Oxford Professor Says Mankind Is Ethically Obligated To Create Genetically Engineered Babies

from the pick-and-choose dept

As we were just talking about the appeals court ruling that isolated genes are still patentable, we will have to begin thinking about how such a ruling will impact our lives. Some groups have decided to go the property rights route to assign ownership of DNA. Others wring their hands over how this will impact medicine. But, now that testing for genetic markers in embryos is in vogue, we can finally ask "what about the children?"

The Telegraph put that question to Professor Julian Savulescu, expert in practical ethics at Oxford, and he states, unequivocally, that not only should the genetic testing of embryos for physical illnesses be allowed, but applying those same tests for behavioral genetic markers is mankind's ethical obligation. It should be noted that, currently, outside of a few accepted tests these screenings are illegal, but Savulescu thinks that needs to change.
"Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?" wrote Prof Savulescu, the Uehiro Professor in practical ethics. "So where genetic selection aims to bring out a trait that clearly benefits an individual and society, we should allow parents the choice."
There is a word for this kind of mass-screening, one which you won't hear Savulescu utter, and it is called eugenics. The reason many advocates of this kind of screening won't use that word is because it long ago became associated with Nazi philosophy, even though (as you can read in the Wiki article) many other nations did and still do some flavor of eugenics. The United States, for example, has some jurisdictions where testing for diseases (mostly STDs) that could be passed along to children is a requirement prior to attaining a marriage license. Israel has a program called Dor Yeshorim that tests for a multitude of hereditary diseases like Tay-Sachs and Cystic fibrosis. In China, eugenics has taken a more prominent role, with the PRC's Marriage Law requiring a doctor's approval prior to marriage (harsher language against specific illnesses found in previous iterations of the law have been removed over the years).

But what is different about Savulescu's argument is that we are no longer talking about genetic illnesses in the traditional sense, but instead behavioral genetic markers.
"Indeed, when it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children. They are, after all, less likely to harm themselves and others."
This seems to me to be a gross-oversimplification of the role genetics plays in behavior. While we can all spend the next few weeks in a long-form discussion of whether nature or nurture plays the predominant role in behavioral outcomes of children, I think few would disagree that both are aspects that do in fact play some role. And, while Savulescu seems to make his argument matter-of-factly, other bioethicists disagree. Predictably, many of these criticisms focus on Nazi eugenics to extrapolate the entire field, but not all of them.

Biologists, for instance, point to what occurs in small, isolated populations (i.e. the Dodo bird) when a lack of genetic diversity leads directly to a species extinction. They then point out that the combination of allowing for "designer babies" based on widely accepted culturally preferred traits and the perhaps inevitable monoculture that would result would breed a scenario in which mankind was ripe for massive exposure to a single disease.

Add to all of this the potential for inherent socio-economic lines to be drawn in the sand in terms of health, between those that can afford the testing for what are now patentable isolated genes and those that cannot, and you can see where potential abuse and negative consequences loom around every corner.

That said, I refuse to take a luddite approach to genetic testing in general, or even eugenics as a whole. I admit that I write this entire piece without fully understanding where I stand on the issue, aside from what I think is the rather common sense position of advocating caution. Instead, I open the topic to you, the reader, for the comments section.



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  1.  
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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 11:56am

    Not yet slippery

    Unless I am mistaken, there is no talk yet of directly choosing arbitrary DNA sequences. Everything I have read so far strictly involves screening out embryos that test positive for certain genes that are known risk factors.

    I agree that once this crosses over into "construction" of human beings with arbitrary genes, then you will have moral problem. But I cannot see the big deal about letting people screen for diseases, since that still requires a traditional mixture of two individuals' DNA - thus alleviating any concerns about "monocultures". Indeed, I would consider it a moral obligation to a potential child. Since humans no longer feel the effects of natural selection - even the weakest among us can survive - then we ought to begin some form of artificial selection to pick up the slack.

    Of course, humans won't just stop making babies the natural way if this was possible. Honestly, in the end, I think this could be a boon to evolution; a shot in the arm, so to speak. These new screened humans would still compete with the home-grown kind, and could very well lead to selective sweeps much faster and with less suffering than "traditional" evolution.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:00pm

    Mike would like being able to breed genetic pirate babies using his pirate DNA, wouldn't he?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    While I'm not opposed to genetic manipulation as a whole (for instance to help remove genes that carry hereditary disease) the idea of attempting to select for personality types terrifies me. Despite years of research, the human psyche is not all that well understood and the potential unintended consequences are scary.

     

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    A Dan (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    Science Fiction

    There's a particularly good short story section of Larry Niven's "The Draco Tavern" dealing with this sort of thing.

    A species genetically engineers a yeast-style organism that will act as a contraceptive. Unfortunately, the yeast causes complete infertility after a few generations. Since the species failed to limit the changes in a contained experimental area, their entire population is wiped out.

    This can obviously be extrapolated to the human population. If we experiment with things like trait selection, we could end up wiping ourselves out because of problems we don't foresee. It would be nice if we'd perform our genetic experiments (with ourselves, our food supply, diseases) in a way that they couldn't completely destroy our species.

    No, I'm not a luddite. But we shouldn't turn future humans into bananas, just waiting for a well-suited plague to kill us all.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Not yet slippery

    "Honestly, in the end, I think this could be a boon to evolution; a shot in the arm, so to speak. These new screened humans would still compete with the home-grown kind, and could very well lead to selective sweeps much faster and with less suffering than "traditional" evolution."

    As I said, I don't have a fully formed opinion yet, but here's where the problem might lie. Whether we're talking about disease, as you were, or behavioral gene selection, as the article discussed, some of the same genes that put you at risk for one disease also ward off another. I'll have to go hunting for the link I was reading when writing this if you want a citation (if you really want me to, I'll go find it), but that was one of the biologists' problems: unintended consequences.

    Sure, we could eradicate every genetic marker for Alzheimer's through unnatural selection, but what if that same gene protects against some far WORSE disease that then runs rampant across the entire population?

     

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    trish, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:02pm

    genetic engineering

    I'd bet that we will go down this route, and I'd also bet we'll regret it. Us humans aren't as concerned about 'the betterment of mankind' than we are about 'the betterment of our wallet', so inevitably, only the rich would be able to afford the 'best' babies. Does society need that kind of genetic caste system? In the future will regular people be looked down on? Do we really see, in the pages of this here website, a race that is ready to mess with its fundamental bulding block when we can't even manage to listen to music without hubbub of epic proportions? omfg...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:03pm

    "Indeed, when it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children. They are, after all, less likely to harm themselves and others."

    Why not have government-mandated genes to create 'good citizens'? /sarcasm

    And who decides what constitutes 'ethical' behaviour anyway?

    Far too many counter-cultures and social trends would have been thought ill of when they started.

    No wonder other other biologists disagree, the limited genes could produce rapid progression of diseases through a genetically similar population.

    I am also taking the luddite approach since I am not sure that people could properly gauge the full impact of these changes without a massive long-term study over a host of generations to look possible problems.

    And what about the impact of the parents environment on the expressed genes within their children?

    The whole thing is far-fetched at this stage.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:04pm

    Also

    This is not eugenics. Eugenics believes in forcing people with good genes to make babies, or preventing people with bad genes from making babies. In this case, no one is forcing anyone to make or not make babies.

    But if you were a carrier for Tay-Sachs and so was your partner, wouldn't you want to screen your embryos to make sure you don't get a baby with full-blown Tay-Sachs?

    Also, this is not designer babies. That would be creating wholly synthetic DNA from scratch. This still involves the use of good old fashioned sperm impregnating egg.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:07pm

    Screen for bad genes? If "bad genes" means hereditary diseases, possible later-in-life complications (such as Type II Diabeties), then please screen. Parents need to know.

    Implanting good genes? If "good genes" means your future kid won't throw a good curve ball, I disagree. If "good genes" means modifying your future kid to get rid of that upcoming Alzheimer's, then I say it is the parents' choice.

     

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    DUMBASS SCIENTIST, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:09pm

    and dare i say

    KAHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!

     

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    Vog (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    On the timeline of evolutionary history, we're a blip on the radar. I say let's get weird with it.

     

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    sheenyglass (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:11pm

    Alternative headline

    How about: "Oxford Professor Becomes Latest Academic to Troll the Rubes with Provocative Posturing"

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Also

    Well, not definitive, but from Wikipedia: "Eugenics is the "applied science or the bio-social movement which advocates the use of practices aimed at improving the genetic composition of a population", usually a human population"

    It would appear the definition for Eugenics isn't as narrow as you make it sound...

     

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    Vidiot (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:23pm

    Familiar

    Wait a minute... Oxford professor with eccentric notions is found murdered along a canal... that description fits about four episodes of Masterpiece Mystery's "Inspector Lewis" series. Ask me if you need to know whodunit.

     

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    Glen, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:23pm

    Re: and dare i say

    1000 internets to you sir!!!!

     

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    James Plotkin (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:24pm

    Opposing view

    I've discussed this with colleagues and friends before.

    I don't feel like weighing in because it's really tough and my comment would take up way too much space on this page.

    I would recommend, however, that if you're looking for a counter argument check out Professor Michael Sandel from Harvard. There are probably YouTube videos where he discusses exactly this. I read an abstract of a paper by him once. Sorry...don't have a link... :(

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:25pm

    Re: Re: Also

    http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/eugenics

    "the study of or belief in the possibility of improving the qualities of the human species or a human population, especially by such means as discouraging reproduction by persons having genetic defects or presumed to have inheritable undesirable traits (negative eugenics) or encouraging reproduction by persons presumed to have inheritable desirable traits (positive eugenics)."

    "the study of methods of improving the quality of the human race, esp by selective breeding"

    "The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding."

    It seems that selective breeding is a common theme in eugenics. And of course we must contend with the colloquial definition, which tends to be "sterilize people we don't like".

    While the proposed method might qualify under a broad definition of eugenics, it is a particularly prejudicial term that predisposes the reader toward faulty assumptions.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Also

    "While the proposed method might qualify under a broad definition of eugenics, it is a particularly prejudicial term that predisposes the reader toward faulty assumptions."

    Yup, which I mentioned in the article to combat those faulty assumptions :)

     

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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:28pm

    MEH.

    Law of Unintended Consequences.

    that is all.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:30pm

    Presumption

    How could I as a parent determine before my child is born whether he/she would be happy, live a full life, or make a positive contribution? There are people with severe mental disabilities who have done all those. There are people who have had it all who did none of them, were miserable, and killed themselves and others.

    The moment we destroy an embryo is the moment we destroy the awesome potential of a human being. It is just plain presumptive wild guessing to say what value a person might have based on segments of his DNA.

    Further, I have yet to meet a perfect person. If we select for people with no potential for behavioral defects, we won't get to select anybody.

    The only right choice is to let each individual discover his potential and all help each other to achieve the best we can be, regardless of what is "right" or "wrong" with each one of us.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:34pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    The classic example is the gene that both promotes sickle cell anemia and confers some resistance to malaria. Keep it or ditch it?

    I think of natural selection as the free market for valuing genes (and vice versa). Planned genomes are about as likely to work well long term as planned economies. We just don't know enough.

    And "designer babies" doesn't require building up chromosomes from scratch. You can easily converge on a monoculture just by being highly selective about which embryos are allowed to develop.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    No sources needed. I know that having one copy of the gene for sickle cell anemia provides resistance to malaria, while two copies means you're screwed. I'm sure there are plenty of examples.

    I think you also overestimate how effective this technique is. Sure, you could TRY to eliminate every risk factor for Alzheimers. But remember, you gotta make an embryo for each trial.

    Imagine the embryo is a random number, and we have a random number generator. It generates a number that has 20 digits. Pretend the numbers 3, 5, and 7 give you Alzheimers, but 7 is the least likely risk factor.

    How many times would you have to generate a random 20 digit number before it didn't contain any 3s, 5s, and 7s? I'm not inclined to stats but I'm willing to bet it's pretty hard and probably cost-prohibitive when it comes to creating embryos. But what if you generated a number with no 3s and 5s, but a 7 was there. You could choose to take your chances with that one, but if you didn't you might never get a number without 3s and 5s...

    And again, humans will still make babies the traditional way (at least every unintended pregnancy would be a traditional baby). There is very little risk of having monoculture humans, where a disease can run rampant through the *entire* population. These "screener babies" would still compete with the old fashioned kind, and again they wouldn't be designed from scratch.

    Now, if you were designing arbitrary genetic sequences...yes, that crosses the line and you start sliding down the slippery slope into danger.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:38pm

    If the good professor were solely talking about whether you can choose for Child X to have or not have A, B, and C traits, that would be one thing.

    But my understanding is that he's talking about terminating Child X if s/he demonstrates A, B, or C trait-related genes, in the hope that Child X1 will not.

    That's a very different ethical/moral question.

     

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    New Mexico Mark, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    "some of the same genes that put you at risk for one disease also ward off another"

    For instance:

    http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/sickle_cell.html

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:41pm

    Re: Not yet slippery

    Interesting. I had exactly the opposite reaction. If you're talking about constructing a better person, I can see the argument for an ethical obligation to construct them in a certain manner (though I don't necessarily buy it).

    If you're talking about terminating the proto-people (embryo, fetus, what-have-you) that don't appear up to snuff, I think that there's a pretty solid moral/ethical counterweight.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    You can easily converge on a monoculture just by being highly selective about which embryos are allowed to develop.

    You could, but remember that this form of selection isn't exactly trivial. It takes an embryo, and it's not like you can easily generate hundreds of embryos and choose between them. See the random number generator example below.

    I think what you'd see is that most people would select the first embryo that didn't have any debilitating diseases or massive risk factors, like triple chromosomes.

     

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    Some Other Guy (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    As I understand it (correct me if I have it wrong) the sickle-cell gene only causes disease if you have it on both copies of whatever chromosome it is on - but it confers the benefits when you only have one copy, so there's a fix where you get to keep the good stuff and get rid of the bad stuff by just making sure your children only get one copy.

    Having said that, I get your point that just finding the 'bad' genes and getting rid of them is not that simple.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I do not see any moral or ethical counterweight when the cells have yet to differentiate. Certainly you cannot claim that such clumps of cells are in any way sentient. Once they begin to differentiate, you enter a gray area where personal morals can factor in (my personal line is when sentience would be possible, which means the presence of brain cells).

    I would also be interested in your opinion regarding the discarded embryos from IVF. Do they represent a moral or ethical counterweight to the IVF technique?

     

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    DMNTD, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:52pm

    just no...

    "Every road has good intentions, and then the ugly face of reality obscures the view."

    "It's like saying you need a record to be-bop, I don't NEED a record!!"

    I do not agree with any level of DNA temperament. Most of the diseases being talked about or causing problems in the past and foreseeable years are do to POOR DIETS. America eats shit and our bodies react in kind. SO instead of being lazy and ignorant(genetics won't fix that, btw), education is your answer. Wow, another thing that blows donkey bawls in America.

    Genetics means nothing to a persons future, prone to these "problems" does not mean you have to create and assist the problem. Own up to the choices you make and lets not create people who have no repercussions of their choices and just help them prevent instead of messing with things out of scope. It's a quick dirty fix and like any other quick dirty fix it will be short lived.

     

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    Some Other Guy (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Also

    Selective breeding is common in descriptions of eugenics because before the word got really unfashionable, selective breeding was the only technology we had.

     

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    Forest_GS (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 12:56pm

    I think it would be interesting to see natural blue hair. /no_sarcasm

    Not to mention solving old age would be one of the possibilities.

     

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    ME, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    It's kind of like the Hitler paradox. "If you could go back and kill him would you?" A large chunk of people say yes. What if someone that Hitler killed had lived and nuked the world? Everything, we all do, changes everything that will happen. Or not.

     

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    theBlueSage (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    goodbye art

    the problem with removing anti-social gene traits (by removing those with behavior markers) is that you lose the brilliance exhibited by people who have managed to come to terms with them, or at least co-exist with them, most often artists ...

    no more alcoholic traits? - goodbye Dlyan Thomas
    no more depression traits? - goodbye Van Gogh
    no more propensity for deafness? - goodbye Mozart, Beethoven

    The mark of a society is more about the ability for it to absorb and develop its differences, not eliminate of them. I see nothing wrong with the recognition that a person is born with a behavioral marker, but the person should not then be saddled with the expectation of marker appearance, let alone be removed from the gene pool on the off chance.

     

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    lattice99, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    genetic modification isn't new

    we don't think about it this way, but we already practice genetic modification on a massive scale. corn, broccoli, etc etc never existed in the wild. they were genetically engineered. it just so happens that it took a v.long time because we had to do it the hard and tedious way, via selective breeding. epigenomics is hinting to us that factors in our environment influence how our cells interpret our genome. the interplay between these three systems is v.poorly understood of course, but i think it says that genes get bumped around possibly without even sexual recombination entering the picture. genetics isn't something we're just inventing. it's a fundamentally important part of life. to deny that we have a responsibility to fix and to maintain our biological source-code, to pretend that we even CAN leave it alone, is just completely stupid.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:06pm

    We already separate ourselves by race, class, etc. and treat each other like shit accordingly. If the rich could make an even clearer demarcation between themselves and the poor the results could be quite unpleasant. We don't need any more excuses to devalue and abuse each other. Eugenics are not a bad thing if handled responsibly but at this point in human history we aren't even close to being ready to do so.

     

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    GMacGuffin (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:07pm

    Gattaca! Gattaca!

    (If you immediately got that, you watch too many movies. I know, because I immediately thought of it. Think Pacino.)

     

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    lattice99, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:10pm

    in short

    we're already practicing genetic modification. we just don't know what we're doing. the question is not to allow of disallow genetic modification, but whether to change our genome in a competent, constructive and ethical way, or to just keep bumping around blindly in the dark.

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:10pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    "but that was one of the biologists' problems: unintended consequences."

    Intelligent, good looking, thin, disease free people. I like those unintended consequences.

     

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    New Mexico Mark, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:11pm

    Flash: Professor utterly clueless about the real world

    Science as it stands has barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding DNA or human behavior. Applied eugenics would still be the moral equivalent of turning children loose in a munitions factory. Brilliant idiots like this professor somehow fail to grasp that real lives are at stake. Put that in your ethics pipe and smoke it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    "Intelligent, good looking, thin, disease free people. I like those unintended consequences."

    Is this a joke? You do realize that those are the intended consequences, right? The unintended ones...potentially not so nice.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:20pm

    In light of the door re-opening on gene patents, I recommend you immediately design and offer a "This Baby has Been Seized..... Motherfucking Eagles" T-Shirt.

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Not yet slippery

    But I cannot see the big deal about letting people screen for diseases


    Letting? I have no problem with that. Mandating? That's different.

    The problem is that the last time we slid down this slippery slope was pretty extreme and still within people's living memories. It was only a few decades ago that Oregon, for instance, stopped forcing people with certain genetic diseases to be sterilized. And only a few years ago that they apologized for it.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:22pm

    Re: Gattaca! Gattaca!

    Gattaca in the Attica? Frankly I was thinking Jovovich :)

     

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    Hephaestus (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I love that as an argument "potentially not so nice". What it means is "I got nothing so I will do the FUD thing".

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:26pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I see this as an ethical discussion about the possible consequences of pursuing these technologies, not just a consideration of the current state of the art.

    Consider how the Human Genome Project went from a massive, billion dollar, decades long project to being something you can whip out in a few weeks with the right equipment. In the not-too-distant future, having your whole personal genome sequenced will be routine medical procedure.

    It's not hard to imagine that the ability to artificially produce and then screen zygotes could accelerate rapidly, especially if say, I don't know, there were people willing to pay lots of money for it. Of course, mixing and matching the desired genes up front might be easier.

    Either way, we're going to have to deal with the issue and its consequences.

     

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    nospacesorspecialcharacters (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:33pm

    Let's do it...

    So who's going to be the first to file a business method patent on makin' babies?

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    What it means is "I got nothing so I will do the FUD thing".

    No, what it means is that lots of other comments (and the original article) have already mentioned the well known risks of monoculture so I felt no need to rehash them.

    I was, in fact, seriously asking if this was a joke I didn't get since it seems to misunderstand what "unintended consequences" means. Silly me.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:41pm

    "As we were just talking about the appeals court ruling that isolated genes are still patentable, we will have to begin thinking about how such a ruling will impact our lives."

    No time!

    I am creating new isolated genes.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 1:48pm

    Dr. Savulescu is right! It's time we got back to engineering the master race. Mine Fuhrer will be so proud.

     

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    blakey, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    the problem: is nutters are useful?

    Everyone is very fond of praising Winston Churchill, but for years he was hated and villified for various things but mainly Gallipoli and wantng to go to war with Germany. My point is that in war nutters are often heroes - single handedly charging etc..., but in peacetime - well, they're just nutters. I think, or would worry, that getting rid of these 'bad' genes may put us at risk to future problems - war, a good-people virus...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:13pm

    Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    When I saw the mention of weeding out genes for violent tendencies, I thought of this.

    Utopian visions aside, any society that did this on a large scale probably wouldn't exist very long if its belligerent neighbors didn't.

     

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    Vog (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:17pm

    Re: Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    Who's to say we wouldn't select for traits like larger muscle mass, increased aggression, heightened stamina, or tolerance for authority in soldiers? Just because we could have more peaceful, mentally healthy citizens doesn't mean we couldn't also have supersoldiers.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:20pm

    Re: Re: Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    Good point, but I think the possibility of engineering multiple strains of humanity for different purposes is even more chilling.

     

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    Vog (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    I really need to read before I respond today.

    Anyway, it would be interesting to see, perhaps, what parents would choose to have in a kid, if they could. For example, maybe weaker-willed, frail parents would choose to live vicariously through their offspring?

    It's a shame there's such a taboo on the whole subject.

     

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    minijedimaster (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:27pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    Being a Christian I can say I have a particular view when it comes to abortion and life of the "fetus" "embryo" etc...

    Having said that, the bible does have something to say on this matter which most people don't realize or ignore.

    Leviticus 17:11
    For the life of a creature is in the blood...

    Maybe this has some bearing on the ethical portion of things when it comes to ebryos.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:45pm

    [accuse Tim & Mike of taking extreme view on either this issue, despite the fact that Tim did not and Mike is not at all involved in this article]

    [random, nonsensical personal attack about this view being applied to Tim/Mike's parents altering the course of their lives]

    It would be so nice if everyone believed what you do because then you and this site wouldn't exist!

     

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    Vog (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    If competitive Pokémon players are any indication of how far someone will go to have a perfect offspring, rest assured there will be plenty of people willing to take the "pretty hard and probably cost-prohibitive" route. Perfectionists abound, and a child is a large investment anyway.

    They kind of have a point though. I mean, if you're going to bother raising one, why gamble when your kid could have perfect speed.

    Speaking of which, since I guess it's still-sort-of-topical, if these theoretical kids grow up to be great athletes, do we let them compete in the Olympics, or are they relegated to their own separate competition? Because then it really would be Pokémon.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 2:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I agree that we must consider possible consequences, so that we do not begin the descent down the slippery slope.

    However, there are very real limits to the number of eggs a woman can safely produce in a given time, unless you start farming eggs from lots of women at the same time or give them some potentially nasty drug that makes them produce lots of eggs.

    And even if people were willing to pay lots of money for it, not everyone has lots of money, so the danger of monoculture humans then depends on this technology becoming so cheap that even those in poverty can afford it.

    Screening consecutive embryos for the first one that lacks major risk factors, IMO, does not cross the line. Creating arbitrary genetic sequences, IMO, does cross the line. I am inclined to say that making "embryo factories" to manufacture lots of potential embryos so that we may be highly selective is more likely to cross the line than not.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 3:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    However, there are very real limits to the number of eggs a woman can safely produce in a given time, unless you start farming eggs from lots of women at the same time or give them some potentially nasty drug that makes them produce lots of eggs.

    Or you discover a way to induce progenitor cells to divide into viable eggs in a test tube. Who knows what will be possible In the Future(tm).

    And even if people were willing to pay lots of money for it, not everyone has lots of money, so the danger of monoculture humans then depends on this technology becoming so cheap that even those in poverty can afford it.

    You just need lots of money to get the ball rolling. Twenty years later it's routine clinic procedure if enough people want it.

    Screening consecutive embryos for the first one that lacks major risk factors, IMO, does not cross the line. Creating arbitrary genetic sequences, IMO, does cross the line. I am inclined to say that making "embryo factories" to manufacture lots of potential embryos so that we may be highly selective is more likely to cross the line than not.

    IMO, there's not that much of a line there. We already screen for many things unambiguously viewed as "defects" (fatal diseases) in IVF and pregnancy. Technology will only make this easier, one way or another, whether the actual process involves making lots of embryos and picking the one you want or just making one with genes you pick. Either way, the risk of monocultural vulnerability and other unintended consequences is there. As other commenters have said, I do think this is inevitable. I just also think it's pretty scary.

     

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    UK Guy, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 3:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    Many years ago our newspapers ran a story about a young kid at a zoo who managed to get close enough to the chimp cage to put his arm through the bars. A chimpanzee tore the arm out of its socket. I couldn't understand how that was possible - wouldn't there be an equal strain on the chimp's arm?

    Years later I read an article about a genetic error in the human chromosome when we split from the common ancester which means human muscles are only 25% the strength of any other primate species, and it suddenly made sense.

    Not looking forward to a future in which a select few have that genetic flaw fixed, and are four times as strong as the rest of us poor bastards.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    Leviticus would not be my first choice for quoting, were I Christian. Old testament and all that being superceded by the new testament. And Leviticus also says you shouldn't eat seafood that lacks fins and scales.

    Leviticus 11:9-10 says:
    These shall ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them shall ye eat.
    And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which is in the waters, they shall be an abomination unto you


    So if you want to quote Leviticus as the basis for any decision, I hope you don't eat any shrimp.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 3:48pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    You are correct, sickle cell is recessive, meaning you need two copies of the gene.

    However, I think some people imagine the rush to get rid of all "bad" genes is overblown. I'm actually afraid you'd have the opposite problem - people would *want* their child to be a carrier for genes like this one.

    But then you have a load of people who are carriers, and if enough people are carriers, you might actually see increased prevalence of the full-blown recessive disease. Remember, just because this technology exists doesn't mean there won't be old-fashioned babies.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 3:51pm

    Uhm...

    The danger is that those adverse behaviors may just be poor expressions of an underlying genetic setup that also produces humanity's much needed "exceptionalism".

    Innovation of the sort that produces our greatest advancements is almost certainly "outside of the norm".

    Humanity needs those oddballs and their "abnormal" genes, and we need to make sure our culture supports them well enough that they can avoid poor expressions. What we really have is a poor support culture.

    The underlying theme of this is that because our society fails to properly help people be better members, regardless of their underlying genetic makeup, we need to normalize everyone's genes. It's like saying we should make all buildings short, because tall buildings are dangerous...

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I will concede that technology could eventually bring this within reach of those in poverty. After all, cell phones are within their reach.

    I still think concerns for monoculture vulnerability are overblown. Not one person has addressed my point that people will still make babies the old fashioned way, the least of which would be every single unintended pregnancy.

    Even in the Future(tm) where this is cheap and easy for everyone, short of actual designer babies made of arbitrary DNA sequences, I still don't see a cause for concern regarding monoculture vulnerability. Certainly some people would sift through hundreds of embryos for the perfect child, but consider how many people are vehemently against abortion. I find it hard to believe that the majority would want to screen hundreds of embryos.

    When in doubt, you could always enforce good old government regulations. Society could make it illegal to make hundreds of embryos, instead setting a quota like "you can try up to 10 embryos per year" or something.

    Without mandatory enforcement, and without creating arbitrary DNA sequences, and without the shotgun approach (i.e. make hundreds and pick the "best"), I really do not see the concern with monoculture vulnerability.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:05pm

    Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I'm not arguing what is or is not immoral in terms of abortion, just that it is an obvious moral consideration that (depending on one's ethical/moral principles) may weigh against the arguments that producing the "best" people is desirable.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:13pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I agree that giving people the choice is far superior to some sort of mandate, which would be unacceptable IMO. If people want to make babies the old fashioned way, let them. It's their bodies and their decision, not mine. What they do in the privacy of their own home is no one's business but their own.

    That said, I find it disingenuous to compare screening with sterilization. These things are quite different, since screening still allows those with genetic diseases to make offspring. In fact, I dare say this would make it easier for those people to have offspring, safe in the knowledge that their child will not suffer the way they do.

    As a society, we need to have an honest discussion about what is acceptable and unacceptable, and freaking out about some fucked up shit someone else did in the past is no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It is little different from those people who freak out about nuclear power plants because of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. It impedes progress when we let the ghosts of the past prevent rational discussion in the present, and it enables those at the fringe of society to take things further in the dark than society would otherwise find acceptable.

     

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    DCX2, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    (I hope you did not find my previous post that you replied to inflammatory, as it was not my intent)

    On that note, I agree with you entirely. In fact, I think that's one of the main reasons that you won't have people making hundreds of embryos and then selecting the best one. I honestly think the majority would accept the first child that was clear of all major known risk factors, regardless of their hair color, eye color, height, etc. I know I certainly would not want to create any more embryos than necessary in order to have one which will lead to a healthy child.

    In fact, that's one of my primary arguments against this leading to monoculture vulnerability. I just don't see the majority exercising excessive selective pressure on their offspring. As you say, one's own ethical and moral principles would probably weigh heavily against "farming" embryos, so that they are happy with the first viable, healthy one.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:23pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    I still think concerns for monoculture vulnerability are overblown. Not one person has addressed my point that people will still make babies the old fashioned way, the least of which would be every single unintended pregnancy.

    Two things:

    1) We already screen natural pregnancies (intended or otherwise) for various genetic defects during the first trimester using tests like amniocentesis and its more modern cousins. Expect this to increase.

    2) Random pairings don't increase genetic diversity if the partners are drawn from an increasingly homogeneous gene pool. If a significant fraction of the babies born had chosen "designer genes" they're still going to pass on those genes to their natural offspring.

    I don't think anyone is saying the whole population will become smiling Stepford clones overnight, but the more we gain the ability to choose the genes of our children, the more they will converge over time toward a small "desirable" pool.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:24pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    Sickle Cell disease is one that if you have the markers from both parents, you get the disease. If you get one marker, then you don't suffer from Malaria.

     

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    jdub (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    "Sure, we could eradicate every genetic marker for Alzheimer's through unnatural selection, but what if that same gene protects against some far WORSE disease that then runs rampant across the entire population?"

    I think this would be the case if our species made this testing mandatory. If we leave it up to choice to the parents then I don't see it being an issue, as there will always be people who'll refuse to get the testing done, which will ensure natural selection breeding is still occurring in the wild.

    There will always be worse diseases out there whether your genetically modified or not, I almost think its a moot argument.

     

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    Bergman (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 5:55pm

    Whose ethics? Whose morals?

    Someone raised with and believing in Sharia law will have a very different definition of either of those things than someone raised as a strict-construction constitutionalist. Both will have a radically different definition than a radical ultra-far-left liberal.

    Or does the professor want to engineer people who can't buck the system, whatever that system might be? You think we have a sheeple problem NOW? People like that will set the status quo into steel-reinforced mil-spec concrete. Good or bad, the way things are when THAT mod becomes widespread will be the way they'll be ten thousand years later. I hope for our sakes, if not the countless generations ahead, that society and the systems supporting it are perfect when that mod is applied, because if not...

    Is enacting a real life version of Idiocracy, with stupidity replaced with conformity really all that great an idea?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 6:17pm

    Why not?

    If we can abort children for no other reason than we want to why not abort them for some genetic reason? Why does it matter why we kill a baby if the result is always a dead baby?

     

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    Mega1987 (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 6:27pm

    Coordinator-like children?

    Uh oh. If this like anything Gundam Seed and Gundam Seed Destiny(the later is an epic failure in plot) in regard to human reaction to genetically modified/enhanced babies.

    Just don't turn this into a Racial war.

    We don't really need THAT kind of junk around.

    Humans are still Humans, no matter how they are born as long as they still have their humanity and their human heart.

    Granted, this will be a boon for those geneticist and other doctors who wish to see if they can modify a human being before it was conceive.

    But the question is WILL those DOCTORS will be still humane enough to treat the "Coordinator"(yes. I'm Using GS/GSD term) like a normal human being? Or pull a Hojo(A VERY immoral scientist from Final Fantasy VII, who treats nearly every test subjects as expendable Object/Guinea pigs, even to his wife(Lucrecia) and son(Sephiroth).) and treat them just like an object or Guinea pig that can be killed/thrown away when their usefulness is over.

    What? Sometimes, those anime and/or games got some lesson you can appreciate and can be applied to real life, as long you understand their story and the characters' background.

     

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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 7:30pm

    Shrinking the gene pool

    If it is our ethical responsibility to pick and chose proper genes and abort those who aren't up to snuff, then it is also our ethical responsibility to pick and chose our mates according to their genes. Those who have good genes would be allowed to mate and those without would be removed from the gene pool.

    This, however, will lead to stagnation in the gene pool. There is a reason why the human race is so diverse. With diversity comes strength, the ability to adapt and change. If everyone was the same, the genes needed to adapt to future situations would not be there. Evolution (micro or macro) would come to a dead stop.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 22nd, 2012 @ 9:11pm

    The idea is good however our current technology is nowhere near the level we need to eliminate every problem before birth.

    It's a step in the right direction and I'm sure someday we will have technology that we will never even begin to dream of in our lifetime.

    I'm also sure they'd look back at us like the bunch of wild animals we are lol.

    Well maybe not we'll probably blow ourselves up first in our conquest for global domination.

     

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    mirradric, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 12:15am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    "Intelligent, good looking, thin, disease free people. I like those unintended consequences."

    Wow... I never thought that I'll have a chance to say this.

    Let's cut the guy some slack. Given that he was thrown down a mountain by his mother for being born with a birth defect in his leg, this definitely looks like an undeniably attractive option to him.

    And yes, this is intended as a joke, Hephaestus.

     

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    Anonymous Cowherd, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 12:57am

    I might point out that prohibiting embryo selection is in fact mandatory embryo selection: dictating that the selection be made randomly does not make it any less mandatory.

    The only way for a government not to practice mandatory eugenics is to let the people do what they want with their own genetic material.

     

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    Curt (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 1:29am

    Headline vs Content

    Headline: "Oxford Professor Says Mankind Is Ethically Obligated To Create Genetically Engineered Babies"

    Content: "When it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children." (Emphasis added)

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 3:34am

    Re: Let's do it...

    I'm gonna patent "doggy style baby making" =D

     

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    Ninja (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 3:42am

    I am completely against any screening that goes beyond genetic diseases that can cause death (such as intolerance to lactose or the likes). Maybe screen for some diseases that might cause death in the long term. But I'm very wary and there should be clear and very narrow laws defining that any information obtained to be completely private and not to be disclosed by any mechanism including but not limited to judicial warrants.

    This is basically what some old civilizations (such as the Greek) did with their malformed babies. Kill them. Except that now you can see those malformations on the DNA level and we all know how subjective "bad behavior" can be.
    Maybe you can engineer a baby to fix a disease but even that has its consequences.

    Malaria cannot develop on ppl with certain blood related genetic diseases (that only manifest if there are two dominant genes) so you are messing with a gene that may actually be a good thing. We are being too damn arrogant if we think we can actually grasp a gene in a systemic way (ie: know exactly everything it affects in the organism).

    Again, no. Get rid of that idea.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 4:17am

    Re: Why not?

    Didn't Hitler say that?

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 4:35am

    Re: Re: Let's do it...

    The cats already have that one!

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 5:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    That's ok, you can just put your babies' parents next to some striped sticks :)

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 5:25am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    Cue Koch Brothers funding for 'genetic variables' resulting in babies with 'desirable' right-wing ethical traits?

    Ah, so that's why the newts are rushing to multiple marriages?

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 5:26am

    Re:

    Which scares the living daylights out of you because any one of them could outcompete the entire content control ecosystem! ;)

     

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  86.  
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    Niall (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 5:29am

    Re:

    Now, now, just because the Romanians started out WW2 on the German side...

     

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    Niall (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 5:30am

    Re: Re: Re: the problem: is nutters are useful?

    I'll vote for having the Vitamin C and D faults fixed, since him above couldn't be bothered to design properly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 8:26am

    Re: Presumption

    See: Gattaca.

    No really, everyone should see it. Great movie.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 8:34am

    Re: Why not?

    Bah, can't resist this bit of trollbait.

    The kind of person that would abort a baby just because they want to abort a baby is the kind of person that should not be having a baby anyway. So on the face of it, although I suspect quite strongly you are attempting grim sarcasm, I agree with your sentiment: if a parent wants to abort because a known genetic deficiency is found, that decision should be between themselves and their doctor.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 2:20pm

    This is a stupid and dangerous idea.

    As an example, various mental illnesses have been correlated to creative and artistic talent, and to high intelligence.
    Lower IQs are associated with pleasant things like being happier.

    Being more dellusional is correlated with happiness, being realistic is correlated with higher rates of unhappiness.

    So which we do wipe out? Dellusional folk or unhappy folk? By whose standards do we decide whether increased risk of creative talent is not worth increased risk of mental/emotional/psychiatric (and associated behavioural) pathology?

    Wouldn't it make more sense to return to the more progressive notion of working on the environment and ask what needs to change about society to accommodate humans best, instead of this notion where we consider how we can force humans to fit the higgeldy piggedly state of a particular society at a particular time?

    No matter what we do with the DNA, pathological environments will always result in higher rates of pathology, and healthy environments will always generate lower rates of pathology. Most people, regardless of DNA, do poorly in a pathological envirnment, and that most people, regardless of DNA, do well in a healthy environment.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    Re: Flash: Professor utterly clueless about the real world

    Exactly.

    It's also clear to me that this idiot has not done his homework on the pure biological facts of what he is pontificating on.

    Given the serious consequences of his ideas taking root, this is not something an ethical person would spout off about without first acquiring the requisiste factual knowledge to ensure they are not advocating something that is in reality dangerously dellusional.

    On the basis of his performance, I award this professor an F grade on his ethics and an F grade on his academic intregrity.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 2:35pm

    Re: in short

    We're not capable of doing more than bumping blindly in the dark and anyone who thinks otherwise is a clueless, hubris filled, naive dumpty.

     

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    btrussell (profile), Aug 23rd, 2012 @ 3:23pm

    Re: Re: Presumption

    "No really, everyone should see it. Great movie."

    No such thing.

    Is there a book?

     

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    identicon
    Alex Dakin, Aug 24th, 2012 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Not yet slippery

    FYI: Women do not "produce" eggs. They are born with every ovum they will ever have. They just release one or more eggs every menstrual cycle.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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