Evolution is the process that defines life as it is. It shapes every living creature, and allows them to thrive in their environment by culling the unfit and poorly adapted from the population. This, in effect, cleanses the gene pool by depriving the weak the right to reproduce, and therefore allowing the species a better chance for survival. Homo sapien, like every creature before it, and most likely every creature after it, has been sculpted and whittled into a survivalist juggernaut by this very process. However, the human species has adapted to such a degree that the usually razor sharp scalpel of natural selection has been dulled to a butter knife. Natural selection has its hands tied, and although it is still hard at work, it is now seriously hindered. Our immense brain capacity and versatility, one that allows us to do everything from rationalizing complex algorithms to writing prodigal symphonies, has also allowed us to tamper with the very framework of life itself by preventing the necessary from occurring. Ironically, the very mechanism that propels all Earth dwelling creatures on a relentless and brutal path to survival may also be the one that ensures the human species’ stagnation and extinction.
In ages past, humanity was subject to nature and hardship, just as every other living thing is. We were killed in vast swathes by diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, and even the common cold. Faulty vestigial organs, such as the appendix or wisdom teeth, could become inflamed and infected, killing the individual by way of infection. Usually debilitating or disadvantageous conditions from astigmatism to Down syndrome caused a disparity among populations, allowing some of the more fit individuals to survive, or at least out-breed the weaker. Everything from disease to physical malfunction eliminated many of the defects of a population, and kept the species fit and ready to tackle any challenge. However, with the expansion of our brains, and more crucially, the subsequent advent of modern medicine, the gears of natural selection have in effect stopped turning, at least with any degree of efficiency.
No longer will an infected tooth or weak heart kill an individual before they can breed. In the modern age, we possess the power to treat or cure just about any affliction that strikes us, yet we fail to do perhaps the most important thing: cure that particular trait from the gene pool. The person that we save from pneumonia or appendicitis may just have had poor luck, yet they may also have had a detrimental gene that caused this condition to occur. In ancient times, this person would have been eliminated, their detrimental genes taken with them. Now, however, “weak” subjects and those once unfit to survive now have the power to reproduce. In effect, this compromises the integrity of the gene pool and therefore the species as a whole. We may very well be entering a paradoxical period: one that features a significant portion of the population struck down or hindered by debilitating conditions, as the weak, detrimental genes that were once eliminated now compound to produce serious genetic aberrations, all because of the very medical advances we utilize to make us “stronger’. This has numerous unforeseen consequences, as we will have no idea how these defective genes will compound to affect us. The “perfect storm” of faulty genes may strike with increasing frequency, due to both the already existing flaws, and flaws that will occur in the future due to mutation. In effect, we are cluttering up the room more and more, and failing to take the broom out to clear the excess refuse away.
It seems that, as technology progresses further, and diseases are fought with increasing expertise, the problem will only worsen. As we improve medically, we allow increasing amounts of people to live and thrive that otherwise wouldn’t have. It cannot be disputed that this is a positive thing, and the correct thing to do. However, the method of curing everything and propping everybody up with medicine causes many problems, most of which are previously addressed. We must find a solution, and a humane one at that, that will coexist with our values and morality. The scientific field of eugenics is by far the best option available, due to recent scientific advances in the field.
The history of eugenics is one steeped in controversy. The Nazis, on their path to world domination and racial extermination, utilized eugenics to breed a “master” race. They forcibly culled anybody they deemed inferior and not desirable for their vision of progress. With this in mind, they butchered millions of people that were “unfit” for breeding, ranging from homosexuals, to the cognitively disabled, to racial and cultural subgroups such as the Gypsies and the Jews. This massive blight left upon the human race and the name of eugenics is one that must never be forgotten, however, it must not impede us on the path to the improvement of the species.
Rather than use a policy of forced extermination, we could, if properly and democratically agreed upon, use genetic engineering administered by the time of conception to correct the discrepancies and create stronger, fitter human beings. This method would be markedly different than that of the Nazi’s. It would not eliminate any individual from the breeding population, or prevent childbearing to occur. Instead, it would merely modify detrimental or deleterious genes, enabling a defect free child to be born. This can be done because current technology presents us with the ability to “graft” substitute genes into the genome, and allow them to take the place of the offending genes that are not desirable. With this method of genetic engineering, there is absolutely no limit to what we could become as a species, and what we could achieve. We could remove our warlike tendencies from our psyche, or improve our average IQ by leaps and bounds. Every living being could be a supermodel or a bodybuilder, if that is what is desired. True equality will have been reached, for perhaps the first time in human history. Also, as computer technology increases, we could conceivably run simulations that would determine exactly how these said improvements would affect the subject in question. This way there would be no “Frankenstein” experiments that could produce genetic abominations and serious moral dilemmas, and in effect provide a moral and just way to genetically experiment.
Although it may seem as though human genetic engineering is science fiction, there have already been examples of both the potential, and the gravity of genetic engineering. The University of Pennsylvania conducted gene therapy trials on individuals with cystic fibrosis in 2004. It was a partial success, with all subjects showing improvement in immunity to diseases, but two of the ten developed leukemia as a result of the retrovirus inserted into their genome. So far, experimentation has been geared towards eliminating diseases and serious birth defects. However, as we grow scientifically and technologically, we will be able to determine much more than whether a child will have diabetes or muscular dystrophy; we will be able to determine physique and intellect.
And yet, other than with limited experiments concerned with disease/disorder prevention, genetic engineering/eugenics has yet to be utilized in any significant way, due to questions of morality and the safety of such procedures, although it holds tremendous potential for improving and maintaining our species. It may even save us from the untimely end that we inevitably face should we continue on our path of genetic degradation and warlike tendency. What remains to be seen is whether eugenics will be embraced once again as a viable solution, or if the specters of the past will forever haunt the concept of human genetic alteration.