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Thursday November 30, 2000

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Too dangerous to handle

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By Nick Zeckets

Scanners in malls able to identify your genetic code. Big Brother watching each move of every categorized human. Rich families engineering the best and brightest while poor societies and races of people are phased out. This is the promise of genetic engineering. Welcome to Gattaca. Despite the prospect of a healthy world, the political economy of human worth will defile the technology.

Recently, in Minnesota, a genetically screened baby boy was used to save the life of his six year old sister. Screened to ensure the child was devoid of any mutation or illness, young Adam's umbilical cord blood was infused into Molly Nash to save her from dying of Fanconi anemia. Adam's alive, but what extent will someone go to harvest necessary human parts? You think that Cherub will get his wings?

Already, human life is being compromised. Every day, on average, over 13,000 people die worldwide. Their causes range from accidents to disease. No matter the cause, their deaths were imminent. Everyone dies. It is immoral to create one in order to save another.

There are, obviously, a slew of inherent benefits in developing genetic screening technology. Given that children can be screened before birth, disease and malformations could be avoided. Much disease could be phased out. However, that leaves the rest of the world in a load of quicksand. As Americans and their developed-nation counterparts become the ever more perfect race, Africa, the greater part of Asia, Eastern Europe and much of Oceania will continue to suffer and become increasingly unable to meet global production standards.

Even in America, a disparity will emerge. The nation's economic elite will be able to pay for their "ultimate" babies. Men and women of great physical stature, immeasurable intellect and drive would all but leave the underclass in the dust. Already, the national ruling class has a tight hold on business and government. Allowing them to design "flawless" successors would forever extend class separations.

To those with psychological defects, heart problems, cancer and other various ailments, my heart goes out. I live hooked to a portable I.V. to combat my own affliction of diabetes but can step back to note the implications of genetic screening. Even if one cannot pay to select the ultimate baby, genetic screening could spark a wave of abortions. Might my life have been nullified? The thought is too frightening to contemplate.

If regulations could be enforced to only screen for sickness and proper funding were supplied to "buy" healthy children, the case for genetic screening would be much stronger. However, there is always a black sheep. Among the luxury hotels of the Bahamas, an institute would pop up catering to the rich. Europe would have "retreats" where doctors would specialize in "alternative obstetrics." There will always be a loophole to the rules.

Genetic screening is a scientific triumph; the unlocking of the human secret. Kudos to the developers for their genius. The world must, though, be conservative and realistic in its approach to this body of knowledge. Money buys a lot already, but buying a perfect human is wrong. Regardless of spiritual belief, there is a creative force at work that should not be fiddled with. Tears fall at the thought of more human suffering at the hand of disease or genetic mutation, but the costs of eliminating these difference are far outweighed by the impending realities of a genetically engineered elite.

Nick Zeckets is a Political Science/near-Eastern studies Junior. He can be reached at