Two related stories, Slashdot‘s “Where To Draw the Line With Embryo Selection?” and Scientific Blogging‘s “Analyzing The Homicide Trend In Young Men” together evoke questions about the future of eugenics (improvement in the genetics of a population) and dysgenics (degradation of the genetics of a population) in the future.
Clearly we’re rapidly approaching adoption of relatively painless choice-based selection when it comes to the future generation. If parents really are concerned their kid will be unacceptably lazy, unacceptably dull, unacceptably slow, etc., they will be able to ‘load the dice’ by selecting embryos that offer the best hope in the desired dimensions. If we ban the procedure in the west, there’s no reason to think it won’t become a booming industry in China, in India, in Thailand, in Mexico, or in other countries already popular for medical tourism.
However, it’s likely there will be government controls anyway. Consider the thugs who commit crimes and cause other troubles. There’s nothing theoretically to stop them from selecting children that are more vicious, more hostile, and more anti-social than would otherwise be the case. To stop this, the government will ban these procedures. Though the underclass is as free as the rest of the population to seek medical tourism abroad, what did Voltaire say about freedom? Something like, In France, the law prevents both the rich and the poor from sleeping under a bridge at night!.
So we probably will have a de facto eugenics policy, where those who look to improve their kids are able to afford to do so, while those not able to are not able to afford the procedure.
There is no such thing as a gene-neutral social policy. Through its creation and application of laws, every government is engaged in either a de facto eugenics (improvement of ) or dysgenics (degradation of) the national genome*. Currently, much of the United States has a distributed dysgenics program in place, where murder (removal from the genepool) is effectively rewarded through slaps-on-the-wrist that confer social status but do not confer net punishment:
Gothamist: 13-Year-Old Arrested in Columbia Student’s Death
A 13-year-old boy was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter in the Friday night death of a Columbia graduate student. According to a Daily News source, the boy bragged to his 15-year-old friend before chasing Ming-Hui Yu, “Look what I do to this one.”
The teen and his friends apparently hassled Yu, a 24-year-old Ph.D. student in statistics and a teaching fellow, at the median at Broadway and 122nd Street. The Post reports one “punched him in the face, while the other kept watch.” (The Daily News adds that the police are “don’t believe it was robbery. It was some sort of altercation.”–Yu still had his wallet and backpack.) In an attempt to escape them, Yu ran into the street, where he was hit by a Jeep. Yu later died of his injuries.
I’m not sure what the track record on microevolution on a national scale is, but it’s certainly worth investigating. How many critics of laissez-faire economics likewise oppose laissez-faire dysgenics?
[* Technically a genome is mapped to an individuals, so there is no “national genome.” Still, the species concept is a myth too, but we talk about “the human genome” because it is understood that means both the mean properties of the genome as well as common variation within it.]