Aether Song

Our time is not in the grey falling rain nor in the boundless blue-green sea. Our time is in the river that lies between them, flowing smooth and quiet over the sand or angry and roiling over the unyielding stones. Joining and dividing. Choosing our own way for good or ill.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

A Mother's Choice Part II

According to some estimates there are tens of trillions of cells in the adult human body (of which I happen to be a possessor). In most (but not all) of these is a nucleus and in that nucleus is DNA. My blueprints. That double helix has determined a lot of things in my life and will continue to determine a goodly number of things right up to my death (which barring accident or environmental influence it will also determine, the seeds of creation and destruction both). Until the 1950's when Watson and Crick puzzled it out the shape of it was the subject of speculation. The secret code was locked away in an ivory tower, inaccessible. After that human beings began working on picking the lock to that tower.
I had meant the first thread to be a discussion of cloning rather than designer genes (which I think deserves it's own thread). So here we go.
If my own mother had had the choice I hope that she would have made them. If she could have chosen for me to have good, straight, cavity resistant teeth I hope that she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to have good knees rather than ones that pop out in a rather agonizing fashion if I bend them the wrong way I hope that she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to be able to see perfectly well without glasses I hope she would have made that choice. If she could have chosen for me to have a full head of hair for the entirety of my life I really really hope that she would have made that choice and lastly if she could have chosen to remove from my genes the predilection for the early onset of circulatory and heart disease which has marked me and the taint of which is there in the nuclei of those tens of trillions of cells I hope that she would have made that choice as well and left me with a better legacy than the one that I now bear.
I will state unabashedly that I am for unravelling The Code and for re-writing it better. What do I mean by better? Better as in eliminating all of the inheritable diseases. Better as in increasing our resistance to viruses. Better as in increasing our resistance to bacteria and parasites. Better as in increasing our resistance to toxins and radiation. If we could do that why would we not? If we could free every baby born on earth from these burdens why would we not? Imagine a world where no one needed braces or glasses. Imagine a world almost no one got sick. But that isn't the controversial part of course. After all who would stand up and fight for our right for cancer susceptibility? These things are in the Code of some people already. We just need to make sure that everyone gets them.
The Code dictates other things as well - my gender; my shape; the color of my hair, skin and eyes. So where is 'better' there? The answer of course is in the choices of the parents. I don't know what choices they would make, but I think they should have the ability to make them. And if you disagree (as I know some of you do) the question comes again: If it is not harming you then why would you deny those choices to others who would make them? If everyone wants tall, blue-eyed, white-skinned boy children then so be it. I personally suspect that they wouldn't. Isn't part of the fun of having children that they look like you (at least to some extent)?
Evolution tells us one thing very clearly: Change is inevitable. Until now evolution has determined those changes, but soon we will be able to give eyes to blind chance and be made better thereby.


Blogger Songbird said...

I'm less concerned about the use of genetic engineering for the purposes of one family than I am about the enduring social ramifications. I think there probably are certain qualities that would be deemed most desirable, thereby creating an underclass of those who lack the qualities. Isn't that already true to some extent?

9:57 AM  
Blogger Camera Obscura said...

I fear we will find that some of the things we seek to cure are tangled up with some other things that make us strong; that the order of nucleotides on a specific gene controls several things at once. IOW, a very ugly version of the warnings in fine print / fast voice when prescription drugs are advertised: "Altering the gene for inherited breast cancer may lead to an increased failure of the circulatory system, malformation of the skull, etc., etc."

Despite the very simplistic Mendelian version of dominant and recessive gene theory we are taught in pre-collegate science -- Brown eyes dominant, blue eyes recessive -- 1) the main eye-color gene area controls more than just that and 2) there are other gene areas that affect eye color. And so it goes with all things.

Don't get me wrong -- I am all for genetic manipulation to eliminate "malfunctions" of the human body. I am just fairly certain that it's going to be a tangled, complicated process.

And as for "improving" on the human body... just remember, tomatoes were improved upon to make them easier to ship, but how do they taste?

10:25 AM  
Blogger Songbird said...

Like sawdust?

10:52 AM  
Blogger Pure Luck said...

I heartily agree CO. It is unlikely to be easy or simple, but then again we have supercomputers to help us now and various other tools. It may be that given the limitations of physics and chemistry we cannot do it all, but there are people out there who seem to be genetically resistant to the AIDS virus and as far as I know they didn't sacrifice any other function for that resistance. Likewise I am reasonably sure that all the people with perfect eyesight didn't sacrifice some other ability in compensation, they just got better eyes. I don't advocate leaping into this. I advocate going slowly and carefully and minimizing errors or unintended consequences, but my point is this: We will change one way or another, I just think that we, and not the whims of random chance should be directing that change (and you won't find many men clamoring to keep male pattern baldness in the genome I can tell you that).

11:57 AM  

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