Human Exceptionalism

Summarizing the Stock/Smith Debate

A few weeks ago, as I have mentioned previously, I debated bioethicist and scientist Gregor Stock about designer babies.  An audience member has written a summary of that clash that pretty accurately summarizes our respective positions.  From the article in the CBC Newsletter by Evan Rosa (I am a special consultant for the CBC):

t was a lively debate, on a tough, complex issue. Here I can only offer a brief (and hopefully fair) representation of both views, and then I’ll offer some of my own thoughts.

Stock’s Position

Stock, a biophysicist, claims that science is ever-revealing the very substance of humanity (e.g., mapping the human genome). He applauds human rational-technical control of the world, and infers that, as a part of the world, we humans will (and should) turn to ourselves, to recreate humanity, just as we do our environment. We’re human, we’re technological; it’s what we do, it’s our destiny.1 Through a course of scientific trial and error, we eventually arrive at good ends. This being the case, he welcomes such fashioning and designing of progeny, as a natural step in our evolutionary history. We already “sculpt our minds and bodies using exercise, drugs, and surgery, [and] tomorrow we will also use the tools that biotechnology provides.2 As a leader in his field, he encounters many well-meaning and responsible parents, and he resoundingly insists, “why not?”

Smith’s Position

Smith finds the notion of genetic engineering of progeny wrong and ridiculously flawed, and offers several lines of argument to support his position: research and procedures will be extremely expensive; it’s full of hubris (pride) and hedonism (self-seeking pleasure, on the parts of parents); it reinterprets procreation as a form of solipsism (everything exists for me); the practice is literally eugenic in denying equality to all, placing higher value on the “fit”; it fails to take into account the freedom, individuality and personal rights of the designed child; and it’s a utopian ideal, which, as history shows, is ultimately oppressive.

That’s a good overview. I would add that I told the audience they were not going to watch a “debate,” per se. Debaters need a common frame of reference so they can argue about which view is best to achieve the mutually desired goal.  Stock and I do not share views–at least on this issue. So, I asserted that we were really going to be espousing divergent world views.  Each has detriments and benefits, but both can’t be pursued simultaneously.  That means that at some point–like most of the issues discussed here at SHS–society will have to choose which path it will want to take.

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