Michael Sandel discusses "The Case Against Perfection: What's Wrong with Designer Children, Bionic Athletes, and Genetic Engineering" as a part of The Ethical Frontiers of Science during the 2008 Chautauqua Institution morning lecture series.
Michael J. Sandel is the Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he has taught political philosophy since 1980. His latest book is What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel’s other books include Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? and Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, among others. His work has been translated into 19 foreign languages. In 2010, China Newsweek named him the most influential foreign figure of the year in China. In 2009, Sandel delivered the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures, broadcast in the United Kingdom and worldwide on the BBC World Service. In the United States, Sandel has served on the President’s Council on Bioethics and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; he is also on the Council on Foreign Relations.
Harvard professor Michael Sandel objects to the prospect of genetically engineered children because it will treat children not so much as gifts of life but "objects of our design and instruments of ambition."
This hubris will damage parent/child relationship to one that is not based on unconditional love.
Artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic-acid molecules in order to modify an organism or population of organisms. The term initially meant any of a wide range of techniques for modifying or manipulating organisms through heredity and reproduction. Now the term denotes the narrower field of recombinant-DNA technology, or gene cloning, in which DNA molecules from two or more sources are combined, either within cells or in test tubes, and then inserted into host organisms in which they are able to reproduce. This technique is used to produce new genetic combinations that are of value to science, medicine, agriculture, or industry. Through recombinant-DNA techniques, bacteria have been created that are capable of synthesizing human insulin, human interferon, human growth hormone, a hepatitis-B vaccine, and other medically useful substances. Recombinant-DNA techniques, combined with the development of a technique for producing antibodies in great quantity, have made an impact on medical diagnosis and cancer research. Plants have been genetically adjusted to perform nitrogen fixation and to produce their own pesticides. Bacteria capable of biodegrading oil have been produced for use in oil-spill cleanups. Genetic engineering also introduces the fear of adverse genetic manipulations and their consequences (e.g., antibiotic-resistant bacteria or new strains of disease). See alsobiotechnology, molecular biology.
I believe that the only rules we need is the rule of unconditional love! Living by example to magnify love for the one that needs it most is the universal rule of law. Sort of like in a family to where the parents show love unconditionally, and the children learn not by rule of law, but through rule of love. Love always wins, and is the only rule mankind will ever need to live in harmony in our limited and linear existence.
I don't find this argument convincing in the least. Parents already control what goes into their child's diet, education, exercise, and other activities like music or dance lessons. This is simply gifting their children with additional advantages prior to their birth. And by the way, kids already are objects of their parent's ambition, just go to any little league game or spelling bee or whatever.
To me this argument is little more than technophobic paranoia packaged in a revamped "if man was meant to fly, he'd be given wings" argument. Arguing from nature to my mind fails utterly, there is just as much "good" in nature as there is "bad". Humans are the arbiter of what is proper not nature. Additionally I find it compelling to be able to take the reigns of our own evolution for the first time in history.
I think there are a couple of fundamental points Sandel missed.
Over and over he talks about using genetic engineering to "improve" our children, but nothing of the sort is being done or proposed. I will illustrate what I mean with an example:
Couple A decides they want a daughter and so they go to a clinic and arrange to ensure that they have a little baby girl. Couple B makes no such decision, they just want a kid, but their child also happens to be born a girl. How are the two children any different? Is either loved less by their parents? No. Is either more advantaged in society than the other? No. Just because couple A choose their child, doesn't mean they *improved* their child.
You can replace the trait with *any other* trait you wish, intelligence, physical or musical aptitude, whatever, and the situation remains the same.
Further, if his objection is valid, then surely he considers adoption morally wrong. After all, that is exactly what adopting parents do. They *choose* their children!
or better yet...leave the children out of it. Stick to the transhumanism that can be granted after you are a consenting adult -- ie: microchips(optional), memory enhancing nanotech (its real and available soon), or cell improvment tech to improve longevity. All these could be optional for an adult, not genetically implanted into children.
i like the idea of taking our perspective out of the equation when talking about modification of children. Keep it double-blind and objective as possible. Perhaps there is an ideal algorithm for producing the best random mix of traits of parents, etc... People though, perhaps aren't objective enough on their own to choose their children and his/her traits to a large degree.
Sandel makes a good argument for why we should individually prefer to eschew genetically modifying our children, but I think is unconvincing in implying that it should be outlawed.
He very much overstates the influence modification could have, or underestimates the role chance would continue to play in shaping the identity of the child.
Also he argues that society should be made more fitting for humans and not the other way around. Of course society should be more just, but that does not preclude us from trying to make humans more capable of enacting and preserving a just society.
I would also ask Sandel what he thinks about specifically genetically enhancing morality in our children.