Thursday, July 28, 2016

Genetics and the Precautionary Principle

Read an article yesterday about concerns over manipulation of the human genome.  Forget where.  Some issues were over correcting genetic problems which cause diseases versus modification of the genome to improve human capacities.  And then you bring in the problem of non-genetic modification: we don't permit performance enhancing drugs in sports, but we no doubt approve of our surgeon drinking a cup of coffee in the morning before she operates on our brain.

Anyhow, it's a deeper subject than I can deal with, but two aspects strike me:
  • it's highly likely that benefits from such things will not be equally divided: as usual the rich will get richer (taller, smarter, less disease-ridden, whatever) and the poor won't.
  • our discomfort with some of the modifications tends to be higher at the margins.
Accordingly, I'd propose a couple of rules, somewhat similar to the precautionary principle (which can be summarized as: "when in doubt, don't"--not that I like the way it's often been applied.
  • before you undertake any modification, determine whether the result will push the existing bounds of  normal human capability.  We don't make a society of Einsteins.
  • in undertaking any modification, consciously try to counter the "golden rule" (i.e. the rich get richer).

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