Human Exceptionalism

Genetic Test Can Warn of Risk for Heart Disease

This story demonstrates the great potential of biotechnology, but being a congenital party pooper, I am also compelled to use it as a nagging moment. From the story:

Scientists have discovered a strand of DNA that dramatically raises the risk of coronary heart disease and doubles the chances of younger people suffering a heart attack prematurely.The high-risk stretch of genes is common among Caucasian populations, with up to a quarter carrying copies that boost the risk of heart disease by 40% and increase the lifetime risk of a heart attack by 60%.
Early-onset heart attacks, occurring in men under 50 and women under 60, were found to be twice as likely among those who inherited the high-risk gene sequence from both their mother and father.

That’s great. If someone tests positive, as the story notes, preventative measures can be taken. Perhaps one day there will even be a way to fix the genetic problem. But based on experience so far, it seems highly likely that this knowledge could instead be used to “select out” embryos with the defect so that a child will not one day suffer a heart attack.

It seems to me that the dangers of our rapidly increasing knowledge and new technologies lie not in the science, but our ethics. If we embrace intrinsic worth, we don’t go wrong. If instead, we embrace “quality of life” and obsess about hyper-control, then we move into the realm against which Huxley warned us. Humans are exceptional. We get to choose.

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