02 November, 2004

It begins

Terrible ideas are usually introduced as benevolent improvements that will aid us all. Thus with the recent proposal for genetic screening of embryos for a defective bowel cancer gene. Innocuous enough, and who can argue with it? Surely you aren't advocating allowing children to develop bowel cancer when we can prevent it?

I don't suppose these developments can actually be stopped. As the ability to manipulate our genetic material grows steadily greater, it only stands to reason that there will be people who desire to use it.

It's not immediately obvious why this should offend me. Christian Scientists refuse medical treatment because they believe intervening in disease is attempting to subvert God's will. I don't believe that the creation or artificial improvement of life is only the province of God, since I am a biologist and believe that life is no more special or unique to creation than neutron stars. But it seems like cheating.

Barry Bonds is by some accounts a great baseball player. But by other accounts, his home-run records and his tremendous presence in the batter's box should count for naught, because they are (almost certainly) the result of steroid use. Barry Bonds cheats at baseball. And similarly, I think those who elect to use genetic engineering to create customized babies are cheating at life.

Unfortunately, the page is blank and we have to draw our own lines. God is regrettably asleep and the only rules we have are the ones we made up. It's hard, very hard, to stick doggedly to such rules. Someone will inevitably cheat, according to their own rules or someone else's. They will convince themselves that it's okay to cheat because God isn't there. We can do what we can do. We are our own gods now.

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