I am against designer babies. I don't think we should be fooling with our DNA for a number of reasons.
First, the evolutionary system is based on random chance within a group of select mates. The larger the group the slower the evolution. The broad dispersion and high population of our world have stabilized our DNA and evolution is slow. Now our science gods want to leap in and change the puzzle thinking they know what they are doing and can limit the effect to specific traits for designer babies. But we really cannot plot what long-term affect these small changes will have on the broad population. We may know we are interrupting the evolutionary cycle but we do not know the full impact of what we do. We can design blue-eyed babies today, but how will that adjustment effect that child's grandchildren?
Adding to that, our societies (virtually all of them), shun variance from the accepted norm. This racism permeates all societies and groups within societies, parsing based upon how we look, dress or what we drive. These societal hierarchies are supported today and do not look like they are going away soon. The great equalizer is our random DNA and our sex drive as a method for DNA dilution. Sure, we can make small changes to our bodies, but we are who we are, unless you are Michael Jackson. Providing a means to control DNA will further divide our societies and burden people with the selections made by their parents. People will be marked physically by what was "in style" at their birth and be marked for life by their parent's status at birth, typically not a wealthy or wise time in one's life. Take a look at a newspaper from the time of your birth and think about what was popular at that time. If your parents had the ability to control your DNA, what would they have produced? Would those styles help you in the world today or date you as a dinosaur or freak?
DNA modification also creates an issue of lineage. If I choose to create a baby with special features, is that child mine? Will genetically engineered people become property since the "parents" cannot be genetically tied to the child? If a child is born with a defect (related to the selection or not), will the parents be responsible for its care as they are today? There are a host of issues our fickle society is not prepared to answer about DNA modification. We simply want to be thin, young, smart, rich and in style.
Europe is struggling with a similar DNA issue with the GM foods. For me, the minor issue is how this will affect our future health. If something goes wrong, some people will die and some will be maimed (as long as it is not me or my family :o), but the rate will be low on a worldly scale. My fear in this is that the GM seeds that are sold to are engineered not to reproduce. This creates a reliance on the seed producer as farmers cannot simply take seeds from the current crop for future crops. If these seeds become the standard, what happens when there is a crop failure and the source (fertile) seeds are destroyed? We could easily wipe out our future food source for short-term economic gain. I do not think we are prepared for DNA tampering.
How far have we come in 200 years? Two hundred years is a long time. When I think of modern medicine, I think fifty years is a lot. Fifty years ago we used lead in pipe and paint, asbestos in our floors and walls and mercury was a common household item. Fifty years ago we were polluting the Earth are a phenomenal rate and city smog was a major killer. All of London was heated with coal and some days people simply suffocated in the street. In 1952, a week of still air caused 5000 deaths in London. Fifty years ago, more than ½ the population smoked cigarettes and could smoke anywhere, killing themselves and those around them. Fifty years ago, major diseases were still rampant; Smallpox, Typhoid fever, Scarlet Fever, Diphtheria and Tuberculosis, Polio and a host of others. Fifty years ago, the infant mortality rate was just slightly lower than 200 years ago and women were dying in childbirth at 100 times the rate of today. Fifty years ago, almost every state had an orphanage system for all the children without parents. So to think about how far we have come in two hundred years only part of the question and the first 150 years should be contrasted to than what happened in the past fifty years.
Between 1800 and 1950, I think the medical world was in an organizational mode. People were learning how to conduct studies that would produce repeatable results and build on broad knowledge dissemination. The industrial revolution and particularly electricity were key in providing the tools to advance this area of study. This early period built the foundations for what happened in the past fifty years; the application of these techniques to shift from an effect based heath management system to a cause based system. Adding to this change is the infusion of highly educated people to work on the issues and the conversion to a legal system which holds parties responsible for their actions. The increased wealth of the average person also helped develop the most recent advances in medicine because the common man can afford healthcare and drive funding for research. This vastly increased the value or providing health services and remedies. So the history of medicine is an evolutionary one and intertwined with many socio-economic and developmental progressions.
I think the future community will continue in the development of medications. This field has taken off in the past ten years and continues to flourish. The real advance is that today, the medication actually works and that is a huge advantage over medication of the past. The next step in medication will mimic the industry revolution of the past and move to problem resolution from today's symptomatic response. We will have pills to cure cancer, AIDS, heart disease, obesity and a host of other ailments. With the DNA and stem cell research, we may even get pills or injections to heal damaged organs, bones or structures.
I think we are heading in the right direction but have quite a way to go. Healthcare needs to continue to move toward prevention, broad availability and lower costs. I do not think I will see a medical revolution in my lifetime, but my children may.
Copyright Peter Jay Smith 2005 Return to helarc.com