Human Genetic Modification is Eugenics in Disguise

 Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

We see it everywhere; the crunchy panic around genetically modified corn, peas, and drought resistant lettuce. It makes the news about quarterly. Whenever a company is discovered using fragments of algae DNA for the disturbing crime of pesticide-free crops. The information can be public knowledge or a company secret but it’s always treated as the latter. GMOs (genetically modified organisms) such as beans, corn, and tomatoes pose precisely no threat to human health. But the bigger risk of all of this gene editing in strawberries is that it is starting to move into the realm of human genetics. GMOs are all fine with food products, but when it enters the womb, it smells suspiciously of eugenics.  

GMOs are Nothing to Worry About

Despite the outrage and panic, GMOs are absolutely nothing to worry about. Indeed, GMOs are often helpful to plants, farmers, and consumers alike. Bt-corn, the corn that most people eat already, is pest resistant and has negated the need for pesticides. These pesticides harmed the environment, farmers, and if the food went unwashed, harmed the consumer. It seems there isn’t a great deal of public understanding related to GMOs. The reality and mundanity of freeze-resistant tomatoes are dramatized into something a SciFi movie would depict. A bit of fish DNA is being used in genetically modified tomatoes to make them freeze resistant. The fish used in the editing lives in the Arctic and has a type of bio-antifreeze enzyme. By inserting the gene that codes for this enzyme into the tomato, farmers are able to keep tomatoes fresh at cold temperatures. Importantly, without freezing them.

This has lowered shipping costs, improved the health of crops, and widened the range of available tomato growing regions. This also poses no threat to human or environmental health. Scientists can locate and edit these genes because ethics boards are usually silent about the destruction of tomatoes. Ethics boards, however, are not silent when it comes to human genetic modification. There are scientists who think the regulations on human genetic modification are the only hindrance to the next step in our evolution. Why not edit your child’s genetics and have them immune to HIV? What’s wrong with giving your child the DEC2 gene, which will allow them to sleep less? Why not remove the possibility of genetic disease?

Gene-Editing is not Evolution

At first glance, it seems perfectly fine to do. Clearing out genetic disease, or preventing a virus, or improving sleep quality seems favorable. All this is “the next step in human evolution”. But actually, no. Human genetic modification will be one of the most detrimental events to hit humanity. It will not be the next step in evolution, it will be a discriminatory and dangerous exercise in eugenics. The ethics boards have all the reason in the world to be shouty about this.

The whole “evolution” comparison is particularly egregious. Gene editing has nothing in common with evolution, aside from perhaps the involvement of genes as a concept. Evolution is an inherent property of life. It’s blind, and let’s reproduce and continue whatever can do so on its own. Evolution is by no means a perfect system, but it’s also can’t be judged as any more righteous than gravity. It’s the law of nature, acting perfectly outside any human’s notion of good or bad. Evolution is never discriminatory, by its very nature. Comparing gene editing to evolution is like comparing flood prevention architecture to weather manipulation. This is especially true, as weather manipulation was used as a weapon by US forces in Vietnam.

Examining the Positives Critically

Gene editing, unlike evolution, is subject to not the laws of nature, but to the wants of flawed human beings. Human beings, with our bias, cultural influence, and discrimination are to decide under this system which genes are good and which are bad. Which survive, and which deserve to be scrubbed from the genome. It seems good, revolutionary in fact, to remove the possibility of ever contracting HIV, but these things need to be looked at critically.

When gene editing becomes available for things like HIV prevention, sleep enhancement, and the removal of genetic disease, it also becomes available for things like skin color, hair texture, and IQ. The simple truth is there are more petty things to mess with then there are significant medical problems to fix. Slippery slope fallacy doesn’t apply here because shallowness has overtaken medicine in every case where abortion is widely available. Even in America, abortions are performed all the time on the basis of sex, race, and ability. But abortion, unlike gene editing, doesn’t affect the greater human genome to such an extreme extent.

Gene-Editing Creates More Classism and Discrimination

When superficiality is the most common reason for gene editing, it will the rich are who will do it. Whatever their tastes are, will be what they will have. If the rich want blue eyes and blonde hair, it will become a marker of wealth. The rich decide dark skin and black hair are what they prefer? It will become what employers, schools, and police officers prefer. Because this technology will be available to the wealthy exclusively, like a designer car, or million dollar houses. “Designer Babies” will be what’s in fashion with human genetic modification.

A class is the only real determiner of any type of “privilege” when you get down to it. It’s acceptable when the physical markers of a person with wealth are things like clothing or speech because those things can be changed. But after you exit the womb, you can’t change your genetics when it comes to things like skin, hair, or eye color. People who can’t achieve these things are going to be systematically discriminated against. We see this in studies about “black sounding names” being higher less frequently than white sounding names– all other factors being equal. This is because these names are seen as less refined, less put together, less wealthy.

Damaging the Economy and the Human Genome

But the problem with human gene-editing goes beyond discrimination. It has the potential to cripple the human genome. The human genome is diverse for a very important reason. In civilization, it is directly advantageous to have different people equipt for specific jobs. It is helpful to have people who are not good at everything. If “type B” personalities are completely out of the population because of gene editing, we will create a stringent and breakable population. This also poses another problem to do with generations. With each new generation will come to new tastes.

One generation will favor emotional intelligence and a strong physique, the next will favor mathematical intelligence and not consider physique as much. It will be a constant cycle of ill-equipped populations. A well-rounded economy will be a relic of the past. More importantly, a well-rounded society will be too. There is a reason people describe finding a good as significant as “finding your other half”. Most relationships workout because there is some type of balance between the two people. One person is a little more neurotic, one person is a little more laid back. But with the generational removal of different personality types, this complementarianism will no longer be possible. The coevals will be monoliths.

Gene-Editing is More Complicated than You Think

Human genetic modification also causes a more practical problem. In all this talk about ethics and eugenics, we have the habit of forgetting the more practical, medical implications. We forget there is not just one gene for things like hair color, intelligence, or height. The only things that the editing of one gene can solve are chromosomal genetic defects. In fact, the DEC2 gene impacts sleep. But it also affects bone and other tissue growth. Not only is it immoral to gene edit, but it’s also impractical and dangerous.

How will these eugenicists act when a baby they engineered to have blue eyes comes out with fragile bones? What about the child who is miscarried because of an overly enlarged skull? What about walking up non-coding genes? Scientists hardly know what these non-coding genes have the potential to do. But the enthrallment of scientific culture with gene editing has the capacity to wake up these genes with disastrous consequences. The people who push for gene editing are so flippant in their desire to move humanity to “our next step in evolution” they forget how their science actually works. They forget they need to consider all the risks and ethics too.

The Real Risks of Accepted Eugenics

These doctors will erase so-called distasteful characteristics. It could be anything from down syndrome or short stature, to introversion or autism. This is the very basics of eugenics. The very basic of subjective and discriminatory violence. If we let technologies like crispr become widespread, they will not just impact the fetuses they are directly used on. They will affect society as a whole. Gene editing will cause discrimination and superficial power imbalances across the globe. The benefits to health are comparatively benign to the president it will set. Further, the health benefits achieved through this editing are not revolutionary. Current medicine has already achieved them far less invasively. And if absolutely necessary, condoms can even prevent HIV.

All things considered, there is flat out no reason to allow human genetic modification. It is a slippery slope that has been exemplified in every instance of comparable events or circumstances. But when we involve DNA, it has the potential to injure entire segments of a population. It has the potential to inspire and propagate hatred, discrimination, and classicism. Gene editing is practically and medically dangerous. It will not fix any problem science doesn’t have a handle on without also causing the above effects. Human genetic modification is a manipulation of the blind process of evolution so many compare it to and we as a society cannot let it continue.

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