Reflections on human genetic engineering: risks and prospects

When I first enrolled to study philosophy, I didn't even think about what a huge range of problems my specialty would affect! And if earlier I was not serious about predicting the future, considering it more a game of imagination than mental work, then after reading Francis Fukuyama's book "Our Posthuman Future", which was advised to me by teachers, I changed my attitude. As a result, I wanted to give my own assessment of the development of modern technologies. After analyzing the various ways of human development, the topic of human genetic engineering caused a special response in me, to which I devoted this essay, trying not to lose sight of the ethical side of the problem that constantly arises in such matters, which, I hope, I coped with.


"You look really sick, John!" –
Helmholtz said sympathetically.
– Did you eat anything inappropriate? Bernard
The savage nodded.
– I tasted civilization.
– ??
– and poisoned myself with it; polluted my soul. And yet," he added, lowering his head, "I have tasted my own filth.
Aldous Huxley,
"Oh brave new world"

Agree that the modern world is truly amazing: every day scientists from different countries make more and more new discoveries designed to improve our lives, to find ways to solve certain problems. But have you ever thought about what price humanity needs to pay for this? After all, as practice shows, often specialists, considering a problem from a professional point of view, and seeing a goal that is by definition high and good for them, completely forget about the means necessary to achieve it. Such "forgetfulness" has repeatedly put the world on the brink of disaster. A striking example of this is the various experiments on prisoners during the Second World War, when humanity itself became the price for discoveries. In our relatively quiet time, the threat of promoting, for example, the ideas of eugenics seems impossible due to the prohibition of these experiments by the world community, but will it continue to be so? Perhaps by the end of this century, promising developments in the field of human genetic engineering will give their results, and then the danger of a repeat of egregious crimes against moral values will become relevant again? Or maybe you shouldn't be so negative about biotechnologies that promise to lift the veil of the mystery of human nature? What should I do?
I think you will agree that human genetic engineering can rightfully be called the youngest and at the same time the most revolutionary biotechnology. With the task of studying, and in the future, changing the human genome, it became the successor of genetic technology that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. The emergence of human genetic engineering is associated with the development of such a project as the Human Genome (1990-2003), funded by the United States and other governments. His goal was to decipher the entire DNA sequence of our body, which, as it turned out, consists of 3 billion base pairs. It was, in fact, a small but very important step in the development of this area. Thanks to this discovery, there was hope for editing the human DNA itself (so far, scientists have found a way of gene therapy based on the treatment of somatic cells, but no more). But most experts were skeptical about such forecasts, referring to the fact that changing the human genome is not the same as making a genetic modification of corn. Therefore, to this day, evolutionary biologists believe that the main part of the processes occurring in our body is the result of the interaction of an impressive number of genes, and therefore there is no genetic way to edit them. But have scientists really reached the apogee of development in this area?
Here I agree only with the fact that at the moment such biotechnology as human genetic engineering is not fully possible: both because of the lack of high-tech equipment, and because of an important ethical question: is it possible to change human nature? And in general, how humane is it to do experiments on people to change their DNA? These two factors greatly hinder the development of this area. But technological progress will continue to move forward in any case. After all, you must agree, in our time it is impossible to stop the development of a particular area, even if it faces unsolvable difficulties. A good example is human spaceflight. There was a time when such thoughts were simply rejected because they were not feasible, but then humanity learned the technologies that allowed it to realize its plans. Of course, there were also those who began to express concerns about ozone holes, but somehow the flights did not stop, but on the contrary were further developed, opening up new horizons for research.
Therefore, I consider it not just possible, but necessary to oppose those people who adhere to the above point of view. Thus, I can say with confidence that human genetic engineering is not a fantasy, but a real reality, which, most likely, at the turn of 2100, or even earlier, will become part of our everyday life. And although there will be people who will be "against" this, but what will they be able to oppose to the age of scientocentrism, which dictates its own rules? That is why it would be more appropriate to answer another question here: what are the prospects and at the same time the risks that await us with the advent of human genetic engineering? Let's try to answer it together.
On the one hand, humanity can expect a happy bright future, and I'm not being ironic. Imagine how many people would get a real opportunity to cure such genetic diseases as, for example, Down syndrome, or it would be possible to help people who have a predisposition to the development of a particular disease such as diabetes mellitus or cancer. In addition, there would be hope for mentally ill people suffering from disorders such as, for example, schizophrenia – after all, scientists have proven the influence of genes on our psyche. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to compare DNA with a passport, where all information about us is recorded, absolutely: temperament, intellectual capabilities, various inclinations and preferences, our appearance with all individuals. And now imagine what human genetic engineering is capable of: it will be possible to fight criminals by identifying in them the gene responsible for the propensity to theft or violence; it will be possible to help a dependent person by removing from his DNA a predisposition to the use of alcoholic beverages or narcotic substances, finally, we will be able to adjust the temperament in order to develop positive qualities in an individual like fearlessness or responsiveness and the suppression of negative ones like cowardice or aggression. Don't you think that such people will be perfect in everything?
It is also likely that it will be possible to achieve, if not immortality, then at least to keep the human body in perfect condition throughout biological life, for example at the age of 25-30 years.
And this is only a small part that human genetic engineering can offer, helping to create a happy world without wars, fears and pain. But don't you think that what I have described above is nothing but utopia? I think you will agree that such a future is hardly fully feasible, since any discovery brings not only good, but also bad. For example, gunpowder, which was originally created for fireworks, but then began to be used mostly for military purposes.
Therefore, on the other hand, human genetic engineering can lead us to the opposite outcome, especially since, as you know, the ghost of eugenics has long been hanging over all genetics – the conscious breeding of certain properties in humans through selection, which was already used in fascist Germany to create a pure Aryan race. And now imagine what will happen to the world if the scenario repeats again, but with the possibility of editing the human genome!
Firstly, of course, there will be a monopoly on this technology by any country or even a separate company, which will dictate conditions to the rest of the world. Secondly, only a small part of people will have the opportunity to heal, since the rest simply do not have enough money. Thus, all power will be concentrated in the hands of the top, but what can this lead to? Perhaps someone will decide to use the so-called "ethnic weapons" [1] on undesirable racial or ethnic groups, and someone will consider that only his nationality can be perfect and therefore, with the help of genetic modifications, will make the rest of the people only labor, in fact, mankurts, deprived even of the opportunity to think freely. Are we going back to the caste system again? Most likely, "yes", because it all painfully resembles the plot of the novel by the famous English writer O. Huxley "Brave New World", don't you think?
There are also suggestions that the main feature of the future genetic technology will be a "custom baby" [2. c, 113]. Why should parents guess what kind of child will be born: smart or stupid, beautiful or not, when there is an opportunity to simply pay money and specify the necessary parameters? And in general, why give birth when you can create something like embryonariums [3], where it will be possible to choose the best sample, while destroying defective ones? I think you will agree with me that with such a future, a person as such will lose importance. Is it possible to kill an unborn child if he does not fit some parameters? What if he would become a genius? And in general, which of the people has the right to change the nature of others, to invade their individuality? If a person becomes like God in terms of possibilities, then what will we come to? To tell the truth, I am afraid that then people will die; other beings will appear instead of us, deprived of all human qualities, who have given their soul, if you want, for the sake of progress.
But, nevertheless, I think you already understand that this is a dystopia, a scary fairy tale that, under certain conditions, can become a reality, but will it?

Personally, I believe that our future associated with human genetic engineering will be between the above extremes, since no one wants an already fragile world to be destroyed. Another question is: what is needed to protect a person from biotechnologies? Here, when answering, I will agree with the words of Francis Fukuyama: "States should politically regulate the development and application of such technologies by organizing institutions that will distinguish between technological progress that contributes to human prosperity and progress that threatens human dignity and well–being ... first, these institutions should be created at the national level, and later - go international" [2, p. 257]. But that's not all. As you understand, science itself is impersonal, and this is its main disadvantage, since everything that concerns a person can no longer be such by definition. Therefore, it is always necessary to keep science in close connection with humanitarian knowledge, where a clear understanding of what is good and what is bad is laid. Only through such a union is it possible to preserve our main wealth – humanity.
Summing up the whole reflection, I can say that human genetic engineering has great prospects for further development, as well as risks associated with the opportunities that it can give us. But, nevertheless, thanks to reasonable use based on ethical standards, I think the future will be as relatively stable as our present. Of course, there is always a fear that a dictator will come to power, for whom there will be no barriers, and new technologies will only benefit him, but that's another question.

1. Polikarpova V.A. Genetic engineering and human rights.// Izvestia TRTU. - 2001. –No.19. – pp. 197-199.
2. Fukuyama F. Our posthuman future: Consequences of the biotechnological revolution / F. Fukuyama; Translated from English by M.B. Levin. – M.: LLC "Publishing House ACT": JSC "LUX", 2004. – 349 p.
3. Huxley O. About the brave new world. / O. Huxley; Translated from the English by O. Soroki. – Moscow: AST Publishing House: Astrel, 2012. – 284 p.

Trying to comprehensively cover the chosen topic, I did not give here unverified data on the type of genetically edited twin girls born in China in 2018 (I think you have heard about them), because even if the fact of manipulation with DNA took place, it is not yet clear whether it gave positive results or No. I also decided not to delve into the subtleties of genome editing, describing only in a generalized form the possibilities of human genetic engineering. And in conclusion, I will note: although I have cited two extremes and, in fact, the middle between them, but I think you already understand that there are much more options for the development of the future. For a more accurate prediction, it would be necessary to analyze this type of biotechnology in interaction with other technologies (synthesis with artificial intelligence is especially interesting, it seems to me), but it would take more than a dozen pages.