One of my closest friends has childhood diabetes. He was a very good football (soccer) player and a painter par excellence. Diabetes devastated his life. In 1980’s, diabetes management wasn’t well spread. Soccer was gone forever.
In those days, proper diabetes diet was a major problem. He had to be satisfied with a painting course available where his diet could be managed.
Fertility remained elusive till he was blessed with a very bubbly child after more than a decade of marriage. The day I received the news, I could not sleep because of joy. Luckily fertility treatment had advanced faster.
Genetic therapy is advancing. Now childhood diabetes is a major target for companies. So are epilepsy, Leukoderma, asthma and even Down’s syndrome. If you have a relative or a friend who got caught on the wrong side of nature’s Russian roulette, you couldn’t have felt more optimistic!
And there is a flip side to it. At the risk of being labelled stone-heart, let me express my worry.
I was not born strong – at least in Spartan sense. I and millions like me survived the deadly parasites of small pox, polio, whooping cough etc. just because humanity had this wide spread immunization programs. Had I born 50 years earlier, my weaker genes might have taken me out much before I could pass them to the next generation. Because of immunization, I survived to write this blog and father two children.
Nice story, eh? But once again, look at the flip side – my survival came at the cost of passing weaker genes forward.
If genes continue to go forward unchecked, survival of human race will become severely dependent on the survival of modern civilization.
Then comes this genetic fault-tolerance. Faulty genes of epilepsy or cancer are supposed to be wiped out faster than genes (or absence thereof) causing weak immunity. By extending a chance of life we are just being good – but by extending chances of reproduction are we not taking a big risk?
[I know, it starts sounding unethical and Eugenic. However, I can’t help the consequences of technological progress.]
How strong has the current modernity been? None can say. One more market crash or one more Osama bin Laden or one Hitler or one epidemic or one meteor hit can reset availability of medicines to millions. Then think of the plight of likes of my friend. His child might have even married my another friend’s child and humanity might have assumed “a preventive shot for childhood diabetes” as a normal phenomenon – and some religious zealot destroys the supply! What a nightmare may ensue!
Or, just imagine if there are nasty side effects say late inset schizophrenia discovered of medicines that may help childhood diabetics.
The best way of action isn’t to go back to Eugenics.
The eventual way would be to go for designer babies. Making sure that 99.9999999% of my friends genes, good, laughing, soccer playing, painting genes are being passed to the baby. Just zap that diabetic one and substitute it with a synthetic, healthy gene. Who knows, during the screening, we might discover that the baby may be a carrier of Thelassamia and zap out that gene sequence as well!
Such a situation isn’t going to push us back to the days of innocence. Someone would label it as “Eugenics++”. Once you can assure your child doesn’t have diabetes, you will like to assure his/her IQ is 150 and has “Fair and Lovely” genes.
But my friends, given the three ways in front of us, this is the least harmful way. Continuing faulty genes is fraught with danger, Eugenics is 100% unethical, designer babies are at least neither unethical nor tragic disasters.