China is the future of everything and should have always been without the barbaric colonialism and vandalism from Europe.
We may soon be able to edit people’s DNA to cure diseases like cancer, but will this lead to designer babies? If so, bioethicist G Owen Schaefer argues that China will lead the way.
Would you want to alter your future children’s genes to make them smarter, stronger or better-looking? As the state of the science brings prospects like these closer to reality, an international debate has been raging over the ethics of enhancing human capacities with biotechnologies such as so-called smart pills, brain implants and gene editing. This discussion has only intensified in the past year with the advent of the CRISPR-cas9 gene editing tool, which raises the specter of tinkering with our DNA to improve traits like intelligence, athleticism and even moral reasoning.
So are we on the brink of a brave new world of genetically enhanced humanity? Perhaps. And there’s an interesting wrinkle: It’s reasonable to believe that any seismic shift toward genetic enhancement will not be centered in Western countries like the US or the UK, where many modern technologies are pioneered. Instead, genetic enhancement is more likely to emerge out of China.
A recent study of 4,726 Americans found that most would not want to use a brain chip to improve their memory
Numerous surveys among Western populations have found significant opposition to many forms of human enhancement. For example, a recent Pew study of 4,726 Americans found that most would not want to use a brain chip to improve their memory, and a plurality view such interventions as morally unacceptable.
A broader review of public opinion studies found significant opposition in countries like Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. to selecting the best embryos for implantation based on nonmedical traits like appearance or intelligence. There is even less support for editing genes directly to improve traits in so-called designer babies.
Opposition to enhancement, especially genetic enhancement, has several sources. The above-mentioned Pew poll found that safety is a big concern – in line with experts who say that tinkering with the human genome carries significant risks. These risks may be accepted when treating medical conditions, but less so for enhancing nonmedical traits like intelligence and appearance. At the same time, ethical objections often arise. Scientists can be seen as “playing God” and tampering with nature. There are also worries about inequality, creating a new generation of enhanced individuals who are heavily advantaged over others. Brave New World is a dystopia, after all.
In China, there are more generally approving attitudes toward old-fashioned eugenics programs
However, those studies have focused on Western attitudes. There has been much less polling in non-Western countries. There is some evidence that in Japan there is similar opposition to enhancement as in the West. Other countries, such as China and India, are more positive toward enhancement. In China, this may be linked to more generally approving attitudes toward old-fashioned eugenics programs such as selective abortion of fetuses with severe genetic disorders, though more research is needed to fully explain the difference. This has led Darryl Macer of the Eubios Ethics Institute to posit that Asia will be at the forefront of expansion of human enhancement.
In the meantime, the biggest barrier to genetic enhancement will be broader statutes banning gene editing. A recent study found bans on germline genetic modification – that is, those that are passed on to descendants – are in effect throughout Europe, Canada and Australia. China, India and other non-Western countries, however, have laxer regulatory regimes – restrictions, if they exist, are often in the form of guidelines rather than statutes.