Will Genetic Engineering Produce a Master Race and a Servile Multitude?

By Johnson, Paul | The Spectator, March 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

Will Genetic Engineering Produce a Master Race and a Servile Multitude?


Johnson, Paul, The Spectator


We are entering the third millennium in a fine ethical mess. Science is advancing at such a rate, especially in biotechnology, that the labs are ahead of the professional bodies, let alone the legislators and especially the thinkers, who ought to be working out the rules from first principles. We now know that two months ago a South Korean laboratory cloned a human egg taken from a woman who had no idea what was being done to her bodily property. The man responsible, Lee Bo Yon, says he destroyed the clone `for ethical reasons' a few days later, but adds that his work is continuing. Strictly speaking, cloning babies is unlawful here, under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990), but this hasty piece of legislation is widely regarded by scientists as unlikely to survive. The British Medical Association seems to have changed its line. Having originally opposed cloning, its ethics advisers recently proposed legal changes which would allow cloning experiments, though embryos would have to be destroyed after a fortnight. Now its head of health policy research, Professor Vivian Nathanson, says it should be made lawful to clone babies for infertile couples or for parents with sick children.

From the legal clone-baby in special cases to the designer-baby for those who can afford one is only a small step. It will certainly be taken if human cloning is allowed at all. I have been arguing for some time that what makes genetic engineering fatally attractive is that its products fit so neatly into the consumer society. Once wealthier parents know that it is possible to have their future baby equipped with fair skin, blond hair, blue eyes, to be perfectly formed and immune to all the major diseases, they are going to buy the option whatever it costs, and encourage its legalisation. The social engineering of the 20th century, which ended in Auschwitz and the Gulag, and happily is now discredited, was never popular. It was imposed on helpless populations by authoritarian elites. But genetic engineering - the coming cardinal sin of the 21st century - is just what the doctor ordered. It will be driven by public demand and private money, marketed and advertised, bought and sold like cosmetic surgery, breast enhancement and all the other products of commercial medicine. It will not merely be popular but will generate its own lobbies, which will throw down any legislative fences likely to be erected. The industry will soon be enormous and seen as indispensable.

Moreover, the ability of the affluent to ensure that their progeny enjoy better health will aggravate the future problems outlined by Charles Murray in his book The Bell Curve. The main message of that remarkable summary of the available evidence about heredity was not the varying intelligence of racial categories, on which the media concentrated, but the tendency in modern societies for the intelligent and well-educated to intermarry and produce even more intelligent offspring who will get a better education as well. Murray warned us of the abyss between an overclass capable of exploiting a high-technology world demanding ever-growing skills, and an underclass which has little intelligence, less education, no real skills, jobs or prospects, and whose offspring will very likely do even worse. If, in addition, the affluent produce genetically enhanced children, the likelihood of them marrying outside their own social, economic and genetic group will vanish and we will be heading for a caste society. …

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