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Is genetic enhancement a good idea?

In the third of this year's BBC Reith Lectures, political philosopher Professor Michael Sandel explores the moral limits of genetic enhancement. Where should the line be drawn?

New genetic technologies hold great promise for treating and preventing debilitating diseases.

But they also raise difficult questions about how far we should go in using them to manipulate our muscles, moods and memory.

Should we limit our biotechnical ingenuity to curing illness and repairing injury, or should we also seek to re-engineer our bodies and minds to overcome our inherent genetic flaws?

Should parents be able to decide the sex of their child? Should deaf parents be able to "choose" to have a deaf child? Is it ethical to create genetically enhanced bionic athletes? Where would you draw the line?

Listen to the programme and read the transcript here:

Subscribe to the Reith podcast:

Published: Monday, 22 June, 2009, 22:49 GMT 23:49 UK

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 21:15 GMT 22:15 UK

I don't see how any enhancements to the functionality of the human body is morally wrong. If we could genetically code everyone to stay healthy then that would be brilliant. "Extra" enhancements to intelligence, strength etc. are fine too in my mind.

The only danger is that the view of what is "healthy" might be skewed and in the worst case scenario we would become a race of clones. I doubt it would ever come to that though since people will always strive to be unique.

[hyswaofy], Poulton-le-Fylde, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK

I don't think that I would ever "draw the line" beyond creating an entirely new organism, which has enormous ramifications. As for growing clone bodies, organs, gene treatment, augmentation, personal modifications, elimination of genetically-based diseases, etc? Go for it.

Hugh Morley, Ashford, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:53 GMT 21:53 UK

I listened to the lecture and have to say that the doughty proffessor certainly hit the nail on the head. I have to say that I think we take so much for granted and that we are in danger of disturbing a very delicate balance.

Tony Jackson, Welling

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:52 GMT 21:52 UK

Yes this is a great idea!

The only way forward for us as a species is genetics.

martin harris, London, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:22 GMT 21:22 UK

To treat illness is one thing to create a superior master rsce of individuals who are faster stronger quicker is another.

Ged, Liverpool

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:15 GMT 21:15 UK

It is like most other major issues some good can happen many sick may find a cure, but always we have the person who will take this too far Mess with the species to satisfy their curiosity or make money
The first test tube baby brought so much joy now it is an industry for making and destroying babies and bank books
Nature is a wonderful thing but we mess with her at our peril
The vaccination seemed great now babies are born to those vaccinated as children with no immunity, care is needed

LYDIA REID, EDINBURGH Scotland

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 20:10 GMT 21:10 UK

genetic anything associated with humans should be banned ..that includes IVF and all the other pregnancy aids that are only helping the increase in world population we already have a world too full of people and far too many babies ..if someone wants a baby do a Madonna

[oldsitkaspruce]

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:54 GMT 20:54 UK

i think this depends on whose "morals" you are using!! excluding religious views which are completely irrelevant, on balance i would say the good outweighs the harm, though i am still skeptical! but then the world used to be flat, candlelight was all you needed and white spots on your nails meant lack of calcium... all untrue

craig rowland, newport, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:52 GMT 20:52 UK

The majority of vain, self-conscious individuals spend their entire lives trying to look glamorous. I see nothing wrong in that provided they limit their efforts to cosmetics and dress-style.

To manipulate our natural features, whether these be imperfections at birth, or bulging stomachs in later years is, however, pathetic. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if we cannot see through to another's real mind and soul without baulking at physical defects, then I feel sorry for our future

milvusvestal, Ramsey

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK

I look forward to the day when genetics is an accepted technology and people stop treating it as some sort of devil worshipping nonsense.

dominic mcbride, glasgow

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK

Advances in modern medicine have shaped the lives of millions starting from the days of Edward Jenner and Louis Pasteur. I dont see an issue using genetics for treating illnesses as tomorrow , it may benefit one of us or someone we love.
Legislation has to play an important role in gatekeeping the legitimacy of genetic treatments. Disputes arising can be dealt with through the courts but let the science survive.

[sideffects]

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK

You can't make a general rule. Each case must be considered on its individual merits.
There's a big difference between dealing with the misery of genetic ills and vanity enhancements, just as there is between making a food plant disease resistant, or using a pesticide resistance to make small farmers dependant on your company.

[Parish_Spinster], Delft, Netherlands

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:35 GMT 20:35 UK

There is vast difference between curing inherent cancers to designing a super athlete and this is where the line needs to be drawn. Also cant we be happy with the miracle of birth, both naturally or through IVF treatment? What does it say for humankind to pick and choose boy or girl, bonde or dark? Are we really so self indulgent?

Paul Price, Carmarthen, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:20 GMT 20:20 UK

In these days of testing for abnormalities, i believe that any brethren should also be tested - e.g. any defects could be assessed to the end of prevention of infections, rather than cure.

To catch it "in the bud" would prevent the need for unnecessary "50/50"s.

There is a great deal about inherit disease that people have either; a) never been tested for, or b) have yet to be linked.

Darren Voysey, Crediton, United Kingdom

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Added: Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 19:18 GMT 20:18 UK

No, there are too many imponderables. Science defines what man knows, but there is so much more that we don't know. We still don't know the long term effects on our species' health of all the medicines, vaccines and food additives to which we are subjected. The forbidden apple in Eden, Pandora's box, Frankenstein's monster - these myths and legends MEAN something REAL. Some deep part of the mind warns us that we are going too far and that some things should be left alone.

[dudeiancan]

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