Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Case for Genetic Enhancement of Cognitive Ability

On my NPR-San Francisco radio show today, I interviewed Ruud Ter Meulen, co-editor of Enhancing Human Capacities (Wiley, May 2011)

That interview has triggered these thoughts:

How much of the difference between America's successful and its underclass is genetic and how much is environmental? Over the last 3/4 of a century, we've put all our chips, literally trillions of dollars of cost and opportunity cost, on trying to improve the underclass's environment. Yet the achievement level of the underclass has remained intractable.

As we contemplate what to do for the next 3/4 century, would we be wiser to double-down on that bet or might we reasonably conclude that we've been fighting a giant opponent with one arm tied behind our back and that we'd be wise to untie that arm.

Speaking non-metaphorically, as I've asked in previous writings, is it time to resist our visceral repulsion against funding the research that would lead to prospective parents to be able to elect to genetically enhance their child's cognitive and emotional abilities? Indeed, such gene therapy would likely benefit the underclass more than it would the successful because the underclass has more room to grow.

As long as parents were not coerced into using such gene therapy and as long as the procedure was covered under MediCal so as to not to exacerbate the gap between society's haves and have nots, I cannot see a rational argument against allowing the necessary research, including the risks and rewards of intervening in the germline as well as the ethical issues, so we might eventually be able to fight this most tough opponent with both arms.

Beyond merely benefiting the underclass, making available to prospective parents the option to genetically enhance their children's cognitive ability and emotional well-being/efficacy makes likely that we'll sooner cure our horrific diseases, have wiser electorates, not to mention the ultimate iPhone.

Dear readers, your thoughts?


Jason said...

Marty, though we have not done any direct gene manipulation to produce smart babies, it is already being done by women who are choosing "high IQ" sperm from sperm banks. I've heard the same is being done for donated eggs as well. The downside of this is the expectation that these children are supposed to be high achievers because of these genetic advantages. I'm not opposed to the idea of genetic manipulation but I think the offspring should never know about it and the parents should treat them just the same as they would any other child.

Dan said...

Marty, in your opinion, is the unspoken reason for the push for birth control in developing countries and the seemingly insatiable appetite in this country for abortion in minority communities (admittedly my bias) to strengthen the gene pool? In other words, it's not as much about women's reproductive freedom or reducing the population as it is about eliminating mentally or physically inferior humans?

Marty Nemko said...

Dan, your guess is as good as mine. My guess is that it's mainly about female empowerment but some advocates may, in the privacy of their thoughts, think, as you suggest, that it might also strengthen the gene pool.

Marty Nemko said...

Thanks for the compliment but I have no idea what "88 Marty, and a big 14" mean.


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