Re: Amusing anti-cloning arguments

Hal Finney (
Wed, 28 Oct 1998 09:53:46 -0800

Max More, <>, writes:
> If a whole bunch of people are going into space for a long journey to
> another star, then it may sense for them to have children with no legs (or
> extra arms). Given that these people are entering a different environment,
> they would be *increasing* their children's abilities and fitness.
> Certainly I don't see a major objection to this. (Possible objections: It
> makes far more sense to upload for an interstellar trip to save huge
> amounts of energy: maybe the ship should be spun for gravity and normal
> children produced to avoid cultural problems.) The engineered children are
> being given the maximum opportunities for the situation they will be born
> into.

Okay, but I'm trying to get at the more general issue: when is it OK to make modifications to the genome of one's unborn children? How do we judge whether the changes will turn out to be acceptable when you can't ask in advance?

Most changes will have some tradeoffs; few will be entirely advantageous. Is it ethical to make these kinds of changes? Does the parent have the right to make the decision?

Roger Zelazny wrote a very pretty short story called "The Keys to December", about a group of children who were born modified for a very cold world which was then destroyed before they could move there. A corporation had paid their parents to have babies modified like this, and also contracted to pay for their upbringing and education, but then they would have been more or less forced by circumstances to live and work on this cold world that the company wanted to develop, since nowhere else would be livable for them. Should the parents have had the right to have modified children like these?

Suppose I live in space, and never go to Earth because it is too expensive. Can I modify my kids so that it would be practically impossible for them to go, if it helps in the space environment?

You can craft a whole range of cases like this, where the adaptions are more or less beneficial. It's especially hard to judge when the adaption is only beneficial in a niche environment.

In practice, these situations may not arise. By the time we can do genome modifications, perhaps we can will be able to do physical modifications just as effectivelly. However I have doubts about this when dealing with mental adaptations. To rewrite your mind late in life could be a hard task, and it might be necessary to be born with different senses or limbs in order to use them with maximum effectiveness.