The Dangers of DNA Research
By: Warner Todd Huston
The fields of DNA and gene manipulation research are incredibly exciting for the good that it can offer mankind. Imagine a day when the results of such research can assist mankind to treat previously untreatable diseases, maybe even prevent them? Wouldn’t it be tremendous to be able to alter the DNA of an unborn fetus to prevent its developing spina bifida or Down’s syndrome? Wouldn’t it be a Godsend if we could manipulate our genes in order to shut off the cancer cells that ravage us or rebuild broken spinal chords? Who would stand against such worthwhile gains in health, medicine and science? Of course, no caring human could oppose such work.
But that same work has its dark side and this is a subject that medical science is doing its level best to pretend does not exist. That dark side is not getting its due in the debate of the future of mankind through science. Unfortunately, it is not merely something to scoff at as unlikely because, for all our scientific knowledge, we are still, after all, men. Evil, selfishness, hatred and ignorance will remain with us whether we are free of cancer or know our full DNA sequence or not and those innate flaws inherent in man has, can and will corrupt the good that his science can do. The potential for evil is there no matter how wondrous that science can be.
The New York Times recently published a story about this very topic. Naturally, to further their own agenda, they only discussed a small portion of the potential evil that could result in the misuse of DNA research and left an awful lot of the debate unaddressed. In a story by Amy Harmon, the Times worried only abut racial prejudices being revived by DNA research (“In DNA Era, Worries About Revival of Prejudice”) as that research begins to decode the small differences that accounts for skin color or other things that denote racial groups. From physical characteristics to propensity for race specific disease, DNA research is beginning to map these differences giving hope that, at least in the case of disease, those differences might lead to treatments and prevention. But, the Times worries that this research might also revive discrimination based on those differences. “The notion that race is more than skin deep,” the Times reports, “could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal.”
Sadly, The Times also used its piece as an excuse to attack conservatives and push for more welfare spending. Claiming that conservatives would use DNA research to discriminate against blacks and, conversely, claiming that liberals could use that same research to demand more spending to “close the achievement gap,” the Times crudely used its article as an effort to demonize opponents instead of to truly address the real problems that the future could bring.
The Times is right to worry that DNA could be used by some to justify discrimination against blacks, of course. But the length and breadth of this issue is far more worrisome than just the narrow aspect highlighted by The New York Times. It is, in fact, a far more dangerous potential threat to humanity than the Times seems to grasp. This research, after all, could easily be used to eliminate the natural human being altogether, white, black, Asian… the entire human race is in danger of being altered beyond nature and changed into some post human creature.
A small and fringe group of scienceists (not scientists, but science-ists; those who nearly worship science making a fetish of it) look upon this research as a chance to materially alter the very human being himself by mixing his DNA with that of the animal kingdom, creating new and unnatural creatures, or by technologically altering the physical body in other to create a human that is not like his ancestors. These people call their efforts the transhumanist movement and imagine it to mean “progress” for mankind.
One of the organizations created to further this Hieronymus Boschian future is The World Transhumanist Association that proclaims their desire to “improve man” with an “ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities.” This claim, however, is a smoke screen of rhetoric because in the frequently asked questions section of their website, they define their ultimate “progress” in the following terms:
To a transhumanist, progress occurs when more people become more able to shape themselves, their lives, and the ways they relate to others, in accordance with their own deepest values.
A world where people only act in “accordance with their own deepest values,” of course, is in stark contradiction to their claims of desiring any “ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities.” After all, how can there be a universal understanding of “ethics” if everyone expects to live by their own codes and values. There can be no standards, no way to assess what is “ethical” if everyone is doing their own thing. Anarchy is the result of their creed and that precludes any chance of determining a set of “ethics” that might guide their actions.
Further, how is it an ethical thing to want to so alter the human being so as to make of him something new and different? Isn’t that a planned destruction of mankind? Isn’t that the direct result of their technological manipulations? And, who is to adjudicate when these alterations through technology is good and right to do? Is simply wanting the alteration enough of a justification for doing it, even if that desire would make the natural man a thing of the past?
Now, I bring up these fringe, extremists only to illustrate the point that the research and technology can so easily be warped and used for evil.
For the sake of discussion, let’s imagine a future where the transhumanists win the debate for the great majority of humanity (or post humanity as the case may be). Is it so hard to imagine, at a point far in the future when genetic manipulation or altering the human being to create that “better” man becomes the norm, that the natural man could find himself discriminated against? Perhaps even hunted as a “danger” to the “normal” people who have been altered in whatever way has become popular at the moment? Is it so hard to imagine that man could become so warped that this danger could become reality? Knowing the history of humanity, a person would have to be a fool not to realize the potential is there for such a corruption of science and medicine.
Let’s take it further. Can we so easily dismiss the possibility that science could offer us the capability of creating a slave race that is inferior in mental capacity? Is it so outside the realm of possibility that we could breed a lower race of subhumans to do our dirty work for us or is it even so hard to believe that we might breed a race of lower creatures that could be used for sexual pleasure? It must be remembered that slaves have served the sexual needs of masters since time immemorial, after all. And what could that do to our soul, our psychology?
Would creating such a subhuman race for our pleasure be an “ethical” use of the science in question? If not, why not? If, as the transhumanists claim, using such science is to be left to the machinations of any particular person “in accordance with their own deepest values,” how can we logically say that such a misuse of science would violate any ethical consideration? If my “deepest value” posits that having a subhuman, sex slave race created by science to serve me is a good idea, who is to tell me I’m wrong? I’d only be living up to my individual transhumanist “ethics,” after all.
In light of Man’s obvious nature, what intelligent, thinking person could imagine that mankind’s future could be any more devoid of evil than his past has been? And, with that in mind, shouldn’t we have these philosophical discussions long before we arrive at the day when science can be so easily used in the worst possible way? Certainly we cannot expect to wholly prevent the misuse of science in the way we are discussing here, but we can create a truly ethical approach to the questions so that, when such misuse does occur — and rest assured it will occur — we can deal with it as a society and shut it down quickly before it gets too far.
In any case, we need to have these discussions to alert the human mind to the possibilities of the danger we face before we so casually barrel down the road to a future we have not thought deeply enough about. I am not saying, of course, that the science of DNA and gene manipulation is automatically a great evil that we should avoid, but it is no panacea, either.
Let us start the debate now.