genes and enhancement

J. Peterson (
Thu, 27 Jun 1996 15:41:52 -0500 (CDT)

Kenneth Feucht has raised at least two interesting questions.

1) Will an enhanced physical endowment truly lead to an enhanced person,
or is that a mistaken focus to begin with?"

It all depends on what one means by an "enhanced person." When a surgeon
does a cardiac bypass, years of training, tens of thousands of dollars,
and hours of care, pain, and suffering go into increasing blood flow to
some of the heart muscle. Why? To hopefully lessen angina and maybe
increase the heart's ability. Does that enhance the person? Certainly
not their character or salvation, but it may still be worth all the effort
if their increased physical capacity allows them to do the things that do
most matter.

I would advise someone who may get pregnant to be sure there is enough
folic acid in their diet, by taking supplements if necessary, because
sufficient folic acid during the twelve weeks centered on conception has a
dramatic correlation with the child's healthy neural formation. Does
having a healthy neural system (brain, spinal cord...) make you a better
person? Well, yes in the sense of greater capability. That is a good
worth pursuing, granted it is not the only or most important one.

2) "We already have a problem with athletes taking steroids to enhance
themselves, and isn't the genetic manipulation you are talking about of
similar ethical nature?"

Interesting question. All metaphors, parallels, analogies, both highlight
and hide. Steroids and genetic enhancement are both intentional attempts
to increase physical capacity. Are they then morally equivalent? A
significant difference may be that steroids are physically dangerous. One
increases muscular bulk, but steroids also damage fertility, kidneys...
and encourage aggressive behavior. My guess is that if steroids were not
harmful, their use would be no more controversial than vitamins or high
protein diets.

Could steroids be eschewed because they give an unfair advantage to one
athlete over another? Well no one that I know of complains about unfair
advantage in inheritance or sports training tables. My guess is that
people object to steroids because they do not want to see athletes forced
into dangerous behavior in order to compete. That brings us back again to
steroids being physically dangerous. If genetic enhancement is physically
dangerous, the parallel would be right on. If however, it can be
developed to the point of minimal risk, the parallel would not follow.
The objection in this case may be more one of safety in implementation,
than in principle about the nature of the task or goal.

Genetic therapy, using genetic intervention to try to bring someone up to
"normal" capacity, is widely accepted. Is our responsibility under the
Lordship of Jesus Christ to stop any genetic intervention at that point of
"normality," or to try to improve our physical endowment beyond it? For
example if we find why some people have a greater resistance to cancer
than others and we can genetically encourage that resistence, would it be
appropriate to bestow that on our children, even though the new found
capacity to resist cancer was greater than the current average? I know, I
know, we cannot do that yet, but is it appropriate with the needed
safeguards, to pursue research in that direction? Is it a worthy goal? I
think it is.