OUR GENETIC FUTURE….In the Los Angeles Times today, Caroline S. Wagner writes about genetic tailoring:

Many loving parents, desiring only the best for their children, will want to use genetic manipulation to make them smarter, more creative, more attractive or more athletic.

Hmmm, that doesn’t sound too horrifying, does it? But there’s more:

The option to alter the genes that enhance desirable characteristics will almost surely be available, at least initially, only to the wealthy, creating what [Princeton biologist Lee] Silver calls the “GenRich.” They will use technology to ensure that their children have significantly more advantages than the random mix of the gene pool, widening the gap between rich and poor.

What then becomes of the notion that we are all created equal? The temptation of the genetically enhanced to anoint themselves leaders and protectors of their “less equal” fellow citizens could prove to be overwhelming.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of moving deliberately and carefully on this kind of thing. Dangers abound, and we should be cautious and honest in dealing with them.

But when we get past the technical hurdles and move on to the fundamental moral and societal issues, I just don’t understand the objections. We are “all created equal”? Nature has already seen to it that this isn’t true even today. Gene therapy will be initially available “only to the wealthy”? Maybe, but if the next Einstein or Shakespeare is born to wealthy parents, that’s OK with me ? we’ll all benefit. It might be abused by some future Saddam Hussein to create an army of people who are “especially aggressive and warlike”? Sure, and airplanes can be flown into buildings.

There are dangers involved in genetic tailoring, and the technology is still decades away, but it strikes me that the potential for good vastly outweighs the potential for misuse. After all, what’s the real objection to giving birth to children who are smarter, more compassionate, or better problem solvers? Since most of human progress has come from exactly those kinds of people, I’d think the more the better.

And from a practical point of view, if the technology really can be used for vile ends, shouldn’t we be moving full steam ahead with research? After all, given that someone is bound to do it, wouldn’t you feel better if the United States were the world leader in this technology, not Osama bin Laden?

UPDATE: Very Very Happy disagrees, suggesting that genetic tailoring will create a permanent group of genetic haves and have nots. I don’t think this is necessarily the case, but it’s certainly a valid concern.