Designing humans versus designing for humans: Some ethical issues in genetics

Abstract
At a meeting of the American Society for Value Inquiry in Chicago last spring, and again at a conference on biomedical ethics last fall in London, Ontario, David J. Roy, Head of the Institute for Medical Humanities, University of Montreal, described a developing situation in the biomedical technologies about which he and many of his colleagues in the profession share an enormous apprehension. The biomedical sciences have in their possession, in development, and on the drawing boards a technology that has the potential of enabling us to alter much of what has to date been seen as fundamental givens and fixed points of the human situation, from the forms of human reproduction, through the frequency of distribution of various human characteristics, to those very characteristics themselves. His question , in the form of a plea, was this: it is becoming desperately urgent that scientists and technologists in these fields be given guidance about what they are doing; the sense is that what can be done ranges far beyond what should be done, and that the technological imperative (do what technology makes possible) and the epistemological imperative (find a use for what we know) are so strong that, in the absence of a normative consensus of what it is to be human, these sciences and technologies may well have a transforming impact upon a society that is not prepared to control them. When it becomes possible to eliminate the traditional and biological form of human reproduction, with the development of in vitro fertilization and the artificial placenta, shall we? When it becomes possible to eliminate deleterious genes from the human gene pool (or to limit their occurrence to the level of chance mutation), shall we? When it becomes possible to enable parents to select in advance characteristics of their offspring, from sex to hair and eye color, and perhaps even to influence the polygenic determinate and determinable characteristics of race, stature, aggressiveness, intelligence and talent, to the point that we can influence the distribution of propensities and abilities in the population to fit more closely the manpower needs of our society, shall we? Shall we breed astronauts, musicians..
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