Re: Beating a dead horse?(Was: Transhumanist Principles)

Hal Finney (
Wed, 8 Apr 1998 11:13:17 -0700

Suppose technology evolves to the point where people can create new
biological entities in the privacy of their homes. Biotechnology
allows you to grow an organism with a desired genetic code in an
artificial womb. You can create people in this way, and modify their
genome any way you like.

What are the moral issues involved in using this technology? Here are
some scenarios. Which if any are immoral?

- You use it to grow a child, the offspring of you and your partner,
with a genome chosen from a random combination of the parents using
a method which simulates natural fertilization.

- You use it to grow a child with a designed genome that has little
resemblance to your own. You can give the child special abilities but
they have some consequential weaknesses.

- You use it to grow an organism not fully human, but with a human-like
mentality - a dog with a human brain, for example.

- You use it to create an assortment of subhuman servants, the deltas and
epsilons of Brave New World.

I don't have a good answer to these questions. It seems to me that
intentionally creating a being whose life will involve more suffering
than pleasure is wrong. The degree of wrongness would relate to how much
suffering there was, and the level of consciousness and intelligence
which perceived the suffering.

None of the examples above would clearly fall into that category, although
an human-intelligent animal might, depending on how its life turned out.
As in Huxley's novel, the subhuman servants are designed to be happy with
their limited lives.

By the same reasoning, reckless experimentation which stood a good
chance of suffering would be wrong as well, although not as much so.
Most of the examples above could lead to disastrous outcomes if not done
carefully or if the procedures were not well understood.

Based on this rather cautious principle, I would tentatively classify
the above procedures as moral, as long as they were done carefully so
that suffering was minimized.