Primary Goods, Germ-Line Enhancements, and Children

Germ-line genetic engineering procedures may influence the lives of untold millions of people far into the future. These techniques change the genetic material that is passed on to offspring and thus have the potential to change the human race as we know it. Because the effects are so enduring, this powerful technique must be used with caution. We must decide how to ethically evaluate potential changes to the germ-line consistently and effectively so that future generations are not harmed. I will show that a concept of traits that any rational person would find desirable in themselves and others (whatever the situation), known as primary goods, is necessary to justify germ-line genetic enhance-ments. Without primary goods, a genetic engineer is in no position to determine which traits should or should not be passed on to future generations. One must then create a list of universally acceptable primary goods and convincing evidence that germ-line genetic pro-cedures will augment them. I will show that the strongest conception of primary goods not only fails to support germ-line enhancements, but provides a compelling argument against it. Primary goods are difficult to enumerate given the variety of unexpected situations a person may encounter in life. However, those making decisions as to which characteristics are transmitted to progeny would have to comparatively evaluate the desirability of different traits. These decisions must be made based on primary goods. Rawls’ list of natural primary goods includes health, intelligence, and self-respect. While listing primary goods is controversial, those who have tried have always mentioned self-respect, which, as I will explain, is prerequisite to enjoying any other goods in life and is the most important primary good for Rawls. I argue that germ-line enhancements, far from promoting primary goods, will threaten them. I begin by making three assumptions about issues central to the discussion of germ-line enhancements. 1) I assume that germ-line genetic engineering will be capable of enhancing human traits. 2) I assume that the definitions of traits such as intelligence can be taken at face value. 3) I finally assume that germ-line enhancements will be distributed justly without prompting a treatment of distributive justice. For the purposes of this discussion I will assume an optimistic view of the potential of genetic engineering to enhance human traits. Only time will tell what is possible through genetic engineering, but at present it is useful to discuss the subject as if it will be nearly omnipotent, since that is the circumstance that grants the most com-pelling arguments in favor of germ-line enhancement
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