[LMB] Genetic engineering

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at zoho.com
Sat Oct 19 05:00:43 BST 2019

---- On Thu, 10 Oct 2019 21:01:09 -0700 Doug Weinfield <mailto:douglasw at his.com> wrote ----

“Their quality of life is determined largely by what supports they receive for their condition.”

“Supports” is trying to do too much in that sentence. Until we’re in a society of unlimited abundance, there will be trade offs. The money spent on supports could go to other social goods, ranging from research to the arts. 

And I have my doubts about the “only if they want to do it to themselves” criterion. There are many, many things that people choose for themselves that impose disproportionate costs on others, and some of these are deemed crimes and banned by law.  For instance, if there were genetic engineering that could eliminate sociopaths and psychopaths, with no other change, it might make sense to make that mandatory. Society might decide that the benefits are well worth the costs. 

Beatrice Otter
I am talking about people in current-day America, with the level of supports available now, not people in some hypothetical Star Trek future with replicators and such.  There are always tradeoffs, but there is also the fact that providing support so that people can live independent or semi-independent lives under their own control us usually cheaper than warehousing them in an institution.

I also have already said several times that there are a number of conditions (primarily those which have only downsides and which no one who has would like to keep) that I would be in favor of getting rid of.  Therefore, there will be *fewer* people with disabilities.  If we can provide at least basic supports to at least some people with disabilities in the here-and-now, I should think we would be able to provide better supports when there are fewer people that need them.  Especially since the most expensive part of most supports is the medical equipment to deal with physical problems a person has, and physical impairments are the most likely for the people who have them to choose to eliminate them.

And the thing about supports is, a lot of the time it's not something that requires huge resources when you plan for people with diverse ability levels ahead of time.  Curb cuts and elevators and ramps are a perfect example.  If you build without them, it's extremely expensive to retrofit in.  If you design for them in the first place and create buildings that are accessible from the get-go, the additional cost is negligible.  There are so many accommodations and supports for people with disabilities that are like that.  Then there are the supports that aren't about physical access or medical equipment, many of which are more about figuring out what's best for the individual instead of shoving them into cookie-cutter molds.  Having quiet spaces for people who get easily overwhelmed by stimuli, for example.  These are not hugely expensive; all they require is compassion and acceptance.

Many supports for people with disability are expensive, but many cost little or no money.  And if you are arguing that certain types of people ought not be allowed to exist because they are too expensive to society, well, that is a horrible and cruel way of looking at people with disabilities.

And if we're talking about the future and what resources might be available to societies capable of genetic engineering, there are a few factors that pretty much never get considered.
1) once societies hit industrialization, the wealth per capita rises quickly and continues to rise.  As technology progresses, so does the rate of wealth growth per capita.  The question of  wealth distribution is another matter (do you have lots of poor people and a small middle class and a few super-rich people?  do you have lots of middle-class people and not many at either end of the spectrum?), but the growth in productivity fuels a growth in material goods.  There will be recessions and depressions, but the general tend is growth.  Even in the USSR, as badly managed as it was, there was far greater wealth per capita in 1989 than in 1919.  In reality, as we are discussing how much of the pie different groups have or ought to have, we need to remember that the size of the pie increases over time, and increases faster than the mouths that would like to eat it.  You don't need to posit a Star Trek society of infinite abundance to believe that we have enough to support people in need if we choose to do so, without impoverishing the rest of society.

2) with industrialization and (especially) the growth of computers, physical goods become cheaper.  Motorized wheelchairs, noise cancellation devices, communication tablets, all have become VASTLY cheaper in just the last ten years.  So have artificial limbs, which can now be 3D printed.

Beatrice Otter

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