I was watching a documentary on the Science Channel this evening about deep space travel in the next 100 years from now. Apparently, in order for humans to survive the long term trip and be able to colonize a semi-habitable planet, some genetic engineering may need to take place. From prolonging life to the ability to fall into suspend animation, but also even changing the physical appearance (they brought as an example the fact that the cockroach shell is a good shield against cosmic radiation). At the end, the scientists talking in the documentary very enthusiastically mentioned that the human race must fork and create a new sub-species depending on the kind of planet that they are destined to colonize.
So how ethical is this? According to the scientists it is the only way, because emulating the Earth conditions as we see on scifi shows is pretty impossible for more than one reasons. But I am sure, according to religious or everyday people, something like this would be out of the question. They would not approve the creation of a modified human being to have a shell, or to have claws, or to have a full-body fur or to be able to withstand heat.
What makes a human, human? Is it the genes, the intelligence, the “soul”, or all of the above? And so what if the new species is not 100% human? Do we have the right to play God? Think that mutations happen everyday naturally before you answer though.
My personal position is that there should not be important genetic engineering taking place if there is no major reason to do so and only allow it for those who need it to survive (like the space travellers would). But then again, we never asked these new human beings if they wanted to be different in the first place… We took the decision for them. But then again, the personal needs are not as important as the continuation of the species and life, and in a few hundrend years it might be critical that humans might need to find a new place to live (cause we have consumed most natural resources already and we have overpopulated Earth). These are important reasons and so sometimes we might need to bend the ethical rules a bit in order to allow a PART of us continue living.
Before watching that documentary I was not very fond of genetic engineering, but now I think that it indeed has its uses. Like with any technology, it’s how you use it.