Breeding humans again: Bioethicists have a morally frivolous record (science conduct)


EXCERPT: . . . Despite the apparent breakthrough, it will be years yet before lab-created sex cells are ready for use in human reproduction. But the development nonetheless raises the question of whether it is a milestone on the road toward a world of dramatic technical powers over human reproduction — a world of cloning, designer babies, and children with four genetic parents. Indeed, a phalanx of prophets have for years been eagerly awaiting this very news.

A century after the heyday of eugenics, morally obtuse advocates for human enhancement, along with a collection of libertarians and assorted cranks, continue to hold out hope for its return in a redeemed form, one that is voluntary and medical rather than state-controlled and racist. While they posture as hard-nosed technocrats or bold advocates of reproductive freedom, the schemes they endorse are poorly thought through and plainly inspired by the crazed dreams of the original eugenics movement. Their shallow view of the moral problems posed by eugenic control — which for them begin and end at the possibility of state coercion — ignores the many ways that prejudice and social pressure can also shape the decisions of parents. And their outlook offers no sense whatsoever that the transformation of procreation into a manufacturing process, subject to strict quality control, might undermine the unconditional love we expect and value between parents and their children.

[...] With their schemes for human enhancement, transhumanists are bound to pay attention to any new biotechnology, and stem cell–derived gametes are no exception. A good example of a human enhancement scheme inspired by stem cell–derived gametes is the “iterated embryo selection” proposed by transhumanist philosopher Nick Bostrom in his 2014 bestseller Superintelligence.

His proposal is to use stem cell–derived gametes as part of a strategy for conducting eugenic selection for intelligence on dozens or hundreds of generations of embryos. [...] This process could go on for dozens of generations [removed from any living human ancestors] and would be akin to the old dream of the eugenicists — controlling human breeding the way farmers control the breeding of their animals, and with the same dramatic results.

The old eugenicists tried to do this with humans, but they were unable to succeed — most people don’t want their own reproductive choices made for them by government scientists, even if too many in the twentieth century were happy enough to see the state sterilize thousands of women and men who were deemed unfit or undesirable. [...] for Bostrom the appeal of the technology of iterated embryo selection is more about its vastly greater efficiency, making it “possible to accomplish ten or more generations of selection in just a few years.” His goal is not to expand human procreative choice, but to enhance the intelligence of biological human beings so that we will stand a chance against the super-intelligent robots of the future — a scenario that makes the usual concerns accompanying reproductive technologies, like the desire of parents for genetically related children, seem rather secondary.

This kind of mass farming of human embryos to create genetically enhanced children [...] certainly introduces new ethical problems even as it avoids the moral problems of mass sterilization that characterized earlier eugenic efforts. [...] But even setting aside the grim moral implications of “iterated embryo selection,” the whole scheme is ridiculous on its own terms, and is based on an elementary misunderstanding of the power of natural selection in evolution and of artificial selection in animal breeding...

[...] There has been too little political will to seriously regulate and restrict the development of reproductive technologies. For too long the moral problems raised by them have been left to professionals with warped priorities. ... given their morally frivolous record, there is little reason to trust them to provide meaningful oversight for these technologies — and so direct prohibitions are necessary. (MORE - details)
What would ''success'' look like, if we were to take this scientific initiative seriously? What side effects could come from this, and for me, that's where the ethical responsibility comes in. Just because science is capable of doing something, doesn't always mean it is the right thing to do, from an ethical view. Science and ethics should never become distant partners.
(May 9, 2019 02:23 PM)Leigha Wrote: What would ''success'' look like, if we were to take this scientific initiative seriously?

The initial benefits of it -- like say decreasing or ameliorating birth defects, and afterwards the incrementally maturing in magnitude alterations over the decades -- will gradually lure each successive generation into being more and more comfortable with the vast range of human re-engineering and lifestyle changes ahead. Till the traditional mode of "being human" --- its form, practices and perspectives -- will arguably fade away. Some of that could even involve certain states (like China?) designing populations (especially Islamic citizens <grin>) to be good, obedient myrmidons -- eliminating rebellious impulses. Doubtless there would still be remnants of original or non-designed people akin to today's sequestered pockets of plain people. Though this would involve insulation from the radical physiological and psychological differences of a new majority -- not just hanging on to customs, beliefs, and behavior.

Which is to say, there probably is no objective or "correct" POV. To many of us who exist now the "success" of it may look like a nightmare in the long-run, or our very extinction in a sense. But to those who replace us they will similarly value their own existence and the origins which brought it about. (And there has always been a percentage of humankind receptive to mutilating and transforming themselves in the limited ways allowed by their technological levels. Even if nothing more than tattoos, body piercings, pattern scarring of skin, elongating necks with layers of metal rings, flattening the heads of babies with bound boards, etc. Plus mind-altering substances and culturally bizarre habits, practices, and outlooks.)

Quote:What side effects could come from this, and for me, that's where the ethical responsibility comes in. Just because science is capable of doing something, doesn't always mean it is the right thing to do, from an ethical view. Science and ethics should never become distant partners.

Bioethicists can have theological, philosophical, and political backgrounds (as Bostrum himself exemplifies, minus the transhuman cultishness). That is, they still stem from fields traditionally associated with ethics formulation. But, yeah, it's probably the rest of that interdisciplinary nature of bioethics involving members from the whole technological expertise realm, with each of their industry self-interests and personal ideological idiosyncrasies, that the author is afraid of largely compromising it in an poorly guided and detailed, or opportunistic way blind to some consequences.

The online groupies of technologists on social media websites would often be the ones dismissing religion and philosophy as "nonsense" to begin with -- thus speciously clearing the way for a technocracy of applied scientists and special-field consultants to be the only ones (they consider) properly suitable for taking over the task. A problem with that mindset is even communicating with it -- since via indulging in faulty generalization, appeal to ridicule, strawman and other fallacies, they'd indicate they have no solid familiarity with reasoning to begin with. In reality, though, many of them are consciously recruiting those very "no-nos" of regulated thought as tactics of war. Which in the "real world" -- outside of the idealized environment of refereed classroom debate, almost every expedient group of professionals does (not just their online groupies). Misconception as employed by thinking, lectures, speeches, and presentations is a legitimate weapon in the arsenal of everyday persuasion -- which politicians, lawyers, think-tank wonks, and celebrity crusaders routinely demonstrate as some of the most public role-models.

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