- Osamu Kanamori, Ph.D. Professor, Graduate School of Education, The University of Tokyo. 7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, 113-0033, Japan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(A) It is possible that all of what I say will remain just as a pure phantasmagoric and fictional argument, as it is founded not on already existing techniques, but on the conceivable or realizable techniques (1). For example, the complete analysis of SNPs (2), the new challenge of drug design according to the SNPs, the proteomics, the bioinformatics etc. can be situated within the scientific discourse sphere, though they remain still the aim to be attained, and in this sense unreal in themselves. But what I am discussing here is more unreal in that it is not yet even situated inside of scientific discourse sphere. And besides its purely technical phases of argument, there are also cultural, social, ethical and political conditions that must be considered concomitantly as essential elements in order to choose among many other possibilities a relatively adequate social policy on what kind of genetic interventions we are going to assume. So, when I try to elaborate a discursive sphere on this, I am certainly obliged to take into consideration so many causal and contingent conditions that whatever I may assert or deny is no more than an underdetermined sketch. Clearly self-conscious with this fundamental weakness, I have nevertheless no intention to abandon my argument on the possible phase of genetic interventions. There are principally two reasons why I don't renounce this discussion. At first, I believe firmly in this importance. At second, there are already some works on this problem, and even with an acknowledgement that they can harm some fundamental elaborations of human culture, I think that the feigning of ignore them is not at all a good resolution for this "harmfulness". On the contrary, if we really feel that some aspects of pro-active discussions on genetic interventions are quite threatening, we must scrutinize them thoroughly so as to distinguish their persuasive elements from their rather noxious elements.
To be more precise, I would like to cite here some books on genetic interventions. To name but a few, we can remember for instance the following works: LeRoy Walters & Julie Gage Palmer's The Ethics of Human Gene Therapy (3)(1997), Erik Parens ed., Enhancing Human Traits (4) (1998), Arthur L. Caplan's article, "What's Morally Wrong with Eugenics?"(5) (2000), Glenn McGee's The Perfect Baby (6) (2000), and Allen Buchanan et al.'s From Chance to Choice (7) (2000). In this talk, I try to analyze the meaning of this kind of discussions, and if possible, to articulate the cultural foundation that urges them to emerge in spite of possible vitriolic reactions against them from the society. And in this context, I think that it is not absurd to suppose our common background on the fact that although eugenics was not necessarily a purely pernicious social movement at least in its original intention, almost all of historians of biological and medical sciences agree with its very dangerous character, referring to the history of the first half of 20th century. For them, the harmfulness of eugenics was already "historically experimented and demonstrated".
(B) If this evaluation is almost univocally shared, we are experiencing since about 20 years an astonishing development in medical and clinical domains. We are facing some curious and anxious reemergence of eugenics. The "specter" of eugenics can be schematized in two styles.
To the first style, I would like to attribute a general feeling of what can be called "alarm of danger", the feeling of anxiety frequently felt in obstetrics and gynecology, due to some refinement of assisted reproductive technology and of diagnosis systems. And this phase is practically even more important than the second phase, because it treats a real and present state of danger. But on this topic, there are already many good comments and works, so much so that it will be tedious to enumerate even only the elementary works. Accordingly, within the time limit of my talk, I am going to concentrate for today on the other style of problem, the enhancement side of eugenic interventions.
In other words, this second style affirms rather bluntly its eugenic tendency and argues not for concealing it but rather for consolidating its reasonable foundation. Roughly speaking, this second style relates more closely to positive eugenics (promotion of "the better"), while the first style relates to negative eugenics (negation of "the lesser"). This style of thought begins to appear only at the first half of 1990's, especially in the American context. To situate exactly this argument, we must remember that the Human Genome Project was being advanced in this period, and that as an integral part of it, people worked on so-called ELSI (8) project relating to the genetics issues. This second style has perhaps its origin in this discourse sphere, at least indirectly. Besides that, we can find in this style a political ambiance strongly related to the liberal social background, or more precisely to the neo-liberalism coupled with enforcement of globalization. For the commodity of argument, I would like to give it a name of "new liberal eugenics". Because of its potential relation with a new society after the total clarification of base sequence and the identification of important genes, the new liberal eugenics can be understood as a new phase of eugenics after post-genorevolutionary society.
To say more directly, the new liberal eugenics bears in mind possible genetic interventions functionally similar to gene therapy. We can conceive four logical cases of gene therapy: somatic cell gene therapy, somatic cell gene enhancement, germ-line gene therapy and germ-line gene enhancement (9). Especially, the forms of intervention that the new liberal eugenics promotes to develop are germ-line gene therapy and germ-line gene enhancement. Of course, these four categories have a theoretical character. In reality, as we cannot always distinguish physiological state from pathological deviance, there are many cases in which therapy and enhancement draw close each other for the same reason. Actually, though we have almost ten years of history of somatic cell gene therapy, targeting diseases like ADA deficiency, cancers, cystic fibrosis, AIDS, arteriosclerosis obliterans etc., we don't have yet an extraordinary therapeutic success for these diseases. If that is the case, we can expect much less success for the half-imaginary treatment like the germ-line gene enhancement. But when we evaluate how important the scope and the cultural consequences of the new liberal eugenics, we begin to appreciate the importance of the two interventions. So, even if we have totally awareness that what we are alarming or promoting is in fact something that doesn't yet exist, we can always affirm that, as we are not scientist nor medical doctor, it is almost our duty, not so much our right, to prepare in a pro-active manner the discussion on this possible future, and to sketch a possible profile of social sphere in which people begin to modify and "design" the genome at their own will.
Well, with these premises assumed, what kind of possible future will emerge from pro-eugenic interventions in this frame? With the technique of "gene targeting", we will be able to cut and paste fragment of DNA in a germ-line at our own will. Then, with the information of important gene loci, we will try at first to cut genes of serious genetic diseases, in order to replace them with that of normal person. That is the phase of the therapeutic side of the new liberal eugenics. And the advocates of this trend don't feel guilty because according to them, this eugenics is essentially different from the ancient one of the first half of the 20th century. The ancient one is abhorrent with its coercive sterilization and interdiction of marriage between Jews and Nordic people etc. But the new one is different on several points. At first, the new liberal eugenics is more "scientific" than the old one. With the more matured information of anthropology and genetics itself, it doesn't suppose a fictional Aryan race, nor try to treat people with a wrong medical theory. Secondly, it is not a state-controlled eugenics. Its agent is each individual or the family. So, there is no element of coercion at least theoretically. It is a consequence of voluntary, independent and well-informed decision of each individual (10). In these arguments, as I said, the background of liberal social philosophy is very important. If we choose liberalism as a good social philosophy, this individualist pro-eugenic trend based on a "reproductive freedom" of each person seems to be quite difficult to refute (11). In other words, we have no definitive logic against the personal, individual and risk-assuming choice for what people considers as "a better form of life" (12).
Furthermore this phase cannot be the last one. After this therapeutic phase of the new liberal eugenics, people are gradually led to the next phase, i.e. that of the enhancement phase. In general, we have to repeat that the demarcation between therapy and enhancement is less than certain. As Erik Parens put it in his edited book Enhancing Human Traits (13), "...a genetic technology that could increase muscle mass for the purpose of treating a patient with a degenerative muscle disease could also be used to enhance the ability of an athlete to compete at lifting weights". The accumulation of the experience and of the knowledge of therapeutic scene can urge to accelerate the trial of gene enhancement. With the advent of technical maturity, in this second possible phase, people will begin to modify the genes of their gametes, in order that the gametes fit better some social values such as the beauty for the daughter, the strong muscle and the tallness for the son etc (14). The scandalous appearance of what is already coined "perfect baby" or "designer child" will become real. It will be a baby on whom the desire of parents reflects literally and physiologically. Glenn McGee, in his exactly so entitled book The Perfect Baby, envisions with somewhat prankish tone his own anticipation of perfect baby: a boy with 6 feet height, 185 pounds, IQ superior than 150, blond hair, blue eyes, well-balanced limbs, controlled aggressive temper for being a good sportsman etc (15). The vision, with its fancifulness, invites rather a smile. But the elements with which he breaks a jest give us rather an embarrassment. To say nothing of the technical difficulties, many ethical, social and philosophical problems emerge from this kind of human designing. We will face a genetically enhanced society in which many supermen, superwomen or at least those who are supposed to be so live their designed life (16).
Of course, this foresight is not at all something of certain and inevitable, nor is beyond any sort of discussions. Among others, one of the most important critics against the advocacy of gene enhancement concerns maybe the problem of social fairness: even if gene enhancement will become a quite advantageous semi-medical act, it will remain always a luxurious and not indispensable medicine. It means that it will not be covered by medical insurance system, and remain very expensive. Then, those who benefit from it are perhaps already rich and intelligent persons. With gene enhancement, offspring of rich and intelligent person will have more opportunities to get more intelligent and richer. In that way, gene enhancement can intensify the inequality between classes (17). In effect, this story can be a strong counter argument.
Anyway we will be unfair to presuppose that the new liberal eugenics has no interest to corroborate its reflexive philosophy. To refute this presupposition, I would like to cite here Allen Buchanan et al.'s From Chance to Choice (18) among some similar books. In this voluminous book, four important bioethicists argue prudently and finely for elaborating the allowable logic of gene enhancement, taking account of many possible consequent social problems such as an amplification of discrimination of disabled persons etc. And among many possible modes of enhancement, they judge that the enhancement that seeks for a "multipurpose goodness" or a wide range positive capacities is situated farthest from the detrimental programs. As examples, they enumerate the strengthening of immune network, the delay of aging, the reinforcement of mnemonic capacity etc. Certainly, if someone wants to manifest disgust against the gene enhancement for the delay of aging, the burden of proof will be cast upon his shoulder.
(C) When finishing to read these books on gene enhancement, I cannot help feeling that something very important is moving actually in the discourse sphere on eugenics in general. Please don't assume that I myself am one of the advocates of the new liberal eugenics. Rather, my stance is that of a distant and theoretical spectator. But as far as I cannot disagree with a liberalist social philosophy, I must confess that I find great difficulty to bury definitively this kind of thought. I think that we have already entered in an era when we must face a new phase of problematic, and begin to scrutinize its meaning. I dare claim that if quite number of people begins to instigate almost enhancement-like gene therapy or clear and accurate gene enhancement, we have a cultural reason that makes them think in that way. It is possible that this eugenic tendency is more than a contingent and ephemeral phenomenon relating to its neo-liberalist background. On the contrary, this "specter" is able to have a substantive and philosophical foundation rooted profoundly to some substratum of human culture. The aim of the next section is exactly to search for this possibility.
(A) In a recently published book entitled What can we do by a theory of life? (2001) (19), Masahiro Morioka, a famous Japanese researcher of bioethics, claims that we must choose to live with as large as possible type of disabilities and infirmities, and that we must elaborate a social welfare system under which most of women can easily decide to continue her pregnancy even if she knows that her fetus has some disability or malformation. Spending one entire chapter (Chap.6), Morioka strives to destruct with perseverance any tendency to selective abortion. Meanwhile, he asserts even that a style of thought according to which one can decide to abort an abnormal fetus has its origin in a really profound layer of human civilization. That is a style of thought that permits itself to prepare for preventive and artificial measures so as to hinder something unpleasant from happening effectively. In this sense, a reinforcement work that aims to prevent a hill near one's house from destructing the house by a landslip has an identical origin with an invitation to a selective abortion20. I personally cannot assent to Morioka's thoroughgoing accusation against selective abortions in general. But it seems to me that the point that he links this kind of problem to the technical mode of thinking of humankind is quite interesting. The following argument in this section is partly inspired by this linking. In this frame, I would like to elucidate that eugenic thinking has a profound foundation in our technical and artificial mode of being in general.
(B) When keeping this problematic in mind, the two geneticists in the history of genetics arrest my attention: J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) and Hermann Muller (1890-1967). In Daedalus (1923) (21), Haldane foresees a surprising future about genetic scenes, especially on the possibility of direct improvement of the individual. He says, "In the future perhaps it may be possible by selective breeding to change character as quickly as institutions. (...) We can already alter animal species to an enormous extent, and it seems only a question of time before we shall be able to apply the same principles to our own." (22). In the same book, he imagines an artificial style of reproduction like ectogenesis (23), or a chemical (endocrinological) control of human temperament etc. Designing instinct was already awakening. Conscious perhaps of his own faint scent of "mad scientist's atmosphere", Haldane invokes Daedalus, a mythical and sacrilegious engineer of labyrinth as a forthcoming image of scientist. Hermann Muller's Out of the Night (1936) (24) extends the same kind of inspiration. Advocating repeatedly many methods to make more intelligent our reproductive behavior, Muller claims the "desirability and the possibility of the genetic as well as the 'environmental' improvement of mankind" (25). He evaluates that the present state of human physiology is only suitable for some prehistoric era. To be more adapted to the times, he says, we must ameliorate many points (26), and take up a positive decision for technical intervention to our physiological given (27). By the way, he continued to express his definite conviction for the human betterment after the WWII, as was illustrated with the program called eutelegenesis: it was a collection of sperm of whom he judged as excellent males like important politicians or Nobel prize winners. Thus, as a geneticist, Muller continued to propose a more or less eugenic social scheme for a better society (28).
In effect, when we reflect upon the present state of human body and its organic system, we can find some curious imperfection, or at least what seems to be so: for example, too early senility like presbyopia, many autoimmune diseases that destruct oneself etc. A human body is anchored to some dark irrationality, or created by some awkward demiurge. There is no reason that what actually is must remain the same forever. Therefore, as far as we have some means to delay, avoid or ameliorate these imperfections, why not use these means? Furthermore, the fact that the average life span largely heightened since these fifty years proves exactly the fact that there is no reason that this average must remain at the present stage. If the public hygiene and nutritional physiology get increasingly the good results during their works, then there is no reason to astonish if the geneticists are invited to try to ameliorate human genetic resources in order to improve the "rationality of human body" from inside of their capacities. Perhaps, it is one of the essential desires for the human being to accommodate his environment to the state in which he wants to be. Humankind "humanizes" his environment in his own image and desire. Human being has this kind of designing instinct, and when he begins to touch his own genome so as to make it more rational and satisfactory for him, it means only that this designing instinct chooses his genome as its object. In this sense, there is no room to be particularly scandalized. Geneticists seem to think like this.
(C) In this current of thinking, we are no more surprised to see that the notion of inviolability of the human genome is simply undermined. The rhetoric of "playing God" often used in the early era of biotechnology is almost out of date. The purely probative arguments like that of Jeremy Rifkin (29), the famous and classical activist on this domain, are losing their influence. On the contrary, exactly the same expression of "playing God" is being used in the context of rather instigating the intervention to human genome. For instance, remind of Ted Peters' case (30). Peters, an important theologian, develops his discussion by connecting continuously divine creativity and human creativity. In place of understanding human being as a purely passive existence in respect of creativity, Peters tries to look through human activity a disguise and insinuation of divine creativity itself. Humankind is a "created co-creator". Whatever he does, and regardless of his own interpretation on it, the activity of human being is theologically permissible as far as it can be coextensively conceived that God himself wants to let it go. In this sense, it is possible to evaluate that whatever human being does, he extends a will of God. If we acknowledge these premises, it will not sound as a puerile quibble to pretend that an actual state of human physiology is only an intermediate one, and that we are being created ceaselessly even today. Nobody can definitively deny that the touching to the human genome is also a will of God, in order to perfect his creation. The assumption of possibility of "designing" in general can reflect a sort of voluntarism, by which some transcendent intelligent agency enjoys its freedom and choices. And if a creative being can share a bit of this divine "freedom", theoretically there will be no limits for admissibility of human new exploitation.
Whether one is Christian or not, I think that this kind of reasoning has some force because it renders more powerful our psychological positiveness. In this context, we can recall perhaps a rather crude statement of James Watson. In response to the notion of "the sanctity of the human germ-line" (31), he said: "...we have great respect for the human species. We like each other. We'd like to be better, and we take great pleasure in great achievements by other people. But, saying we're sacred and should not be changed? Evolution can be just damn cruel, and to say that we've got a perfect genome and there's some sanctity? I'd like to know where that idea comes from, because it's utter silliness." (32). In that way, Watson inherits geneticist's designing tradition. Human genome itself becomes thus an object of new exploitation.
Recently in Japan also, similar books upon human modification begin to be published. The good example is Ryuichi Kaneko's Future After the Genome Decipherment (2001) (33). Kaneko says that we are now approaching to the era when the human being is finally emancipated from "caprices of genes". He continues further his argument to say that we must quit from considering the touching to human genome as an absolute taboo. For him, this is the beginning of a new era in which man can be perfectly detached from the chain of karma, the metempsychosis. At least we have to note that this is a quite curious contact of a hypermodern vision of life with a Buddhist assumption. But of course, the aim of the author is not to revive a Buddhist vision of life, but rather to use this traditional common background for the promoting a contemporary technical intervention to genetic resources, in order to make it less scandalous and offending.
(D) I think that this designing intention for the human genome is in fact only a partial expression of the big and general problematic that has much larger scope than this specific case. I mean we must understand this interventional attitude toward the human genome is an expression of our essential artificiality. As a rather weak existence, the human being strived always to modify the environment so as to make it fit to his natural condition. The environment has become in a course of history a semi-humanized environment. We live actually in a sort of mixture of raw materials and materialized design that the human technology has realized and accumulated (34). Of course, not all of scholars around the genetics are aware of this ontological background, but some of them develop explicitly their philosophy of artificiality in their own manner (35). In effect, besides gene modification, we are facing new artificial mode of life with cyberspace or SSRI (Prozac) (36) etc., to name but a recent comer. In this sense, the reemergence of pro-eugenic discourses is only a reconfirmation of our artificial and technical existence, founded on the decisional design and materialization through engineering practices.
(E) To give a transitive conclusion to this brief essay, I would like to reflect again on the philosophical meaning of the contemporary situation of a new eugenics, and the possible advent of designer child. The reason why I made those analyses is to draw finely a dividing line between "nature as given" and "nature as construction". Quite paradoxically, the close attention to the actual and possible development of genetics and to its social and cultural meaning happens to reveal a following essential fact: The important part that determines the way we are, our culture, our social responsibility, our love and affection toward our family and friends etc. is not a "geometrical" copy of the physiological mechanism that gives an outer frame of human activity. Almost in a dialectical mode, a possible moment by which we acknowledge our deep anchoring to a naturalist substratum turns into a moment for reconfirmation of the "designing" character of human culture. It is very important to be conscious that a concentrative analysis upon cutting-edge research on human genetics and some new problems like the new liberal eugenics or designer baby doesn't mean in no way that one agrees automatically with a genetic determinism or genetic fatalism. On the contrary, when we articulate cultural meaning of the advent of new eugenics or the foresight of designer child, we can discover concomitantly that we are talking about "values" under the aegis of which people continues to choice and live. And unless we are advocates of strident and extreme naturalism, we won't pretend that those values represent some natural causation. In effect, values are construction of a designing intention. And when one talks about "design", one makes previously an unconscious choice so as not to imitate our outer world like a mirror reflects an image. A design is not a copy. Epistemologically, designing presupposes a subjective and constructive moment. Ontologically, designing evokes a new emergence of being. It is no trivial coincidence that we use the concept of design quite often in engineering sciences, because designing involves essentially a making, and an invitation for coming of a new existence.
Thus, "the philosophy of designer child" reveals us an interesting point: Almost certainly we will continue to investigate more closely on our genetic resources, but it doesn't mean that we will discover our secret guiding scheme that has always existed from an inchoative era of humanization. On the contrary, because we have already a history of biotechnology after 1970's with the technique of recombinant DNA etc., and that we will be able to intervene more and more precisely into "the being of human genome", we won't stop to "design" our genome in order to make it fit more delicately to our cultural values. In other words, between designing propulsion and educational adjustment, we must continue to strive to regulate our activities in a more and more larger scope of possible technical interventions, so as to determine what kind of human being we really want to be, how we can achieve the state in which we would want to attain. During the working process, we are lead to acknowledge again the important fact that we are not the being bestowed from God or Heaven, but the being becoming incessantly to make ourselves. A scandalous portrait of semi-imaginary "designer child" exhibits in effect a very inspiring substance of human culture. Designer child is an indirect and evocative expression of our designed identity.