X-men was the first comic to capture my attention. Maybe it was because I was obsessed with all things genetic. Or maybe it was the underling ethic questions about justice that permeated the Hollywood blockbuster action. One such question entails asking how should we respond to genetic mutations. Should we embrace the inevitable and strive to change humanity for the better? Is there some principle that should make us want to stop this x-man like mutations from happening?
I enjoy asking speculative questions. Thus, my first love will always be philosophy and bioethics. When perusing my news app, I always check out the philosophy category. One headline caught my eye, “If x-man Genes Can be Controlled, it’s a Moral Duty to Encourage More.”
Interesting, I thought to myself. As someone who is against genetic enhancement, I was intrigued by the idea that there might be a moral duty to enhance the human race.
The Argument in Favor of Genetic Enhancement
Aaron Rabinowitz, the author of the article, uses two standard arguments in bioethical reasoning.
First, he appeals to Autonomy. For those who don’t know, Autonomy is one of the four bioethical principles: beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. Autonomy means that an ethical decision must respect people’s choices. In other words, you cannot act without a person’s consent.
Most people in favor of genetic enhancement see no ethical problems provided that the person consented to the enhancement. What made eugenics wrong was it was an attempt to force people to either be sterilized or to procreate depending on their gene desirability.
Genetic enhancement is a medical procedure that one undergoes. Thus, the medical institution can assure that the person gives consent.
Another strategy Rabinowiz employs is using utilitarian logic. An action is ethical if it strives to maximize the beneficial consequence and minimize suffering. For Ranbinowiz, mastering the next stage of human evolution will promote the well-being of others. If humans with super-intelligences can solve complex problems like world hunger, then everyone benefits even those, who are ‘normal intelligence.’
Rabinowiz hypothesis that for every bad super-powered human, there will be those willing to fight for justice. He says that we already see this when we hear about a terrorist on the news.
Lastly, a diversity of lifestyles offers a benefit. Allowing enhanced individuals can teach us how to live with those who may be different than us.
For Rabinowiz, the good of enhancement outweighs the bad. Thus society must promote the good to maximize utility. Thus we, as a society have a duty to enhance. 1
Arguments Against Enhancement
Admittedly I am biased. I am against enhancement. Even so, I think Rabinowiz is overly idealistic. I also don’t think he is much of a sports fan.
Sports teach us so much. They teach us hard work, determination, and teamwork. Now imagine if everyone was enhanced to play basketball like Lebron James. They are now naturally endowed to be good at basketball. Where is their incentive to work hard? When the mess up would they blame themselves or their doctor?
Michael J. Sandel talks about the deterioration of personal responsibility in his book, The Case Against Perfection. In this short book, Sandel offers four consequences of genetic enhancement to explain his moral objections.
Life is a Gift
One of Sandel’s main objections is that genetic enhancement gives into the negative attitude of self-mastery. It fails to allow for us to be beholden to either God, universe or fate. When parents have this attitude they can fail to love their kids unconditionally.
Now one may object that giftedness is the problem. In reality, there is nothing special about Homo Sapiens. Sandel thinks that the belief in giftedness is important for society.
” If genetic revolution erodes our appreciation for the gifted character of human powers and achievements, it will transform three key features of our moral landscape- humility, responsibility, and solidarity.” 2
Having touched on responsibility and humility, I would like to discuss the erosion of solidarity.
The more responsible we become at orchestrating our fate, the less likely will we be able to emphasize with those still undergoing the genetic lottery. Why should we care about those who have been born with less if a simple hormone treatment would make them superhuman? They choose not to undergo genetic enhancement, so therefore they deserve to be treated as less.
Gone are the rose-colored glassed of Rabinowiz. His idealistic picture of enhanced working together with the unenhanced to build a utopian society fails to confront the reality of human selfishness.
If life is a gift then we are not entitled to the bounty bestowed on us. Yet if life is our own making, then we deserve to get what we paid.
Solidarity and Catholic Social Teaching
The erosion of solidarity should alarm most Catholics. Solidarity is one of the major social justice principles of the Catholic faith. It springs from a love of neighbor and love of God.
God exhibited solidarity with us through the incarnation. He makes us in his image and challenges us to live in solidarity with one another.
Genetic enhancement may offer tangible benefits. Yet it hinders our appreciation of life as a gift from a creator, who loves us. Thus, we are not morally obligated to pursue genetic enhancements. Rather let us love our broken beautiful humanity.
- Rabinowitz, Aaron, “If X-Men mutation can be controlled, it’s a moral duty to encourage more.” (AIPT, 2018) https://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/2018/11/15/opinion-if-x-men-mutation-can-be-controlled-its-a-moral-duty-to-encourage-more/ ↩
- Sandle, Michael j. The Case Against Perfection(First Harvard University Press), pg 86. ↩