In the article “The Case against Perfection,” Michael Sandel speculates on whether or not genetic modification of humans should be acceptable not only for medical reasons, but also for enhancement of various physical characteristics such as height, memory, and muscular strength. Having analyzed all pros and cons, he gives the reader an opportunity to see and understand the reasons and motivation of each of the opposed camps, without imposing any opinion. Nonetheless, Sandel’s own point of view is clear and well grounded: although the prospect of genetic modification of human race is very tempting, it raises a lot of moral questions and virtually eliminates the understanding and recognition of life as a gift.
Since the very first experiments that proved the possibility of genetic modification and cloning, there have been arguments as to where the ethical line should be drawn when it comes to using bio-technologies on humans. No one doubts that genetic treatment, if proven safe, can be used to cure the negative effects of aging on people’s mental and physical abilities as well as different diseases resulting from genetic abnormalities. However, heated arguments erupt when the question of using such technologies for enhancement is raised.
To show the difference between medical and non-medical use of bio-technologies, Sandel analyzes the possible outcome of unrestricted hormone treatment, which is so far available only to children with hormone deficiency. If ever such treatment becomes available to all willing, many parents whose children are a little shorter than average will want their children to grow taller. This will make people of average height feel short, which will result in their respective desire to become taller as well. Thus, the situation may turn into an everlasting competition.
Many anti-bio-enhancement activists resort to the argument of fairness and autonomy. They refer to the unfair advantage that, for instance, an enhanced athlete will have over his “average” opponent. They also mention that the designer child is deprived of his or her freedom due to the choice that the parents made before he or she was born. Sandel, however, finds these arguments irrelevant, pointing out the fact that, due to natural genetic differences, all people are not equal by definition as some are stronger or more talented than the others. As for the autonomy, he states that no children can actually be considered free because they are defined by the combination of their parents’ genes.
Another powerful argument in Sandel’s case against bio-enhancement of children is two types of parental love that were defined by William F. May: accepting love and transforming love. Accepting love is the unconditional affection of parents to their child, regardless of his or her achievements and failures. Transforming love can be defined as parents’ desire to develop their child’s abilities and talents, making him or her happy. Only balancing these two types of love, the parents can bring up an autonomous individual, thus insuring the child’s well-being.
So, when the possibility of genetic engineering of children arises, some parents can be prone to get carried away in their craving for perfection and fulfillment of their own ambitions. This means that they will give their child more transforming love, forgetting about the importance of accepting love. Such overexcited parents start unintentionally harming their own children.
Having analyzed the possible consequences of bio-enhancement, Sandel warns readers of the responsibilities that it brings about. Making such choices, people can no longer lay the blame anything on chance, God or nature. And this is the kind of burden that not everyone is ready to bear.
All in all, Sandel manages in an eloquent and convincing way to raise readers’ awareness of the complicated nature of this problem.
In the modern world of fast-developing bio-technologies, the question of human enhancement is a live issue. The idea of making people stronger and cleverer appeals to many people. However, in my opinion, this is not a safe path to follow for a number of reasons.
- First of all, no matter how many experiments are conducted, there is no way to know of the possible consequences in the long run. Genetic changes are passed on to the next generation, and no one can be sure that this will not cause some mutations in future.
- Secondly, by designing their own children, people completely eliminate the element of surprise. The birth of a baby, which has always been a miraculous moment for the parents who see their child for the very first time, in case of a genetically modified child, becomes similar to receiving something ordered over the internet. Before seeing it, before even opening the parcel, one already knows what is inside, having seen it on the screen. Such parents do not wonder what color the eyes or hair of the new born will be; they just look at the baby to see whether they got what they had “ordered”.
And finally, the possibility of altering the child’s appearance is bound to create a certain fashion. This means that, if bio-technologies are applied, in the same way as one can trace how clothes changed over the years, there is a risk of seeing whole generations who will look alike. This signifies the loss of the person’s individuality because of his or her parents’ desire to follow the current fashion.
Thus, for the fear of unpredictable consequences or possible misuse and in order to preserve the precious miracle of birth, bio-technologies should not be resorted to for any other but medical reasons.