I’ve been waiting for this since 1957, or for the last six thousand years, whichever came first. It’s called CRISPR technology. Have you heard of it? It’s a genetic engineering technology that apparently will allow us to take control of human reproduction and fundamentally alter human evolution. It will give us the ability to treat or cure diseases, dial out birth defects, and also give us the tools to create designer children. But we’re running scared and I don’t get it. What's the problem?
This is brilliantly and logically the next bold and welcomed step in our pursuit of human perfectibility, one that amounts to true progress, and how can it not be embraced? Its time has come. We've managed to abandon the archaic religious notion that human nature suffers from an inescapable brokenness and depravity, and we now know that humankind can indeed be refined upward. And with these emerging technologies it is within our grasp to make a quantum leap in that direction. Fasten your seat belts. This could be a wild ride, but thankfully we’ve been setting the stage for it.
We have been faithfully preparing the soil to receive these new seeds of progress as we have developed, along with the technologies themselves, the structures and language of permission and rights. Human rights. Fundamentally, and fortuitously, somewhere along the line we managed to separate our understanding of rights from any outside reference. As they say, we have emancipated the human will from all externalities. (I forget if we have Machiavelli to thank for that. Or maybe it was Hobbes. Or maybe it was just Dean Martin, I don’t recall.) And we have now reasonably replaced the confidence of external reference with the language of desire. My desires now create reality and define my rights. As it should be.
So, why the reluctance to proceed with the human engineering project, especially among those who normally support scientific progress? I can understand that there are “common good” arguments for restrictions on these technologies in their early stages of development, especially as we consider making heritable changes to the human genome, and as we fret over the possible adverse effects those alterations may have on entire ecosystems. But surely we can alleviate concerns on the macro level by developing procedures on the micro level to monitor gestations for abnormalities and literally nip any such problems in the womb. We do that now. These are clearly not philosophical or religious concerns as such, but only worries about these advances from a safety standpoint. As these technologies develop and make possible the creation of designer babies, children produced by these means will ultimately become the perfectly predictable outcomes of the personal and private decisions made by the parties involved. This is a matter of parental autonomy. No one else need be affected.
But some say that creating a baby of choice would be unethical — “lacking moral principles; unwilling to adhere to proper rules of conduct.” But which rules of conduct are you referring to? Whose rules of conduct? Rules of the majority or the minority? How can something be unethical if enough people decide it should be permissible? As soon as the application of these technologies achieves majority support then it will be ethical. As we already know, that same principle applies to all decisions made in our legislative and judicial systems. Some time ago we agreed that 5-4 establishes Truth.
Although, I’m sure at some point even the most progressive and freethinking among us will say, “No, that is not acceptable… that is not a line we should cross.” But thankfully we’ve managed to push through many such barriers in the past. For example, it took a little while to loosen up sexual mores and remove the stigma originally attached to freedoms associated with the Sexual Revolution. But time continues to heal all wounds inflicted by constrictive moral structures of the past, as it ushers in the enlightenment we so desperately need to boldly embrace the future that is ours. Our artists and musicians and writers have always championed innovation and shown courage in exploring new frontiers. Why should the scientific community not now step up and demonstrate that same resolve in moving us into a less repressive genetic age? We will celebrate our desires and permissions as we take these unprecedented steps forward into a world of unlimited human design possibilities. We can and will and must embrace expressions of modernity, and this its timely gift of life-giving knowledge.
And bringing it close to home — in these present and future days if we permit a woman to eliminate a fetus she doesn’t want, will we prohibit her from creating a fetus she does want? Will we deny her that reproductive right? Will we uphold our rights to reproductive freedom and provide women with safe, legal genetic engineering environments and procedures, or will we make it illegal to create a baby of choice and force those women to seek out back-alley geneticists?