At last week’s International Summit on Human Gene Editing, philosopher John Harris
made the case for heritable human genetic modification. According to
three reliable sources with previous experience of the Manchester-based
Harris, he did so in a significantly more understated manner than
One is compelled to conclude that in mid-season form, his act
lacks only a red nose and a dancing bear to qualify for an old-fashioned
circus (which the Summit was not). Straw men blazed under the withering scorn of his sarcastic ridicule (unlike Monty Python's Doug Piranha,
litotes seems not to be part of his arsenal). Some of his gags are so
old and trite that I remember them from my own childhood, and at least
one particularly sexist poke has been rolling around for 90-odd years. Talking points that should long have been left to rot in peace were exhumed and animated as if by Dr. Frankenstein himself.
OK, enough. A little comedy is fine, but it should be a seasoning, not the main dish.Video of his performance can be found here (Day 1, Part 3). (Deaf activists
pushed for captioning but there’s none on the archived version.) There
seems to be no official transcript, but I had access to an audio
recording. Much of the talk was included in two preprints he handed
out, and also in this peer-reviewed article and this Op-Ed. The italicized numbered headings are accurate paraphrases of Harris’ comments, and all quotations have been checked.
Attempting to Rebut the Objections
Harris began by listing, and attempting to counter, what he
understands to be three principal objections to human germline
interventions that are “very obvious and obviously fallacious and
dogmatic.” In brief, they are: these affect future generations; the
risks to future generations are unacceptable; and consent from future
generations cannot be obtained. On all three, his characterizations and
counter-arguments are, to put it politely, seriously flawed.
Posted in A "Post-Human" Future?, Assisted Reproduction, Bioethics, Eugenics, Global Governance, Human Rights, Inheritable Genetic Modification, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, US Federal
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