The article in question offers an in-depth analysis of the emerging preference for genetic engineering (GE). The author identifies various reasons why instances of genetic engineering are on a rise and shows the fallacies and superficialities of those arguments convincingly. For this essay, the tendency to utilize genetic engineering for ‘enhancing’ an individual’s life is chosen as the most important item of criticism by the author. Sandel is in support of GE as a life-saving measure. He supports its incorporation into standard medical practice for strictly medical reasons. But where he is strongly critical is in co-opting this new technology so as to gain a competitive edge over peers in any walk of life. Sandel believes that just because a technology is available it should not be applied recklessly without considering all the moral dimensions of the practice.
Sandel highlights two areas where ‘performance enhancement’ is much sought after is in the worlds of sports and academics. As it is, the sports world is ridden with illegitimate methods of performance enhancement. Unscrupulous athletes use banned drugs and substances to gain an unfair competitive advantage over their rivals. If athletic performance can be improved by manipulating certain genes corresponding to endurance, alertness, etc, then they certainly will be used by some athletes. But the problem is not so much the legality as the spirit of competitive sports. After all, the Olympic Games honor human excellence only because it is the product of ‘persistent effort’ as opposed to honoring natural talents and gifts. As Sandel points out, the Olympics Games are a celebration of human will and achievement and not that of the doctor or the pharmacist’s prescription.
Likewise, among parents of school students, the common concerns are about the height, memory and academic performance of their children. If GE practices are allowed unfettered in the future, getting the top grade in school might just become a matter of meeting the right doctor, rendering meaningless all the haughty meaning that education is supposed to carry. Sandel is not against employing GE for an ailing Alzheimer’s patient, whose memory enhancement is a medical need. But he is critical of applying the same technique so as to improve the memory of students so that they can ‘cram’ vast quantities of information before exams. Sandel is not dogmatic in his opposition of genetic enhancement, for he is sympathetic to the needs of a child identified with hormonal deficiency that hampers growth. In such ‘medical’ conditions, GE-based solutions are permissible, he rightly asserts.
I mostly agree with Sandel’s line of argument with respect to GE aided enhancements. Beyond the question of morality, legality and fairness, there is the more fundamental question of accepting nature. People should see themselves as part of an expansive natural world that operates with its own set of rules. Attempting to circumvent these rules is akin to playing God and thereby usurping vast creative powers into our hands. But the danger lies in how the power to create can easily morph into the power to destruct. The best example of this phenomenon is the national military system, which is euphemistically called ‘defense’, but largely employed as instruments of ‘offence’.
Society, Ethics and Technology, Fourth Edition Morton E. Winston and Ralph D. Edelbach, pp. 329