Monday, May 14, 2007


Is it wrong to have as your goal the elimination of suffering? It is what is being discussed here. Illness, genetic defects, low intelligence all impact our quality of life and cause physical, mental and emotional suffering. If you believe there is a design or a meaning behind genetic selections then you are able to accept more easily what happens when a child is born with genetic problems. It's a gift of God, it's a teaching experience in compassion, or you might even posit that it is fate. Suffering and the things we learn from it in this context seem normal and necessary for our development because suffering is normal in our lives. Yet, our lives are spent trying to reduce or eliminate the threats that cause suffering. We try to feed, clothe, shelter and educate our families in a way that mitigates the impact of external events. Many try to battle poverty, war, disease and even global warming in an effort to lessen suffering. Then there are all the religions and the charitable work which promise a deliverance from suffering in this life or after death. The majority of us accept that life is suffering and we try to find our own ways out. But if we come to the conclusion that there is not a God or the Fates behind natural selection but rather a plethora of scientific laws then is it any surprise that we would seize on prenatal genetic testing as another way to control the suffering in our lives? Do we have an ascending scale of the value of different types of suffering and choices about which types of suffering we are allowed to eliminate and which we must keep? Where are we crossing the ethical line into the frightening arena of eugenics?

One interesting question is whether culling embryos with genetic defects would reduce the diversity of the gene pool. If we discard an embryo or a fetus based on our knowledge of one negative trait are we like the blind men in the room with the elephant? No one "sees" the whole creature but rather the man holding the tail thinks it is a snake and all the men lack the vision to understand "elephant" because they are touching only one small part completely different from anyone else's part. If we were to reduce the diversity of the gene pool would that entail greater suffering at some point ?

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