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This paper sets out to defend human genetic engineering with a new bioethical approach, post-humanism, combined with a radical democratic political framework. Arguments for the restriction of human genetic engineering, and specifically germ-line enhancement, are reviewed. Arguments are divided into those which are fundamental matters of faith, or "bio-Luddite" arguments, and those which can be addressed through public policy, or "gene-angst" arguments.
The four bio-Luddite concerns addressed are: Medicine Makes People Sick; There are Sacred Limits of the Natural Order; Technologies Always Serve Ruling Interests; The Genome is Too Complicated to Engineer. I argue that these are matters of faith that one either accepts or rejects, and that I reject.
The non-fundamentalist or pragmatic concerns I discuss are: Fascist Applications; The Value of Genetic Diversity; The Geneticization of Life; Genetic Discrimination and Confidentiality; Systematically Bad Decisions by Parents; Discrimination Against the Disabled; Unequal Access; The Decline of Social Solidarity. I conclude that all these concerns can be adequately addressed through a proactive regulative framework administered by a liberal democratic state. Therefore, even germ-line genetic enhancement should eventually made available since the potential benefits greatly outweigh the potential risks.
Nine years ago Jeremy Rifkin convinced me that genetic technology would determine the shape of the future while I rode a bus through the small, crooked, immaculate and beautiful streets of Kyoto. I was reading his Algeny [Rifkin, 1983], an alarmist attack on the coming of the gene age, alongside What Sort of People Should There Be? [Glover, 1984], a moderate defense of genetic engineering by the Oxford don Jonathan Glover. In a sense, in the nine years since, I have recoiled from the radical Rifkin to embrace the reformist Glover.
In earlier decades Rifkin had been an SDS activist and a founding member of the socialist New American Movement. Sometime in the early 80s, Rifkin saw the distant headlight of gene-technology and began to sound the alarm. Since then Rifkin and his Foundation on Economic Trends have led the fight against the release of genetically engineered organisms and the funding of genetics research, as well as other "trends" that Rifkin is worried about, such as the meat industry [Rifkin, 1992], the legal establishment of surrogate motherhood, and the speeding up of experienced time in the computer age [Rifkin, 1987].
While extreme, Rifkin is a bellwether of Luddite tendencies in bioethics and the political Left, two of the movements within which I construct my worldview. Among bioethicists the anti-technological agenda has focused on abuses and social dangers in medical research and practice, and our alleged need to accept death and technological limits. The post-60s, environmentalist Left focuses on the ways that technology serves patriarchy, racism, imperialism, corporate profits, structural unemployment, the authoritarian state, and domination by scientific discourse. The response of bioethicists [Lappé, 1972, 1987; Kass, 1972, 1973, 1979; Ramsey, 1970. 1972, 1978; Duster, 1990; Council for Responsible Genetics on Human Germ-Line Manipulation, 1992] and the Left [Keller, 1991; Heins, 1991; Morales, 1991; Klein, 1991; Miringoff, 1991; and Hubbard and Wald, 1993a, 1993b] to genetic engineering has been particularly fevered, driven by accusations of eugenics and the defilement of sacred boundaries.
Since that bus ride in Kyoto my initial horrified agreement with Rifkin has shifted to determined agreement with Glover, that we can control genetic technology and make it a boon rather than a bane. Instead of a Brave New World, I see genetic engineering offering a grand, albeit somewhat unpredictable, future. While many of the concerns of ethicists and the Left about this technology are well-founded, I now believe they are answerable. While I still acknowledge the need for democratic control and social limits, I am now convinced that banning genetic engineering would be a profound mistake.
Those who set aside angst about changing human nature, and embrace the possibility of rapid diversification of types of life, are establishing a new moral and political philosophy for the 21st century, a system some refer to as "post-humanism." The term "post-humanism" was coined by cyberpunk theorist Bruce Sterling in his 1985 novel Schismatrix, and popularized by a loose network of anarchocapitalist technology enthusiasts who refer to themselves as "extropians" [More, 1990, 1992, 1994]. On the Left, the principal touchpoint for post-humanism has been Donna Haraway, starting
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