Universal Genetic Health?

Eugenics is the goal, whether you do it by breeding or by engineering. You’re being needlessly pedantic.

That’s an entirely different debate though.

I agree with you, but I can certainly see how it could cause a problem from the law of unintended consequences. Maybe there would be a voluntary population of unmodified humans to keep the gene pool ‘natural’, but then how is that fair on their children who don’t have a choice.

Well, for one major difference, under Eugenics people with genes you don’t like must not reproduce, which is going to be morally sketchy whether you are talking about people with life-threatening illnesses that manifest later in life or about people who aren’t blonde haired and blue eyed enough.

With genetic modification, any couple can have a baby (hell, even LGBT couples, or groups of more than 2 people, could mix their genetic code and have a baby with this technology).

This is Luddism applied to biotechnology. Evolution got us here - agonizingly slowly, with a lot of good luck, since the vast majority of species went extinct - through random mutation and natural selection. But that paradigm is not the future of mankind, we can do much better than the glacially slow and uncertain course of random mutation and natural selection. When we have the level of technology to do what OP envisions (which we will), then when faced with the Great Plague of 2199, we will solve that through biotechnology.

The idea that as a matter of policy we should hope to survive some future plague because of the chance existence of an unusual natural mutation in a small subset of the population is gruesome. Because the way natural selection works in this scenario is that everyone else dies. We are smarter than that, we can do much better than that.

Other things being equal, genetic diversity in a population is healthy, and part of the biotech approach envisioned in the OP should be to maintain diversity. But that does not imply that a population that is more diverse only because of the presences of more deleterious alleles is healthier than one without.

Really, sci-fi has addressed all these questions already. There was another story (might have been Heinlein?) in which some families were encouraged to be “Control Naturals” by giving them life-long economic incentives to offset their genetic disadvantages. Each generation had to decide for the next whether to stick with that, and know that the kids will always have enough money to live on, or to join in on the genetic engineering.

Like moths to the flame, so flock nerds to eugenics.

Not to mention that odds are good that the Great Plague of 2199 is a bioengineered plague that would shred through all natural defenses and can only be stopped by an engineered solution.

Plus, we should certainly catalgoue and store as many genes (and as much information about gene expression) as possible before we make these changes to our genome, so that when the Great Plague does arrive we can look for solutions sitting unutilized in our great genetic library, which we can then deploy using things like engineered retroviruses (see: COVID vaccine).

If the government is mandating that kids be defect-free (even if their parents are not), how is that not eugenics? E.g., see arguments in the deaf community about intentionally deaf children.

Sure. Like I said, I’m not opposed to the practice. Just cautious.

I think a lot of that is because we nerds all have things we’d like to edit out of ourselves. Bad eyesight, overweight, underweight, asthma, nerdlinger syndrome, you name it.

Except for some autistic and hearing-impaired people (and possibly other groups) who think their conditions are advantageous and would refuse “Universal Genetic Health”*.

Achieving freedom from genetic diseases through DNA modification (although not universally) is an achievable goal at some time in the future. There’d have to be a way to monitor and correct for continuing mutations due to unstable genomes and environmental mutagens.

*reminds me of Universal Export, the British company that was actually a front for James Bond and his group of merry pranksters.

Interesting thing about communities like that - every generation would get a vote for the next generation. If it turns out the current generation decides the previous generation’s decision to not engineer their kids was a mistake, then the next generation will be engineered. I suspect that over time, these communities would gradually shrink, as in every generation, there will be at least a few who think their parents made a mistake, and decide to engineer their own kids.

I certainly wouldn’t suggest that the government mandate genetic therapy; I think the benefits are so clear and obvious that widespread adoption within a generation or two wouldn’t require coercion, any more than electrifying your house does.

However, even if the government DID mandate genetic therapy, I think there is a big difference between directly targeting harmful genes, and targeting people who possess traits you don’t like.

Imagine for a moment that the government engineered a retrovirus which they put into the water supply. Anyone coming into contact with it has their gametes targeted, removing any instances of the genes that cause Huntington’s disease and replacing them with “healthy” genes. People who carry the disease still have their original genome in most of their cells, but any sperm or egg cells they produce will now no longer carry the gene. The disease is gone within a generation.

To be clear - I do NOT think the government should do this; I think it would be wrong to impact people in this or any way without their knowledge or consent. I am NOT saying this is a good idea. HOWEVER, I also do not think it is equivalent to eugenics. For example, if the government released a similar retrovirus that sterilized anyone carrying the Huntington’s gene, that would be eugenics, and an order of magnitude more immoral.

The misguided ethical values and bad science of historical advocates of eugenics does not imply that biotechnology is inherently evil and harmful.

I find nerds are much more interested in editing others.

But that was the only context in which I was using the word eugenics there.

Of course it’s still eugenics. “All agencies under human control”, remember?

Nvm… 5char


But it does pretty thoroughly imply that unless the first thing we reengineer is human nature, the very next thing that will be done with many (most?) uses of biotech is apply it in service of misguided ethics and bad science.

To me, eugenics involves controlling human reproduction by targeting the humans doing the reproduction, and the targeting of specific genes through gene therapy does not seem to qualify. Certainly, I don’t think individual genes have human rights, so something that targets them directly (like gene therapy) seems qualitatively different than targeting people. But I recognize that this is a semantic difference, and we both agree that government mandated gene therapy is wrong, so I don’t think there’s much point to continue discussing semantics.