How genetic modification will better our futures

Res SteckerA relatively large debate that is running through many countries across the globe is to what extent (if any) genetically modified foods should be allowed into the food supply. One side of the debate believes that they should not be put into the public for consumption due to concerns of the safety of the food itself in terms of health risks. There are a few other concerns as well, however the main point of resistance seems to stem from people with concerns that the food is somehow unnatural and therefore unfit for consumption.

History tells a different story. While genetic modification of plants and animals has only been possible in a laboratory setting for a few decades, humans have been artificially genetically modifying creatures and plants for consumption for millennia. Through the process of the domestication of wild flora and fauna, human breeders looked for desirable traits and then encouraged them through selective breeding. The result was a new genetically modified creation that was fit for consumption.

There seems to be some sort of historical amnesia when it comes to this debate, or perhaps it is simply ignorance. Either way, humanity has been living off of plants and animals that they have “grown unnaturally.” The only thing that is different now is that we can do it easier, quicker and be more assured of the outcomes.

It seems almost a certainty that genetically modified food is here to stay, and indeed expand rapidly in the future as we try to feed the millions of newcomers to our planet. With that, I want to make the case that we as a society should consider moving full speed ahead with genetic enhancements to our own bodies.

Bob Edwards, an embryologist, once said quite famously how “Soon it will be a sin for parents to have a child which carries the heavy burden of genetic disease.” This is quite brilliant, as it imagines a future where children are no longer born mentally or physically disadvantaged.

Would it not be so preferable to human fate if we could end the genetic transference of things such as HIV from mother to child, or eliminate inheritable diabetes or the predisposition towards other ailments?

A future where children are no longer born with the defects of their parents’ bodies such as poor eyesight or muscular dystrophy would seemingly be absolutely more desirable than the way these people are currently forced to live now.

Imagine a future for a moment where you could give your child the genetic predispositions towards success. Perhaps increase their mental capacity, or other mental faculties which put them on the path towards heightened intelligence. In this future, people are given the tools they need to be successful and drive humanity forward like never before.

Through genetic engineering humanity people can change their eye color, height, musculature or metabolic rate. And while such vain measures to “enhance” a person’s physical appearance are at the lower end of what is possible through these procedures, they would no doubt draw a crowd of millions.

There is an ethical question related to all this, as there is with almost any sort of large societal change, specifically whether or not it is right to perform these types of enhancements on people. Again, the idea that it is unnatural somehow is playing a key role here.

I would simply say that is in fact morally bankrupt to forgo any chance you have of making a child’s life better. If you have the opportunity to ensure that a person will not be born with a genetic defect, it is absolutely certain that humanity has a responsibility to do so.

It may not be quite so simple as saying OK yes give me this trait but don’t give that, like you are bubbling in qualities you want your child to have, but some sort of modification on the genetic level will absolutely be possible within our lifetime.

This will be one of the most prominent issues of the century, as we as a species decide how we will live. Hopefully, we choose to become a society that break the bonds that bind us to our boring existence, and fulfill all the potential of our civilization.

Res Stecker is a junior international studies major. His columns appear Thursdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to