RE: Gene Therapy & Ethics [was Re: AI Backlash]

Billy Brown (
Thu, 12 Aug 1999 16:37:29 -0500 [] wrote:
> Billy Brown, <>, writes:
> > So, in other words, this is such a sticky problem that we should have
> > government make all the decisions? Somehow, that seems less than ideal
> > me.
> Can't we discuss these issues without this knee jerk libertarian
> Robert didn't say anything about government. He posed an ethical
> Do we have the right to make genetic alterations to our children, given
> that they cannot consent to the procedure?
> This is an interesting and valid question to discuss without bringing
> in the issue of government enforcement.

Yes, it is. However, the basic question of the original post (IMHO) was "When should parents be allowed to make this decision, and when should they be prevented from doing so?" Since the only effective means of preventing parents from making their own decisions is government action, I think my response is perfectly reasonable. But perhaps I should back up a few steps.

Any discussion of this issue needs to be guided by two important realizations:

  1. We are not going to achieve a broad consensus issue anytime soon. The ideas held by different groups of people about what constitutes treatment vs enhancement, benificial changes vs harmfull ones, and the proper scope of parental vs social responsibility, are simply too diverse. The diversity of opinion will only grow as the issue moves into the mainstream over the coming years.
  2. These issue are sufficiently important that only the most extreme social pressures would deter individuals from acting according to their own conscience. Since broad consensus is very unlikely, there will be no strong social pressures - just a complex, many-sided debate.
  3. These issues are sufficiently complex that any hard-and-fast rule about what actions are permissible is likely to displease everyone involved. They are also sufficiently important that anyone who has the authority to make rules is likely to feel a moral obligation to do so. That means that this is an extremely slippery slope - it will be very difficult to set up any kind of regulation at all without ending up with an Office of Reproductive Regulation that produces endless reams of complex law.

With these limitations in mind, I see only two options about the location of decision-making authority that can be expected to be at all stable. These are:

  1. Give the government complete control over all decisions. They get to decide what modifications will and will not be allowed, what circumstances they will be allowed under, and who will have access to them.
  2. Give parents broad discretion to make their own ethical decisions. Forbid only those modifications that would run afoul of existing laws regarding slavery, murder, bodily injury, etc.

Do you see another option?

Billy Brown, MCSE+I