happened on US soil.
3. Creating a perfect test-tube baby would dehumanize society.
For those who perhaps cannot afford gene edited children, a stigma between being a better, advance race versus a less perfected race would naturally arise—take a look at Hitler’s aryan ideal as evidence. This is the primary reason why eugenics eventually ended in America; people understood that it was fundamentally wrong.
In the famous words from the film Jurassic Park delivered by Jeff Goldbloom, “scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” There is a place for eugenics and gene editing. Scientist should figure out ways to strengthen agricultural yields and eliminate disease, but there must be careful conversations on how to navigate the ethical boundaries. It is wrong to think the solution is to end gene pools that have undesirable qualities. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but it needs to be accepted if we are to remain a moral culture that prioritizes human value, diversity, and who we naturally meant to be.