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Hannah Davies on As the Future Catches You September 30, 2009

Posted by Hannah Davies in As The Future Catches You.
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“What makes us special is not the number of genes…
Or the fact that we share many of these with worms, plants, bacteria.
What is particular to humans is the complexity with which we network…
Our biological selves.”

Wow. I don’t know whether to feel elated or depressed after reading this book. It is a great celebration of our uniqueness as individuals, our closeness to other animals through the whole circle of life, and the impressive capacity of the human mind to figure it all out.
But what a terrifying indictment of human nature, if such advancement in knowledge is for the exclusive gain of the ever-decreasing chosen few, at the greater expense of the many. Can it possibly be true that such enlightenment is leading us down the path to greater global injustice? And that such technological and scientific innovation is suppressing, rather than catalysing, social innovation and improved social structures? How eerily ‘Brave New World’.
What struck me most about this book though, was President Clinton’s quote:
“We are learning the language in which God created life… without a doubt, this is the most important, most wondrous map ever produced by humankind.”
Above all, the book has left me feeling uncomfortable about the moral issues it raises. Are genomics a fulfilment of our creative potential as individuals, or a step too far in our desire to play God? Coming from the EU, where the debate surrounding genomics is particularly fierce – from our distaste of genetically modified food to a deep unease with ‘test-tube’ babies – I find myself troubled by our constant craving to control and manipulate the very essence of what we are. Especially if such ‘advancement’ is not for the greater good, but only the privileged few.
And yet, in the final call, I can’t help but admit that I’m one of those so-called golden billion, with much more to gain than to lose from genomic and technological advances. One of my best friends was diagnosed with a brain tumor eight years ago. Three operations and extensive radiotherapy later, the tumor is in temporary remission but the long-term prognosis is fragile. Morality and global injustice aside – if genomics holds the potential key to a permanent cure for my friend, do I want to be part of it? Yes, of course I do. For better or for worse, it seems the desire for survival is a more powerful element of human nature than any ethical considerations. I guess that’s written in our genes, too.

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