Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Say Hello

Say hello to Lincoln Donald Hoffart, born on Wednesday May 23 at 4:19 p.m. by cesarean section, and weighing 8 lbs, 6 ozs at 20 1/2 inches long.

Lincoln Donald Hoffart

Lincoln and Daddy

We think thus far that he has my eyes, toes, and skin tone, but Mama's cheeks and legs.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Genetic Engineering and Natural Selection

I have for a long time been concerned at the fact that as humans we have all but removed ourselves from the process of natural selection. It turns out that since chimpanzees and humans split from our common ancestor, chimpanzees have had more (in terms of quantity) beneficial mutations than have humans, providing proof that this is the case. Our technology has allowed this to be so, and as technology advances, it becomes more and more the case.

Last night, Laura was reading an article about allergies. They are increasing in prevalence at an alarming rate. There's even an Eskimo (I believe in this case it's an Inupiat) boy who is allergic to bearded seal and something-or-other whale, two staples of their diet. This trend certainly can't be attributed to anything in the environment--it must be that nature would weed out these traits in an unhappy way, by killing off those with the trait before they get a chance to reproduce.

But today this doesn't happen. Now, people die more from unhappy circumstance than from having undesirable traits. I don't believe that we should change this. It seems wrong to let people die when we have the technology to save them. I, for one, would be dead without our advanced medical technology, since I needed an appendectomy at a young age. If you think about it, there's a good chance you would be dead too, even from something as minor as a flu. Plus, I have imperfect vision, which would not be a good trait for a hunter.

I've begun to think of our removal from natural selection as a natural selection strategy in itself. I think about cockroaches and how they've been removed from the process for millions of years simply because there's no reason for them to evolve. But we are different from cockroaches because our technology has actually caused us to deteriorate our gene pool rather than to stagnate it. But what if technology ceases to work as a crutch?

I had previously thought of a partial solution to the problem. I advocate the illegalization of reproductive assistance technology. You know: in vitro fertilization and the like. This would serve the purpose of eliminating from the gene pool those who can't reproduce naturally. I was discussing this with a law school friend about a year ago, and she pointed out that it's not really any different from any of our medical life-saving techniques, at least if applied before reproduction takes place. And as far as that goes, she's right to an extent. It is only a partial solution to the problem. Even so, I still advocate this position for the moral purpose of encouraging adoption. But what is the solution?

Enter the science of genetics. People cringe at the idea of genetic manipulation and the term "designer babies." There's some kind of sense that it's wrong, that it's playing God. But there's nothing we can put our fingers on to say, "Here! This is the reason it's wrong!"

But what if we used this technology for the very limited purpose of eliminating unwanted traits from the gene pool? Instead of engineering the prettiest babies, we'll only be concerned about engineering the healthiest and the fittest babies. Allergies will be a thing of the past. Cancer will be rare. The field of optometry will be an unknown, and spectacles will be curiosities of an age past. Is there anything wrong with that? It's the same thing as what we're doing already by fixing all of our problems, only it's one step better because we're preventing them from happening in the first place.

Now, I'm not really sure how you do this without using the reproductive technology that we already have. Perhaps you can't, and in such a case I would consider changing my position on that. But if people accept this position on moral grounds, then we may see the solution to one of mankind's biggest upcoming problems, and by the end of my lifetime. Before that we of course need to solve our energy issues and global warming, and then after this we can send people off to colonize other planets (I was pretty excited about the discovery of that possibly-inhabitable planet a mere 23 light years away).

So, is this moral position correct?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Edgar to be in the News

Well, it sounds like my wife's hometown of Edgar, Nebraska, is going to be in the local news. In this small town of 500, there was a murder-suicide in the bar just last night--and the victim lived across the street from my in-laws. As I understand it, the motive was that the victim was messing around with the perpetrator's wife.