Recently, Jose Canseco and I were guests on a talk show to discuss gene doping, the genetic equivalent to anabolic steroids - a way to "juice up" to gain a competitive edge. It is possible that in the next few years athletes will be able to enhance their performance by altering their genetic make-ups. Canseco argued that gene doping "is definitely the next big step in evolution." Genetic enhancement, he said, "goes way beyond sports. Imagine an army of a million individuals who can out-think, out-use the environment in the sense of less food, more reaction time, better vision, better physical reaction . . . (T)he human race . . . is going to evolve and no one's gonna stop it."
It's easy to dismiss this as the ramblings of a B-list star struggling to keep himself in the limelight. Indeed, when Canseco released his now infamous "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big," this was most people's response. Yet we have been forced to swallow the bitter truthfulness of Canseco's pill. In the few months since "Juiced" was published, we've seen Congress threaten to rescind Major League Baseball's anti-trust exemption, a finger-waving Rafael Palmeiro told not to return to his team because he was becoming too embarrassing, and a belittled Big Mac, Mark McGwire, forced to essentially plead the Fifth.
Is Canseco correct? Is a society of genetically engineered super humans on the horizon? If we don't take action soon, it very well might be. What's particularly disturbing is a sense of inevitability articulated by Canseco and other advocates of this technology - including distinguished scholars who embrace it as an unqualified good.
This temptation of eugenics - using genetic and reproductive technologies to create a superior master race - is not new. Engineering humanity is hardly the inevitable next stage in evolution, but may be the unfortunate next step of an unregulated biotech industry. Genetic science may offer remarkable therapies for those who are sick, injured and suffering. But we can and should draw lines regarding acceptable and unacceptable uses.
We the people, not scientists intoxicated with hubris nor stockholders unaccountable to the public, have the right and responsibility to determine our common future. If we want to improve the human condition, let's make sure that all our children have food to eat and juice to drink - just not the kind that Canseco is pushing.
Osagie Obasogie, J.D., is project director with the Center for Genetics and Society's Project on Race, Disability and Eugenics.
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