Whether it’s a leg-up in the family business, enrollment in the best schools, or access to professional athletic training, parents have always scrambled to secure the maximum advantage for their children. Science has provided more sophisticated, if less ethical, opportunities: Parent-enabled abuse of steroids and human growth hormone attempt to boost athletic performance…and scholarship prospects. Genetic enhancement is the next step, and it would be naive to think it won’t happen once the technology and ambition meet. We’re already at the threshold of theraputic prenatal gene therapy for birth defects. Genetic tweaking for improved intelligence or any number of other characteristics isn’t far behind.
If you had the chance to maximize your baby’s brainpower, would you? How about if that opportunity was freely available to everyone?
Take a couple of minutes and think about the implications of that decision.
In an online article for Discover magazine, Kyle Munkittrick uses Orson Scott Card’s Ender novels to launch a discussion about artificially-enhanced intelligence. Mr. Munkittrick argues that intellectual enhancement via genetic engineering and/or cybernetics is not a zero-sum game or unfair competitive advantage because it has the potential to benefit everyone–and it’s hard to see an obvious downside in boosting mankind’s average IQ.
Of course, as with any new technology, there may be unintended consequences. Here’s another perspective on a future of genetically-enhanced children, from Greg Bear’s short story, “Sisters.”
Some PPCs had been designed by their parents to qualify physically and mentally for space careers. Some had been equipped with bichemistries, one of which became active in Earth’s gravity, the other in space. How could an NG compete with that?
Of the seven hundred adolescents in her high school training programs, Letitia Blakely was one of ten NGs–possessors of natural, unaltered genomes. Everyone else was the proud bearer of juggled genes, PPCs or Pre-Planned Children, all lovely and stable with just the proper amount of adipose tissue and just the proper infusion of parental characteristics and chosen features to be beautiful and different; tall, healthy, hair manageable, skin unblemished, well-adjusted (except for the occasional blitzer) with warm and sunny personalities. The old derogatory slang for PPCs was RC–Recombined.
Letitia, slightly overweight, skin pasty, hair frizzy, bulbous-nosed and weak-chinned, one breast larger than the other and already showing a droop pronounced enough to grip a stylus–with painful menstrual periods and an absolute indisposition to athletics–was the Sport. That’s what they were called. NG Sports. TBs–Throwbacks. Neanderthals.
Before long, we discover the ability to create designer children may result in more than new prejudices, but I won’t spoil that for you.
As Christian speculative fiction writers and readers, I think it’s part of our charter to explore the moral and spiritual impacts of these sorts of changes…before they happen. At what point do we cross the line into playing God? What happens when intelligence is valued over wisdom? How might altering the intellectual balance of our society change how we treat each other, for better or worse? Is there such a thing as a Christian approach to genetic engineering, and if so, what would it look like? Is a genetically-engineered person more or less than a human being? How would a future Church minister to genetically-enhanced people, or non-enhanced people in a world where most have been modified in some fashion?
Lots of story ideas here, but you’d better hurry…the science fiction is about to become reality.