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Michael Sandel makes 'The Case Against Perfection'

A Harvard professor offers a philosophical rebuttal to the temptations of genetic engineering.

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Charles Darwin looked deeply into nature and realized that animal life is ever changing, evolving over time. A short mental leap from there created an uproar: Humans are evolving, too.

But why wait for nature to take its course? The prospect of genetic engineering has brought about another, equally disturbing, mental leap: Once humans are able to remake themselves, why shouldn't they do so?

The issue of human enhancement is already upon us. Athletes take steroids or human-growth hormone or they dope their blood to improve performance and bounce back more quickly from injuries. Students swallow stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall in the belief that these will improve their ability to study or take tests.

But humanity is at the cusp of breakthroughs in genetic engineering that will make these examples seem trivial. Legislation now under consideration in Britain, for example, would allow chimeras – human-animal hybrids – to be created for the purposes of research. Although only groups of cells would at first be created, some think that, inevitably, the eventual result would be the creation of both animals enhanced with human qualities and humans enhanced with animal traits.

The (mis)uses of genetic manipulation

In the future, genetic manipulation of embryos is expected to have the potential to go beyond the treatment of diseases to improvements: children who are taller, more athletic, and have higher IQs. Gender already can be predetermined with in vitro embryos. Even eye and hair color could be chosen in advance. So what's wrong with creating progeny who are more than just disease-free, actually "better than well"?


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