NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 13, 2008

Should we create "designer humans" with increased physical attributes?  If so, who should dictate when and how such procedures can be used?  Economist Francis Fukuyama proposes a new agency to oversee the approval of new medicines, procedures and technologies for human health, which would exert broader control than current regulation, by including other societal voices that are prepared to make judgments about the technology's social and ethical implications.

This additional interference smacks of anti-libertarian nanny-statism, says Henry Miller, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.  Moreover, it ignores the fact that our society now affords wide latitude to those who choose to enhance their appearance or health in other ways, says Miller:

  • Drugs are commonly tested and commercialized for relatively trivial indications, such as modest obesity, stuffy nose, age spots and baldness.
  • The injectable drug Botox, widely used to treat nothing more ominous than wrinkles, is one of the best-selling drugs in the United States
  • There have been numerous clinical trials of appetite suppressants, memory and performance enhancing drugs and human growth hormone for hormonally normal but short children.

Gene therapy is an extension of drug and surgical treatments, and part of a continuum of medical interventions that introduce or modify DNA or modulate genes' activity.

Over half a century, these therapies have raised many medical and ethical questions similar to those of gene therapy.  Issues such as whether a patient suffers from a condition that warrants treatment, the kinds and magnitude of risks, and equal access to therapy, are fundamentally no different for gene therapy than for other interventions.  Even when used for enhancement, gene therapy should not be treated differently from other medical interventions, says Miller.

Source: Henry Miller, "Natural Selection," The Guardian, May 8, 2008.

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