Katie B. Michigan

Human Genetic Engineering

While each attempt at creating the perfect human may be valiant and honorable, it comes at a price.

Dear Future President,

      Humans are constantly changing. As a society, we’ve seen so much progress just in the last hundred years that it’s baffling to think about. Yet, we threaten to throw all that progress away with something as small as two little words: genetic engineering.

     Genetic engineering is the manipulation of genes to change an organism, but specifically, I am referring to human genetic engineering --the altering of human genes and DNA-- which includes stem cell research, cloning, and designer babies. This kind of science is extremely risky, and frankly, just inhumane. Although human genetic engineering holds many new prospects and exciting ideas, Future President, we should not support its spread because it threatens future generations, our children, by condemning them --every single one of them-- to a dark, dangerous (and perhaps irreversible) fate.

     Genetic engineering, while it may seem like something out of an old sci-fi movie, is actually quite real-- and something we’re familiar with. We genetically modify our crops, our livestock, and even bacteria to produce our medicine. Point being, DNA manipulation is old news. Recently, researchers have been exploring stem cell research, cloning, gene therapy, and many more avenues of genetic research. This has sparked a debate between a very diverse group of people. Some fear a second wave of “eugenics” seen in World War II, others see a way to treat and perhaps cure some of the most debilitating genetic diseases humanity knows, and others still are left in the dark, unaware of the gravity of the issue. If you let this problem grow, Future President, where (or perhaps even more daunting, how) will you draw the line?

    If human genetic engineering is allowed to be pursued, there will undoubtedly be consequences, some good, others bad. One may be the immense social rift that will result between the enhanced humans and the unenhanced. The treatment to modify one’s DNA will likely be expense, so really only “anyone with a platinum card can get twenty IQ points, not to mention a memory boost and a permanent wrinkle-free brow” (McKibbon, Bill "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society). As author and researcher Bill McKibbon explains, only those with “platinum cards” can or will be able to afford these upgrades. Then, the poor will be left in the dust yet again, and the social rift between the wealthy and the poor will be widen to a gaping chasm. Even worse, it could create a new kind of discrimination, one preying on an individual’s DNA rather than their outward appearance. Researcher Richard Hayes points out that “human and civil rights leaders are wary of a new free-market eugenics that could stoke the fires of racial and ethnic hatred” and “disability rights leaders charge that a society obsessed with genetic perfection could come to regard the disabled as mistakes that should have been prevented” (Hayes, Richard. "New Genetic Engineering Technology Needs to Be Regulated." Genetic Engineering). What good could possibly come from something that threatens to alienate our society from itself?

      Not only could social problems result, but the genetic engineering of humans could lead to a lot of global conflicts, almost like an arms race of genetic perfection. If genetic engineering is pursued, then without a doubt, there will be people who seek to upgrade their children, perhaps to give them an edge on society. More and more people will start to upgrade their children, and soon, the upgraded child will be the new norm (that is until the newest “model” comes out). In other words, those who do not upgrade will be forced into it, simply just to ensure that their average human child “won't be left hopelessly far behind” (McKibbon, Bill. "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society). If you don’t force your child in the genetic race, “‘your child will be the stupidest in the neighborhood.’ ... love can almost be defined as giving your kids what they need to make their way in the world. Deciding not to soup them up ... well, it could come to seem like child abuse” (McKibbon, Bill. "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society). Genetic engineering will push humanity into a vicious struggle of upgrades and obsolescence. Just like an iPhone or a computer, there will be new augments coming out every couple of years, so those with the better enhancements will be superior until the next upgrade rolls around. These are human beings we're talking about becoming obsolete, not an old car or a phone. How can we willingly allow our children to become “a nearly useless copy of Windows 95” because “other kids just have plain better hardware” (McKibbon, Bill. "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society)? If we start down this path, there may be no escape from the endless cycle of upgrades and obsolescence.

     Finally, genetic engineering of humans should not be pursued because it will cause us to lose our humanity. One thing that makes us all unique is our flaws; we are imperfect, but humbly so. With genetic engineering, we will wipe those imperfections away, and all we learned with them will vanish. In a world without mistakes, without errors, without learning opportunities, the character building trials we had endured in the past will no longer affect us; the faults we had learned to overcome will have never existed. We lose the ability to learn who we are. “You cannot rebel against the production of that [new] protein. Perhaps you can still do everything in your power to defeat the wishes of your parents, but that protein will nonetheless be pumped out relentlessly into your system, defining who you are....” (McKibbon, Bill. "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society). Gone are the days of ‘discovering yourself’ stories-- there will be only be people who have been genetically crippled to fit a certain predetermined lifestyle. From this, we’ll gain a detachment from our children, viewing them as something to fix and customize rather than an individual and unique human being. By augmenting our children, we are in essence “destroy[ing] the young human embryo in the process” (Blackwell, Ken. "Ignored Implications." World Magazine) by restricting them of a future. You must not allow this to happen for the sake of future generations.

     In conclusion, human genetic engineering will bring more harm to our society than benefits. Yes, it could be used to correct debilitating genetic disorders or help those who’ve been disadvantaged by a hereditary disease, but the definition of what deserves modification or intervention is very broad. There's nowhere to draw a line because it's such a moral grey area. If genetic engineering research continues, we risk sending humanity down a dark and irreversible path.

      This is not a risk we can afford to take, Future President. To pursue genetic engineering is to condemn our children to a dark fate. It is better to limit it now and closely monitor its progress then to regret it later down the line. To ensure the safety of future generations, laws should be put in place to regulate the type of research scientists can pursue and the types of embryos (if any) they may use. As the researcher Bill McKibbon aptly put it, “if germline genetic engineering is going to be stopped, it will have to happen now, before it's quite begun. It will have to be a political choice – that is, one we make not as parents, but a citizens, not as individuals, but as a whole thinking not only of our own offspring, but about everyone” (McKibbon, Bill. "The Genetic Enhancement of Children Should Be Opposed." Techology and Society).

      Future President, the choice falls to you. Will our future be filled with regret and an endless cycle of obsolescence, or will it be filled with a curiosity about “what if”, but a line we dare not cross? The lives of future Americans are in your hands. Decide wisely. Thank you.


     Katie B.