5.5. Epilogue: Tinkering with Ourselves
It's easy to wonder whether the more extreme visions of a genetically engineered society are mere shock tactics to encourage the sale of books, or instead the best indication we have of a deep cultural current whose drift is so far recognized only by a few. But without doubt the holders of these visions claim to descry something deep and significant, reaching all the way to the roots of our own identity. It seems foolish not to take at least occasional note of their words.
With that in mind, I offer here a brief collection of extreme visions, followed by my own attempt to relate them to Martha Beck's story. (The quotations were gathered by Richard Hayes, an environmental activist and doctoral candidate in Energy and Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. They appeared along with an interview of Hayes in the Summer, 1999 issue of Wild Duck Review.)
Lee Silver, molecular biologist at Princeton University (from his book, Remaking Eden: How Cloning and Beyond will Change the Human Family, in which he imagines the not-so-distant future):
The GenRich who account for ten percent of the American population all carry synthetic genes. All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich class. Naturals work as low-paid service providers or as laborers . . . . [eventually] the GenRich class and the Natural class will become entirely separate species with no ability to cross-breed, and with as much romantic interest in each other as a current human would have for a chimpanzee.
Anyone who accepts the right of affluent parents to provide their children with an expensive private school education cannot use "unfairness" as a reason for rejecting the use of reprogenetic technologies. Indeed, in a society that values individual freedom above all else, it is hard to find any legitimate basis for restricting the use of reprogenetics . . . . I will argue [that] the use of reprogenetic technologies is inevitable. It will not be controlled by governments or societies or even the scientists who create it. There is no doubt about it, whether we like it or not, the global marketplace will reign supreme.
Gregory Pence, Professor of Philosophy, University of Alabama (from his book, Who's Afraid of Human Cloning?):
Many people love their retrievers and their sunny dispositions around children and adults. Could people be chosen in the same way? Would it be so terrible to allow parents to at least aim for a certain type, in the same way that great breeders try to match a breed of dog to the needs of a family?
James Watson, Nobel Prize winner for discovering the structure of DNA, and Director of the National Center for Human Genome Research (in Engineering the Human Germline, edited by Gregory Stock and John Campbell):
And the other thing, because no one has the guts to say it, if we could make better human beings by knowing how to add genes, why shouldn't we? What's wrong with it? . . . Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity to it? I'd just like to know where that idea comes from. It's utter silliness.
Gregory Stock, Director of the Science, Technology, and Society Program at UCLA's Center for the Study of Evolution and the Origin of Life (from his book, Metaman: The Merging of Humans and Machines Into a Global Superorganism):
By applying biological techniques to embryos and then to the reproductive process itself, Metaman will take control of human evolution . . . . Populations that adopt such techniques will generally outdistance those that do not . . . . Like all major developments, they will cause great stresses within society. But asking whether such changes are "wise" or "desirable" misses the essential point that they are largely not a matter of choice; they are the unavoidable product of the technological advance intrinsic to Metaman.
Even if half the world's species were lost, enormous diversity would still remain. When those in the distant future look back on this period of history, they will likely see it not as the era when the natural environment was impoverished, but as the age when a plethora of new forms some biological, some technological, some a combination of the two burst onto the scene.
James Hughes, bioethics consultant (from his book, Embracing Change with All Four Arms):
The right to a custom made child is merely the natural extension of our current discourse of reproductive rights. I see no virtue in the role of chance in conception, and great virtue in expanding choice. If women are to be allowed the "reproductive right" or "choice" to choose the father of their child, with his attendant characteristics, then they should be allowed the right to choose the characteristics from a catalog. It will be considered obsessive and dumb to give your kids only parental genes.
Joseph Fletcher, professor emeritus, Harvard University (from his book, The Ethics of Genetic Control: Ending Reproductive Roulette):
Chimeras or parahumans might legitimately be fashioned to do dangerous or demeaning jobs. As it is now, low grade work is shoved off on moronic and retarded individuals, the victims of uncontrolled reproduction. Should we not "program" such workers thoughtfully instead of accidentally, by means of hybridization? Hybrids could also be designed by sexual reproduction, as between apes and humans. If interspecific coitus is too distasteful, then laboratory fertilization and implant could do it. If women are unwilling to gestate hybrids, animal females could.