Essay Human Genetic Enhancement Notes
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The ethics of human genetic enhancement
The concept of the genetic enhancement of human beings has long been a subject of fantasy and the speculation of science-fiction writers, but in recent years - we might perhaps take the inception of the Human Genome Project in 1990 as a defining moment - the prospect of human genetic enhancement has become a reality. Naturally, this new field of medical science brings with it a new field of medical ethics, and it is the task of the Christian ethicist with regard to human genetic enhancement to attempt to relate the new possibilities that this field affords to the Christian understanding of human life and our relationship with nature. I will begin by examining Michael Northcott's view of this new ethics and the place of this new branch of medical science in the Christian world-view, and will go on to examine specifically the debate over pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, considering the views of Michael Sandel. We will see that Christian opposition to human genetic enhancement runs into secular opposition, which it is in large parts unable to defeat, and I will conclude that while this is the case, however, and the secular advocates of human genetic enhancement make a strong case for their being no sufficiently clear distinction between genetic enhancement and other forms of enhancement and treatment to enable us to label human genetic enhancement as morally unacceptable outright, Christian opponents of enhancement do raise valid concerns, particularly in regard to the relationship between parent and child, such that we should venture warily into this new field of medical scientific advance.
Already, prenatal screening for sickle-cell anaemia and other genetic diseases has been carried out in countries around the world, whilst manipulation of the genome of laboratory mice has enabled the creation of 'supermice', which are, both physically and mentally, vastly superior to natural mice 1. It is increasingly considered that an understanding and mastery of human genetics, and the subsequent capacity for genetic enhancement of humans at an advanced level, is now merely a matter of time, and the development of the appropriate medical science. Michael Northcott highlights what he calls a 'technological imperative 2' - that once advances in technology allow that certain actions become possible, those actions inevitably become increasingly acceptable in that society. This being the case, it is fair to assume that at some point in the future
- Anders Sandberg posits the middle of this century as a potential target for the dramatic extension of human life3 - significant genetic alteration of the 'natural' human state, even if it has not become commonplace, will at least be available.
Northcott suggests that this quest for genetic control over human mortality is symptomatic of a loss of faith in the conception of human life as situated within a particular biological time-frame. Modern liberal society operates upon a principle of autonomy, by which every human is his own creator and director of all
1 http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/uehiro/Bioliberation/julian.html 2 M Northcott, The Church and the Genomic Project to Secure the Human Future, in M Bratton (ed.), God, Ethics
and the Human Genome (Church House, 2009) 3 The Quest for Immortality, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfTqXL0d9Ls
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