January 1, 2003

January 2003

Use Genetic Knowledge to Improve Ourselves, Group Says

[Tuesday, January 21, 2003] Almost 50 years after Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA, the question is now what we'll do with our genetic knowledge. In a year when many will celebrate Watson and Crick's discovery, one group aims to promote this answer: Humans should use it to improve themselves.

"We are half-baked. Humanity in its current form is a promising beginning, but clearly not the final word. We get sick, we age, we have relatively feeble intellects and we don't always feel as well as we would wish," says Nick Bostrom, chair of the World Transhumanist Association. "Thanks to genetic engineering and other anticipated capabilities such as nanotechnology and artificial intelligence, we will be able to finish the job that evolution started, and attain unprecedented levels of human flourishing."

On February 28, 1953 Francis Crick walked into an English pub to announce that he and James Watson had discovered the secret of life.

Their discovery of DNA's structure allowed for the Human Genome Project, which mapped the human genetic code. Researchers are now working to determine each gene's responsibility, as well as to relate diseases with genetic mutations.

Watson has spoken on the need for more aggressive application of genetic technologies, and this is now becoming a possibility.

According to Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future, the work of the Human Genome Project will lead to techniques and technologies that within 10 to 15 years allow us to alter our biology. We can then begin to "write a new page in the history of life, allowing us to seize control of our evolutionary future," writes Stock.

But the promise of genetic technology can only be realized with wider public awareness of its potential to prevent the public backlash that commonly confronts new science, says the WTA.

"The sensational Raelian cloning claims and the recent suspension of gene therapy experiments after research subjects developed leukemia highlight the challenges that lay ahead," says James Hughes, secretary of the WTA. "There will be setbacks and the public's panic buttons will be pushed by Luddite opportunists. So the Transhumanist movement is essential to the future of genetic research. Only the Transhumanists explicitly defend humanity's right to take control of evolution through free individual choices among technologies that have been shown to be safe and effective."

Redesigning Human Bioethics
While making it possible, scientists have been shy about promoting human genetic reengineering. But times are changing

The Cult of Irresponsible Cloning
A wacky religious sect and misguided scientists are giving Transhumanists and other advocates of reproductive choice a bad name

While Condemning Reckless Raelians, Canadian Transhumanists Affirm Cloning as a Valid Reproductive Choice
Toronto Transhumanist Association believes human cloning will one day become a beneficial and positive procedure, but wish to distance themselves from unethical groups and scientists

Toronto, Ontario, January 3, 2002 -- With the Raelians announcing the birth of a human clone, blanket condemnations are flooding in. Most of the criticisms, however, are misdirected, and fail to mention reproductive cloning's potential benefits and supporters.

Virtually every cloned animal to date has been born with some sort of defect or abnormality (assuming they make it in the first place, as the majority of prospective clones die before birth). Even when seemingly healthy clones are born they can develop problems with their kidneys, liver, heart, blood vessels, skin, musculature of the body wall and immune system. They are also likely to have limb and facial abnormalities. And it's been reported that some cloned mice have continued growing to gigantic proportions, and that some animals are born with their insides on the outside.

In their haste to produce the first human clone, the Raelians and their renegade Clonaid biologists exposed babies to these sorts of risks. Yes, critics should be directing their disgust at the Raelians and the maverick scientists who helped them clone a human before the procedure was safe. But they should be careful about saying that all scientists and ethicists are against reproductive cloning, or that the act itself is evil.

"The media is reporting that scientists and ethicists believe reproductive cloning is in principle bad," says Simon Smith, president of the Toronto Transhumanist Association. "This is not the case. Most scientists and ethicists are opposed to reproductive cloning at present, as the technology is imperfect and dangerous. Many, however, see no problem with cloning in principle. When it's perfected, it will be merely another option in the growing list of reproductive choices."

The Toronto Transhumanist Association is a supporter of reproductive cloning, but denounces all attempts to clone humans until the technology is perfected. Until then, it wishes to distance itself as much as possible from unethical people and groups who are putting human lives at risk.

“Human cloning will someday be a good thing,” says TTA vice-president George Dvorsky. “For infertile couples who cannot make babies with sperm and eggs, cloning is a medical breakthrough that will provide them children of their own. Similarly, it will help gay and lesbian couples produce genetically related offspring. And for those individuals with inheritable genetic diseases, reproductive cloning will give them an increased chance of having a healthy child."

“Transhumanists believe that humans deserve the right to clone themselves should they choose, so long as the process isn’t harmful to others," says Dvorsky. "It is hard to imagine parents of clones being any less loving and caring than parents of regular children. Clones are nothing more than delayed twins, and are just as human and as deserving of rights and respect as anyone.”

As our bodies have been molded by the physical environment, the characteristics of our thoughts and beliefs have been shaped by the memetic environment within which we reside; we are utterly limited by the ideas we’ve been exposed to.

Intrinsically, we are rational creatures, and accordingly, we strive to make sense of the limited data we are exposed to. But our reasoning skills only take us so far; we are also effected by various biological vestiges (i.e. emotions, hormones, autonomic responses, etc.) and the social environment. Our belief systems are subsequently influenced by non-rational forces, leading to the large number of unfounded memes and memeplexes that exist in our societies.