Genetic Modification and Future Generations

One of the most difficult issues to sort out morally is our obligation to future generations. Most individuals feel that they do indeed have some kind of obligation, but face difficulty in explaining the exact nature of the obligation. For one, it seems impossible to know the wants and desires of future generations, and furthermore the existence of the persons we are obligated to is entirely dependent upon the choices that we in fact make. In essence, we could shape future generations so that they desire exactly what we provide for them. It seems that no matter what principle we adopt that is based upon these potential individuals we are led to absurd conclusions. Gregory Kavka calls this moral grappling the Paradox of Future Individuals. I believe that the ethical concerns surrounding genetic engineering should be seen as a specific instantiation of this Paradox and that by examining both we may be able to come up with some sort of working solution. Derek Parfit pleads ignorance as to a solution to this Paradox after an extensive exegesis on the issue, but as we may not be that far from shopping a genetic supermarket to determine the characteristics of our children I don’t believe we can settle for that conclusion. We will begin by examining the Paradox and suggested solutions to the Paradox. Next I will address how the Paradox relates directly to genetic engineering and discuss how rights-based arguments aimed against genetic engineering fail because of the nature of identity. Then I will consider how David Heyd’s Genero-centric principle applies to genetic engineering specifically and how a modified version of that principle may guide us out of the Paradox of Future Individuals in general. This solution may not be acceptable to utilitarian sensibilities, but it is because the numbers don’t add up that we may need to appeal to a different principle entirely
Keywords personal identity  genetic modification  future generations
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