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"The ethics of the artificial improvement of the human genome"

Jari Komppa, around 1995 or 1994

Preword

This is an essay I wrote for Biology while in high school. I was somewhat hooked in philosophy at the time, and that was the only time I got perfect score from biology. As planned, the teacher couldn't help herself and just had to answer my questions. Who said philosophy is useless? =)

I've mentioned this paper to some people here and there, and decided to translate it into English so these people can actually read what I wrote.

The original text was written in two hours (or so) way past midnight.

"The ethics of the artificial improvement of the human genome"

Through the ages man has improved, bred and crossbred different animals. Gene technology has given this little hobby completely new forms, while computers have changed the art of statistics. Man has created faster horses, more productive cows, dogs that look funnier, but also so-called monsters, insane dogs which only know how to kill.

In 'people of the world'-column in Helsingin Sanomat one rich Chinese lady was looking for exceptionally intelligent man to be the father of her child. How ethical is the use of artificial insemination?

Man is naturally also interested in his own genome, but 'breeding' of humans is one of those things which are avoided as much as possible. Why is the human genome so holy? Man has traditionally placed himself on the top of the animal kingdom. No other animal can talk, and because thinking is so clearly based on language, that must mean that no other animal can think. Logical, don't you think? And so shortsighted that it makes me laugh.

Has anyone ever proved what thinking is? If we take a human child, who has grown in the jungle without knowing a single human being, can we claim that he couldn't think? Is thinking thus a learned habit? What, in that case, makes human genome so holy?

Has it even been proved that animals don't have some sort of evolved language which just happens to be so different and based on so much different methods of communication that human in all his magnificence hasn't been able to understand it? It's been proven that surprisingly large part of human communication is so called body language. Do you think in body language? Or even better: Do you know that you're thinking?

Maybe the problem is that human genes are too close to us. We couldn't care less about a war on the other side of the globe - they're always fighting there. Or maybe we're afraid of creating a better human and getting extinct ourselves. Or maybe we're afraid that we kill out some important bits in our genes, something that protects us from some unknown disease.

It's a general assumption that it's only a matter of time before our scientists figure out how the whole human genome works. Do everyone then have the right to know his or her own gene map? At least then the biggest sports events could be canceled as irrelevant - far bred athletes would just compare their gene maps with each other.

Every human has a right for a future. If such a map was available, everyone would only get to a job where his genes would be suitable. The whole society would turn into an automatic, machine-like organization, where the members would only get married to the people of the same profession to make sure that their descendants would have the genes required. This would lead to the extinction of some genes which might be fatal for the whole human race.

And what about the claim that man only uses a small percentage of his brain? Maybe the 'lock' can be found from the genes - maybe we could create a sort of child prodigy who can do irrational math in kindergarten. Maybe such children have already existed - many autistic children have, before their degeneration, shown amazing intelligence, and like in the 'Rainman', some of these skills may even remain. How much of these amazing skills remain hidden? How far man is just a machine, which can do lots of different things just by pulling the right string?

If we leave all morality behind and do some crazy tests, we naturally gain the hatred of the whole world. Still that crazy Nazi doctor managed to advance the modern medical science in ways 'ethical' science never could. On the other hand, by forgetting all ethics the pains caused by these tests were probably far higher than have been able to be avoided by using the results of those tests.

The ethics of genetic engineering are somewhat dubious. Is it right to explore things that we shouldn't, by western ethics? Are we stepping on God's toes by exploring our own structures? Would God have made man so simple that he could understand himself? Why?

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