Culture Ethics Genetics

Will gene editing lead to resurgence of eugenics?

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From Sydney Perkowitz at JStor:

We can find guidance in two classic works about the dangers of modifying people and labeling them as “superior” or “inferior”—the novel Brave New World (1932) and the film Gattaca (1997). Their publication anniversaries in 2017 are sharp reminders of the costs of embracing any kind of twenty-first-century eugenics.

In the final analysis, Brave New World portrays a “hard eugenics” created by a government to suppress human rights, diversity, and opportunities for its citizens. But like the world in Gattaca, our own society could instead display a eugenic element not imposed from above, but arising from our society’s dynamics. Unless our society balances the undoubted benefits of gene editing against its equally undoubted risks, the greater danger may come not from authoritarian government but from this “soft eugenics.” More.

Well, where children are concerned, the difference between “hard” and “soft” eugenics is a wash.

Ah, memories: Once, long ago, I was testifying in front of some commission or other on new genetics technologies. A commissioner asked me, why did I oppose free choice for parents? I pointed out that a doctor friend who is a hormone specialist was often consulted by parents about their children’s height. She never had anyone consult her about a son who was too tall or a daughter who was too short. They all wanted their sons tall and their daughters short.

My point was, even hormone manipulation would mainly enforce sexism by tampering with natural heights. It was unclear to me why feminists were so all-fired in favour of that. It will be interesting to see what gene editing can do in that line.

See also: The “gene” seems to be a dying idea


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