Ethical merits and demerits of human genetic engineering from a utilitarian viewpoint

Let us analyze the ethical aspects of human genetic engineering from a utilitarian view point. The practical implications of utilitarianism can best be conveyed in the context of recent advances in biotechnology. Now that the human genome has been decoded, the ramifications of a utilitarian ethic go far beyond socioeconomic and legislative reform. In a period of post-genomic medical progress, they extend to the influence of the pleasure-pain axis itself. By unscrambling the molecular substrates of emotion, biotechnology allied to nano-medicine permits the magnitude, value, duration and allocation of happiness and misery in the world to be controlled eventually at will. More controversially, the dilemmas of traditional casuistry will lose their relevance (Utilitarian Bioethics). This is because our imminent mastery of the reward centers ensures that everyone can be heritably better specimens – a utopian-sounding prediction that currently still strikes most of us as comically childlike in its naiveté. However, unlike perennially scarce “positional” goods and services in economics, personal happiness does not need to be rationed. Within the next few centuries, a triple alliance of biotech, info-tech and nanotech can – potentially – make invincible bliss a presupposition of everyday mental health. From a purely technical perspective at least, happiness globally can be increased by many orders of magnitude; the substrates of suffering and depression can be abolished outright; genetically pre-programmed super-health can become the norm; and well-being in the richest sense of the term can become omnipresent. Such a scenario is consistent with the desires of original Utilitarian thinkers like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and thus the theory’s moral soundness is asserted (Millgram 282).

It may perhaps seem like unrealistic fantasy, but instead, these predictions may prove to be rather conservative. For the melding of biotech, nano-robotics and quantum computing will be extraordinarily fertile – far beyond anything imaginable today. On the utilitarian conception of value, sentient life will become vastly more valuable as well, since value in the form of an abundance of subjectively wonderful experiences will be correlatively amplified by orders of magnitude too. What kind of narrative structures this diversity of valuable experiences will be woven into is still in the domain of speculation: future-gazing into the lives of our descendants is unreliable at best. Yet when harnessed to biotechnology, the “greatest happiness principle” dictates the mass-manufacture of the molecular substrates of value on a prodigious and perhaps one day cosmic scale. Certainly, it is simplistic to view sentient beings as mere pleasure machines and not just because Darwinian life is typically “nasty, brutish and short”. But quite aside from the such needless belittling of our abused fellow creatures, a future world of mindless bliss – or some kind of collective cosmic orgasm – is sociologically plausible in the post-human era of super intelligent, super sentient well-being. More importantly, this mouth-watering vista of delights is highly compatible with the “utilitarian” label. Hence, it could be concluded that human genetic engineering is morally sound and desirable (Utilitarian Bioethics).

The same applies to “Post-Darwinian transition”, which deals with the impending reproductive revolution of designer babies. By rewriting its own genome, our species is destined to transcend age-old human nature. Beyond this century, future parents are unlikely to choose genotypes predisposing to depression, anxiety and melancholy in their future children. Over time, the “unnatural” selection of designer genomes should weed our inclination to nastiness from the gene-pool – even in the absence of any grand ethical/ideological project. Our natural “set point” of emotional well-being should become increasingly higher over the millennium – a form of hedonistic improvement possibly amounting to some kind of phase change in the nature of awareness itself. There is reasonable assurance that the outcome of post-human reproductive medicine will fully accord with a utilitarian ethic. Thus, on the whole the biotechnology revolution and subsequent human engineering will lead to ethically sound state of morality (Utilitarian Bioethics).

Works cited:

Millgram, Elijah. “Mill’s Proof of the Principle of Utility(*).(John Stuart Mill).” Ethics 110.2 (Jan 2000): 282.

Utilitarian Bioethics, UTILITARIANISM RESOURCES, 25th April, 2006