| BioEdge | Sunday, March 26, 2017
Gene editing technology will inevitably lead to eugenics – and that’s a good thing, says Adam Cohen, the author of ”Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck”.
Cohen’s book relates the tragic story of a young woman from Virginia who was forcibly sterilised. Her case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, which concluded, in the notorious words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” That case marked the highwater mark of the American eugenics movement. But Nazi atrocities almost completely discredited the idea.
However, writing in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Cohen, like an increasing number of bioethicists, distinguishes between “bad eugenics” and “good eugenics”. The former is totalitarian and involuntary; the latter is individual and discretionary. He strongly supports the idea of “embryo editing”: “This time around, eugenics could be a force for good.”
... we should also recognize that there is a crucial difference between the old eugenics and the new. Rather than demonizing “unfit” people and working to sterilize them, the new eugenics regards their inherited disabilities as treatable medical conditions and seeks to help them have healthy children.
A number of the eminences of Silicon Valley are besotted with immortality. Google, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg are a just a few names amongst the many who want to do away with death, or at least add a few decades, or even a few hundred years, to their lifespans.
Even if this is achievable, is this desirable?
British sci-fi author and futurist Paul Graham Raven has written a blistering demolition of the transhumanist project. (Hat-tip to Wired.) It is basically a philosophy for selfish (and mostly white) rich guys, he suggests.
it turns out that technologies which extend, augment or otherwise improve human life are already here! You may have heard of some of them: clean water; urban sanitation; smokeless cooking facilities; free access to healthcare; a guaranteed minimum income; a good, free education. There are more – and you’d be surprised how many of them have been around in one form or another for decades, even centuries! But they’re unevenly distributed at the moment, so the first agenda item for all transhumanists should be looking for ways to get these technologies to everyone on the planet as soon as possible
But that is unlikely to happen. In their single-minded focus on maximising their own welfare, dedicated transhumanists are deaf to the needs of the society: “You look after yourself, I’ll look after me; what could be fairer than that?” Raven writes caustically. Come to think of it, this critique of personal autonomy could be applied to a number of other areas in bioethics.
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