Should we be afraid of tampering with human nature?by Francis Fukuyama / June 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
18th March 2002
The current dispute about cloning is a proxy for broader fears about the new technologies emerging from our unravelling of human biology. Critics like yourself imagine that if we can stop cloning, we can head off possibilities like human “enhancement.” But as we decipher our biology we learn to modify ourselves-and we will do so. No laws will stop this.
Embryo selection, for example, is feasible in thousands of labs around the world. Any attempt to block it will increase the potential dangers of the technology by driving it out of sight and depriving us of early indications of medical or social problems.
The best reason not to curb interventions that many people see as safe and beneficial is not that such a ban would be dangerous, but that it would be wrong. A ban would prevent people from making choices that are intended to improve their lives and would hurt no one. Such choices should be allowed. It is hard to see how a society that encourages us to stay healthy and vital could justify, for instance, trying to stop people from undergoing genetic therapy or consuming drugs aimed at retarding ageing. Imposing such a ban requires more compelling logic than the assertion that we should not play God or that, as you have said, it is wrong to transcend a “natural” life span.
Also, a serious effort to block beneficial technologies that might change our natures would require policies so harsh and intrusive that their harm would be far greater than that feared from the technologies themselves. If the war on drugs-with all its resources-has failed, the government has no hope of withholding access to technologies that people see as beneficial. Even without aggressive enforcement, such bans would reserve the technologies for the privileged. When abortion was illegal in some US states, the rich just travelled to more permissive places.
Laboratories can now screen a six-cell human embryo by teasing out a single cell, reading its genes and letting parents decide whether to implant or discard the embryo. In Germany, such screening is criminal. But this does not deny the technology to affluent Germans. They can take a trip to Brussels or London, where it is legal. As such screenings become easier and more informative, genetic disease could gradually be relegated to society’s disadvantaged. We need to think about how to make…