SMOKE: Designer Babies
Originally published: 19 July 2004
I found myself miraculously alive in the early hours of Sunday morning - wife in one hand, remote in the other - watching a couple of documentaries on Discovery about genetic engineering and designer babies.
In typical Discovery style the documentaries were in-depth, tracing back the origins of genetic science and following progress up to the modern day, with the human genome all but completely mapped.
The significance of mapping the human genome - amongst other things - is that we can now identify genes responsible for hereditary diseases and in so doing develop preventative medicines.
One woman in the documentary discovered - through a gene test, which is now available in the United States - that she had a gene which causes breast cancer, and even though she was young and didn't actually have breast cancer she had a preventative double-mastectomy.
That's a little nuts, if you ask me - hacking both your breasts off because one day you might get cancer. Jeez - talk about planning for the future and denying yourself a decent present.
Still - if I discovered a cancer gene in my own genetic make-up I have to admit I'd be pretty freaked out and would certainly consider any options for preventative measures.
You can argue that things are the way they are meant to be and that if we have an hereditary cancer gene then so be it, but you can also argue that if we have the knowledge and technology to remove the possibility of an awful death by cancer, then surely we should take it?
If - like me - you are not a big fan of dying, you'd take it.
Preventative medicine or surgery aside, though - there is a further step to be taken, of course. Preventing a child of yours from inheriting your hereditary bad genes.
In other words - the woman who had the double mastectomy knows that if she has a child there is a reasonable chance that child will inherit that cancer gene, so why not ensure that the child doesn't get that gene?
Because now you can. You can design your own baby, free of hereditary screw-ups and bad genes. That chick can have the cancer gene removed from eggs produced by her ovaries, and have those "clean" eggs inseminated to produce a child without that defective gene.
And if you can do that, it means you can remove every other known bad gene, producing perfect children.
And as soon as you start doing that, everyone gets upset. Obviously. The whole "you're not God" routine.
It's not an argument I support though - it's true we're not God, but if you believe in God then you must surely believe that whatever capabilities we have as humans were given to us by the self-same God? Or do you think he would prefer all advancement of knowledge to stop and for human development to stagnate?
Everyone worries about future worlds full of clones and perfect people with no personality, but it's science fiction stuff. It would never happen.
There will be so many rules and regulations and laws and constitutions and restrictions that any developmental work in the fields of genetic engineering will be too closely monitored and regulated for anyone to go developing clone armies.
It's a ridiculous notion.
But I definitely believe there are advantages to genetic tampering, for want of a better term. If I were to have a baby I would see it as my responsibility to give it the best possible shot at life I can, and if that means identifying the multitude of seriously bad genes that cover me from head to toe, removing them, and giving the tyke a decent shot at a reasonable share of health and prosperity, then why the hell wouldn't I?
Because a few people have a moral problem with it? Screw them, man - it's my kid.
There's no way I would cope with having a deformed or seriously retarded child - I'm just not cut out for a lifetime of having to deal with that. Some folks are - I am not.
So surely it would make sense for me to check mine and my wife's genes before having a kid, to make sure that possibility would never arise? Not only am I saving us from a world of pain and anguish should the unthinkable happen, but I'm also ensuring that I'm not responsible for bringing a child like that into the world - a child that will suffer terribly from the day it is born until the day it dies.
Why would I want to do that to a child? You can claim it's the natural way of things, but I will argue that as natural as it may be - if it's avoidable then so much the better for all concerned.
And if you want to have a child that's a super-athletic genius with perfect looks, then why not? The child will have a very different life to one it would have were it a sickly, plain child, and even though the latter may - through circumstance or will - have a better life than the first, you can't tell me you wouldn't like a genetically good physique, and a set of pearly whites.
I just think it comes down to choice - if you feel you don't want to play God and would rather take your chances with whatever life throws at you then more power to you.
But if the option exists to improve yours or your offspring's lot in life then those of us who believe we only get one shot at this before we turn to dust should be able to exercise that option should we choose to do so.
No matter how convinced you are of the correctness of your own morals there are any number of millions of other people who are just as convinced of theirs.
Which means nobody has the right to dictate how others should live their lives - the sensible option is to have a choice in any matter, and allow free people to make that choice.
So should I have a kid I'll be stripping out the anger gene, the pain gene, the inability to make vast sums of money gene and the nose gene, and leaving in the ability to find a gorgeous wife gene, not to mention the penis size gene.
Wouldn't want to deprive the little bugger of that one.
All Smoked Out,