Sunday, November 20, 2005

Gattaca

So, there is a very interesting article in the NY Times today about genetic prenatal testing, abortion, and human selective genetic modification.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/weekinreview/20harmon.html?hp=&pagewanted=print

Although, as it states clearly, we are not yet at a point where embryos are being engineered, genetic modification is now a reality through prenatal testing and selective abortion. This cuts very deep into social ethics and the future of man. I don’t have much time to elaborate on the subject, or be eloquent with my thoughts, but here are some brief comments. The article avoids much discussion about abortion rights, or the ethics of aborting purely out of preference, so I will too. The main points as I see then are two-fold.

First, the popularization of prenatal testing followed by selective abortion paints a bleak future for disabled people currently fighting for social acceptance and scientific research into their conditions. A marginalization of the disabled population is inevitable given new social attitudes towards the very necessity of the existence of such a population, and through the gradual decrease in the percentage of the very people that make up this population. On both points I agree and am also concerned. It is important that no subset of our society is made to feel obsolete or unaccepted. Of course, unfortunately we still have much progress to make in order to make this true today anyway.

Second, the use of selective abortion based on prenatal test results leads to less genetic diversity and a less varied population, which is a bad thing for our future. I’m not sure if I totally agree here, I would think in some cases yes, but in others no. It may be an ignorant assumption, but I would suspect that in less favorable circumstances than those that are afforded in modern times, the disabled population would find it much more difficult to survive and have families. That is to say, it is the benefit of medicine and modern social attitudes that may allow the disabled population to thrive. Now this is a thought I have had in the past and is somewhat relevant here. Isn't the use of medicine actually very dangerous to our evolution as a species? If we find cures to diseases and disabilities through artificial means, doesn’t that undermine our species ability to cope with those diseases or disabilities through natural selection?

Well, I think I have entered very dangerous ground here, and I don’t want to make any inflammatory or ignorant comments (maybe too late). Like anyone else, I care for my family and friends and would do anything within my means to make their lives comfortable through the benefit of medicine and social acceptance. I am a selfish human like us all! Oh and the title is a reference to a not so amazing movie that I still love anyway. It’s about genetics and space exploration ;)

2 Comments:

Anonymous Chaz said...

If we find cures to diseases and disabilities through artificial means, doesn’t that undermine our species ability to cope with those diseases or disabilities through natural selection?

Hey, Rob. Why worry about this? When the descendants of fish started walking on land, they lost their ability to breathe underwater. That's neither good nor bad. The important thing is that they gained new abilities which were better suited to the new environment.

We have these ideas about what is "natural" or "artificial." They don't mean anything. An unnatural thing like medicine is really just an extension of a natural thing like our brains. So although in thousands of years, evolution may cause our immune systems to become defunct, our brains will still protect us from disease. In other words, our technology is now a part of our immune systems.

Is this better or worse than letting our usual immune systems handle things? It depends on how you want to look at it. Maybe the human race can fight AIDS by spreading the disease and waiting for a few lucky people to resist it and then procreate like crazy. Not something I want to try, though.

One could argue that there may one day be a thing from which our brains can't protect us. Sure... but then think of all the extinct species that died of "natural" causes. I think that having technology protects us from many more threats than it exposes us to.

1:24 PM CST  
Anonymous Chaz said...

Oh, one more thing...

One might also say that humans will be incredibly vulnerable if we lose our technology. Well, of course. But that's like saying that monkeys would be vulnerable without their arms.

1:33 PM CST  

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