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Category: 10. 4/25 Biotech and Society

Designing a Baby: the Market and the Concerns

Designer babies are in high demand. The market is expanding in a consumer oriented society. This creates a cause for concern if designer babies and the market surrounding it are ethical. The market for designer babies, a biotechnology, includes preimplantation genetic diagnosis, in vitro fertilisation (IVF), sperm banks, surrogacy, and counseling. Designer babies impact on society is important to analyze because it could change the relationship between people and having babies. Continue reading

Brave New or Same Old?

The further back we look, the simpler life seems. To the prehistoric human, it was no more than living from day to day, keeping a full stomach and looking out for anything that might want to fill its stomach with you. As we advanced, society became more complex, one had to think about his crops, about his relationship to the landowner, his neighbors and so on. It gradually got to where we are today, where we are for the most part the same as our ancestors from tens of thousands of years ago but have made our lives unimaginably complex compared to theirs. However, what is the consequence of this complexity? Is it happiness, or are we just distracting ourselves from what we truly want; making our lives unnecessarily complex by polishing essays at 3 AM in the morning?

I think it’s reasonable to say that most people today would not want to go back and live in a pre-civilized society, why would they? With all the comforting aspects of modern life, we would definitely be miserable if those were taken away. This, however, is oddly similar to the contrast between the “Savage Reservation” and the “World State” from Brave New World. One is a society in which many problems of the past are not even in the back of people’s minds, but I would still argue it is not one that is objectively better for everyone.

Just by looking at the complexity of modern life, it is no wonder we live in a stress epidemic. We are constantly under pressure to perform and give 110% in order to be successful. However, what is meant by success? Is it directly proportional to happiness? Definitely not. This is the easiest to see in developed countries amongst the upper classes. The number of anti-depressants being prescribed are at a record high, and we are currently living in an opioid epidemic, one which is primarily affecting successful people in developed countries. Therefore, a society which removes the need for living a day-to-day life for most people does not necessarily lead to happiness. However, neither does one without the comforts of modern life.

Most of us would not even have the skillset required to live in a society 200-300 years ago, let alone even further in the past. However, the same statement holds for those that were born into those times. It’s a common theme amongst people that we strive towards achieving certain values, however, we are still most fond of what we grew up in. Happiness and fulfillment in humans is not an objective goal. Different cultures have vastly different values and strive towards those as their definition of success. Therefore, is it really on us, outsiders from neither the Savage Reservation nor the World State to judge the morality of their society? Just as John wasn’t too impressed with the “civilized world”, I am fairly certain none of us would agree to live in either of the communities from Brave New World.

 

The Disabled in the Second Wave of Eugenics

    Eugenics, the selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations, has been both an admired and a highly controversial branch of science.  Birthed in the mid-nineteenth century by British scholar Francis Galton upon his discovery of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, this field of study has inspired scientific communities and governments throughout the world to seek advancement of the human population and eradication of social issues by selectively promoting reproduction among favored individuals and by inhibiting reproduction with unfavorable individuals. This cause for eugenics even compelled certain authorities to implement forced sterilization and, most strikingly, the utter genocide of Jews and other peoples by Nazi Germany. With such egregious events having occurred in the name of eugenics, the drastic decline in the popularity of this field is indeed feasible. Continue reading

The Benefits of Backward Biological Thinking

      Many people believe that the government and higher powers should not be able to influence the actions and liberties of biological beings; they believe it is immoral and cruel. However, even in our current society, many animals, humans included, have their liberties restricted and their actions and biological systems controlled. From genetically modified chickens to China’s one-child policy, there are and have been establishments controlling the biology and liberty of living beings. From a moral standpoint, many people are disturbed by these actions. However, limiting and modifying the biology and abilities of animals has undeniable benefits, such as reducing the human population, increasing food availability, and protecting endangered animals. By modifying biological systems through genetically modified organisms(GMOs), and establishing policies that limit population, there could be undeniable benefits for both society and the natural environment.

        Genetically modified organisms(GMOs) can provide food for those in need and can increase the well-being of the environment in doing so. Humanity has exceeded its carry capacity, resulting in famines and food-insecurities across the globe. Currently, nearly 800 million people across the globe are suffering from starvation (borgenproject.org). While food waste is largely to blame for this situation, a lack of available food across the globe is also a major cause of the crisis. Furthermore,  in an attempt to supply food to the growing population, many species are being over-hunted, particularly fish. Genetically modified organisms could allow for more efficient food production by increasing the size of the product and increasing its yield. For instance, genetically engineered salmon have recently been approved for consumption. Being far larger than traditional salmon, these fish not only provide more food for people, but they also decrease the draw and necessity of hunting natural salmon. In this way, a natural species is being preserved, and more food is made available to the public. Furthermore, an increasing number of crops are becoming genetically engineered, allowing for larger plants, pest resistance, and other desired traits. However, there is a serious controversy over the environmental ethics of GMOs, and there are concerns that GMOs will not be able to adapt to pest mutations. While these concerns are not unprecedented,  at their roots GMOs have serious potential to increase food production and have already proven the capability of outperforming natural crop varieties. Using genetic engineering, pesticides can be rendered unnecessary, which would greatly improve environmental health. Furthermore, due to the potential increased yield of GMOs, more land can be devoted to preserving natural habitats that would otherwise not exist if they were converted to farmland (nytimes.com). If more species and plant types were genetically modified, the potential food increase and preservation of species would be drastically increased.

        Enacting policies that would limit the number of children women can have would be highly beneficial for the environment and society. As a result of our ever-growing population, we are consuming more resources, namely fossil fuels, which cause climate change. Furthermore, the increasing human population is resulting in famines and food-insecurities across the globe.  If our population were to decrease, emissions and consumption would naturally decrease alongside, lessening environmental destruction. Many people argue that it is inhumane and ineffective to limit the number of children women can have. However, what is more important, the right to have more than one child, or the right for countless species to continue to survive on this planet, humans included? If people were only permitted to produce one child the environmental benefits would be incomparable. The single best way to decrease environmental degradation is decreasing the world’s population (ES118). If policies were enacted like the one-child policy in China,  there would be no death or pain involved in the reduction of the human population. Furthermore, if the population did decrease by this means, starvation and general consumption would decrease, causing existing humans to be able to use essential resources that they may otherwise not be able to have. Decreasing birth rates would cause no physical damage to anyone or anything; instead, it would result in vital environmental restoration and would improve the well-being of the human race.

        Biotechnology and biological control inevitably bring up the moral question: Is it okay to alter natural biology, and will its benefits outweigh the ramifications it could have on society? Controlling biology could drastically improve the well-being of our society and the world. However, research needs to be conducted on the dangers of specific technologies and policies that would control biology before they are implemented. With the pressing environmental crisis and climate change, humanity needs to come up with new solutions if it wishes to save the world from further environmental degradation. Biotechnology and policies regulating childbirth could solve this problem by increasing food production and decreasing the human population in a manner that avoids suffering.

Sources:

https://vittana.org/24-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-gmos

 

https://greengarageblog.org/13-main-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-gmos

 

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMhpr051833

 

https://borgenproject.org/how-many-people-are-starving-around-the-world/

 

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/20/business/genetically-engineered-salmon-approved-for-consumption.html

 

ES 118 Lecture

 

The Detriment of Utopia

In “Brave New World” we saw a programmed happiness ultimately being a horrible way to live. We saw the discovery of a lack of truth, and we saw complete control of the state. We saw happiness obtained by strict structuring and no flexibility. So what we actually saw was more of the brainwashing of the population, rather than complete happiness. But what if happiness had been achieved through peace and understanding. What if our “happiness index” did eventually max out? Would this be better than the dystopia of brave new future? No doubt. However, is the achievement of utopia really goal?

Imagine living in a world where there was no conflict; it is a world we strive for. There would be no war, no discrimination and no hate. In this kind of society there would be a strong welfare to ensure that no people were struggling with poverty. There would be accessible travel across the world, and our doors would be open to any visitor. There would be no conflict and no competition. We would have reached what might seem like maximum progress. But would this make people happy? I do not believe it would.

I do not mean to be cynical, nor do I intend to argue that people enjoy hateful things. However, it is human nature to compete and improve. We pick favorite sports teams and stand by them ruthlessly. We enjoy every game or match and cheer at fights and victories alike. It is interesting and provides people with a goal, and sort of purpose. Competition also pushes people towards progress. Look at  the space race in the 60’s! Without Russia’s motivation, would the United States have landed on the moon when they did? Or would we be years behind in the technology we have aquired? On a smaller scale, competition in athletics as well as academics pushes young athletes and students to work hard and discover their limits and abilities; a runner rarely runs their fastest time without their competitor on their heels. Competition can be fun, healthy, and incredibly beneficial. Without it–no matter how peaceful–people would not be pushed to their limits, and therefore would not reach their full potential. Collectively this would lead to a peaceful society falling further and further behind.

Additionally, while I am in no means pro-conflict, and truly believe that conflict can and should exist without violence, society would be held back without any sort of disagreement. To specify: To be without conflict, would mean people never argued with each other, never challenged each other, and never pushed for more, or better information and understanding. If people took everything at face value there would never be doubt, nor accusation. There would also never be righting of wrong information or actions. Professor Fleming encourages his students to challenge everything they hear, and ask questions rather than believing everything they hear. This is the only way to ensure the furthering of our understandings of life, and progress our society forwards–scientifically, technologically and even socially.

Although I would never argue in favor of violence, hate, or the disrespect of others, I think inevitably, finding complete peace could be detrimental. Even if this peace was achieved virtuously rather than programmed by government, without challenging each other, and pushing forwards, we will never learn more nor improve. I believe a life like that, no matter how calm, is not a happy one. A clear example is that of the 50’s housewives. No matter how affluent those women were, they were unable to find fulfillment in the consistent lives of cleaning and cooking. There is overwhelming evidence that even the most prosperous needed more than peace; they needed purpose in their lives. The only way to achieve that is to have a meaningful impact towards the progress of society. To learn, and educate in order to push forwards. Peace is not calm, coherency, without conflict and competition. Peace, as an ideal, is an open-mindedness towards the progressive evolution of science, technology and society.

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