Re: the "not to be born" right

Date: Sat Nov 18 2000 - 15:40:09 MST

Anders writes:
> Most bioethics has been of the "just say no to germline
> engineering!"-style so far, to my knowledge there has been less
> studies of a transhumanist approach to what changes are good, bad and
> should be allowed or disallowed.
> One ethical principle I have been thinking of is reversibility:
> genetic modifications that have reversible effects (e.g. controllable
> using artificial hormones) should obviously be OK, since if you don't
> like them you can always switch them off at a low cost.
> Another is flexibility: changes that increase the available range of
> potentially desirable options are preferable to changes or states with
> more limited options.

It seems to me there are two ways to look at it. One is to be
conservative (for an Extropian) and to say that germ line engineering
is new, it is unpredictable in its consequences, and so we should only
allow or support changes which are clearly safe, along the lines Anders

Another approach is more aggressive. Throughout history parents have
had the right and power to force their children to grow up in difficult
circumstances. Parents who leave a safe and comfortable village and
strike out on a migration across the Asiatic land bridge, or get into
a boat and travel for weeks and months to reach a new world, inherently
force their children born and unborn to take the same risks.

How much worse is germ line engineering than moving to a land where you
don't even know if your children will be able to survive? And where,
in many historical cases, children did not survive? Should we condemn
those who took chances in the past? Or don't we applaud their courage
and daring?

Of course, we live in a different era today. Our world is one which
minimizes risk, which builds a safety net to support those who fail.

But this is a cultural choice, not something which we should accept
unthinkingly. Do we want to play it safe? Or do we want to support
those who take risks, yes, even risks with their children's lives, in
the hopes of giving them advantages in the world to come?


P.S. Much of the current protectiveness towards children can be seen as
part of the cycle identified by Strauss & Howe, discussed at their web
site If they are right we may see a change away
from modern day overprotectiveness in the next few decades. I wonder if
our views on germ line engineering and other technologies will change once
"we're doing it for the children" starts to sound old-fashioned.

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