The Telegraph is reporting on an article appearing in the latest issue of Readers Digest by Professor Julian Savulescu of Oxford in which he encourages society to embrace the genetic revolution and welcome its many advances. Because science is discovering how genes influence personality, it's now possible to influence how a child turns out. Rather than allow so much to nature, this more "rational design" would help lead to a better, more intelligent and less violent society in the future, he contends.
"Surely trying to ensure that your children have the best, or a good enough, opportunity for a great life is responsible parenting?" the Professor asks.
"So where genetic selection aims to bring out a trait that clearly benefits an individual and society, we should allow parents the choice. To do otherwise is to consign those who come after us to the ball and chain of our squeamishness and irrationality. Indeed, when it comes to screening out personality flaws, such as potential alcoholism, psychopathy and disposition to violence, you could argue that people have a moral obligation to select ethically better children. They are, after all, less likely to harm themselves and others."
He contends that "if we have the power to intervene in the nature of our offspring — rather than consigning them to the natural lottery — then we should."
To those who are squeamish about the sordid history of this kind of eugenics, Savulescu argues that the Nazi system of eugenics was much different because people were compelled to participate. In this case, it would be wholly voluntary and allow parents to choose the characteristics of their children.
Besides, isn't this just an extension of what we're already doing when we screen embryos for conditions such as Down's syndrome, cystic fibrosis or inherited bowel and breast cancer genes?
As he points out, "there's little public outcry" over these practices.
"Whether we like it or not, the future of humanity is in our hands now," he writes. "Rather than fearing genetics, we should embrace it. We can do better than chance."
Sadly, Savulescu's article mentions nothing about the inherent dignity of the child but treats it as a commodity to be tinkered with. Nor does he mention the scores of embryos who are discarded in the various "screening" processes that are very much a part of the world of genetic engineering.
It is for these reasons that we can never let science dictate the terms of our morality. The dangers of this are spelled out with chilling detail by the Church in a variety of Church documents.
"It would on the one hand be illusory to claim that scientific research and its applications are morally neutral; on the other hand one cannot derive criteria for guidance from mere technical efficiency, from research's possible usefulness to some at the expense of others, or, worse still, from prevailing ideologies. Thus science and technology require, for their own intrinsic meaning, an unconditional respect for the fundamental criteria of the moral law: that is to say, they must be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God. . . .
"The rapid development of technological discoveries gives greater urgency to this need to respect the criteria just mentioned: science without conscience can only lead to man's ruin. Our era needs such wisdom more than bygone ages if the discoveries made by man are to be further humanized. For the future of the world stands in peril unless wiser people are forthcoming."(Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 15; cf. also POPE PAUL VI, Encyclical Populorum Progressio, 20: AAS 59 (1967) 267; POPE JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Redemptor Hominis, 15: AAS 71 (1979) 286-289; Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, 8: AAS 74 (1982) 89.)
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