America needs to stop fearing biotechnology immediately, and carefully prepare for the inevitable genetic engineering of our species. Today, the idea of genetically modifying our children seems abhorrent. However, regardless of the general social condemnation of human genetic engineering, new technology is never created and set aside for ethical reasons. Unless organizations such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) begin public research into the genetic engineering of humans, private research and/or military research (both domestic and foreign) will begin the research, if they haven’t already, for more frightening reasons than that of creating healthier children. We cannot close the door on a science simply because we are afraid of it. Someone else will not be afraid. I concede that perhaps that day is far away, but the planning for tomorrow needs to start today.
The NIH Human Genome Project (HGP) races towards identifying each gene and chemical base pair sequence in human DNA. In fact, this arduous program is two years ahead of schedule due to advances in biotechnology and will be completed in 2003. The information gathered from the HGP will be used in medicine for disease diagnosis and prediction, disease intervention, and genetic counseling. Disease diagnosis and prediction seems to be the most prominent application today, with genetic screening for severe genetic diseases such as phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis, and many other rarer diseases. However, disease intervention and genetic counseling are the important new fields. Disease intervention includes gene therapy, new pharmaceuticals, pharmacogenomics, and genetic vaccines. This is where the genetic engineering of humanity will begin, in the seemingly modest medical application of the HGP. The widespread use of gene therapy and genetic vaccines will not be genetic engineering, but will provide the knowledge base (genetic map) needed in order to manipulate genes in an embryo, or even earlier in the sperm and egg cells. The US government bans human gene manipulation at the germ line, the stage where modified genes would be passed on to offspring.
However, once a genetic map exists, one could modify genes at the germ line and insure that the modifications would hold in each of the individual’s descendents. There would no longer need to be costly (and relatively ineffective) gene therapy for diseased offspring, the cure would work as long as the modification held true in the DNA. First, these genetic modifications will be made in order to prevent severe debilitating diseases. And once this technology is perfected, it will be used to modify relatively healthy DNA into healthier DNA, such as removing the genes that contribute to allergies, asthma, color-blindness, and heart disease. The next step in this development of technology will be the crucial one, and the one that must be made publicly first. DNA of a perfectly normal, healthy individual will be modified in order to introduce desired traits, not traits which are required for "ordinary" health, but traits such as beauty, intelligence, and physical strength. And the modification will remain in the genes, as long as there are no reversions or mutations, of each of the offspring. Thus, genetic engineering will have created a "superior" human.
Creating a "superior" human, one with characteristics that far surpass the average human is not what we should fear. Instead, we should be afraid that this technology will not be shared equally, and will be available to the elite and powerful in society. We should fear an upper class, that is not only wealthier, but also healthier and more intelligent. The only way to prevent the abuse of this technology is to develop it publicly, and use it publicly. If the biotechnology for genetically engineering at the human germ line is developed in secret, and in private hands, the abuse is inevitable. However, if the development of such technology is sponsored and monitored by society as a whole, the unthinkable extreme social stratification from a genetically engineered elite can be avoided.
The US government needs to create a federal organization to fund research, conduct research, and develop the processes that will integrate a non-genetically engineered human society with a new generation of genetically engineered (augmented) children. This tremendous leap will occur in a single generation. The programs will be similar in organization to the mass immunizations of yesterday, but on a much grander scale.
In addition, we cannot allow any one nation to control the technology, and so we must share with each and every other nation. The United Nations World Health Organization (UNWHO) must oversee the international effort, and we can only hope that nations will look beyond their boundaries for the greater good of humanity. While we have survived fifty years of a great nuclear threat of mass destruction, we must continue to overlook national differences in order to save our society from destruction from the unplanned integration of augmented humans.
Also, unless education policies (both domestically and internationally) are prioritized above military weapons development, economic protectionism, and anachronistic national pride we are doomed. No military, economy, or pride can save society during the integration of genetic engineering into society. If education is left on the back burners, where it is today, we are in danger of splitting the species into two separate groups. Only improved education can prevent a division between the engineered humans and society. Society as a whole must understand what is happening, and only education can create such a society. Fear of the unknown will be the greatest threat to the integration process. It will fuel a doomed resistance, and cause even more problems than the integration process itself. Only education can reduce fear.
Finally, we must learn to accept that progress will occur, and that our species will change whether or not we are ready. Cognitive liberation from the fear of genetic engineering is vital. Society cannot hide its head in the sand and hope the issues take care of themselves. We must accept that genetic engineering will occur in humans. We must accept that we need to take action in planning for such a day. And most importantly, we must hope that we can use Prometheus’s second gift as well as we used the first.
Please note that this is my idea
, and that I was drunk
and pissed off as Hell
about something I saw on TV.
In response to the flamingweasel
, I'm not saying it's a good idea to fuck with genes instead of many other better things. Cure curable diseases in 3rd world countries, it you can. I'm saying, even before that is settled, the issue of genetically engineering people will start causing problems in the 1st world, and that frightens me more. I would like to see the entire spectrum of human civilization live better and not just the lucky few. Granted, it's already an issue as far as health care and education, but I think it may get much worse. And so, I suggest a plan instead of ignoring the issue.