Thursday, February 07, 2008

And furthermore, what?

Some days, you are at work pushing money around from one big company to another, and you just start to wonder, what is the point of human existence? Granted, this is a question that has consumed philosophical minds for centuries - indeed, for perhaps as long as human beings have been conscious. Not just as long as desk jobs have existed. But I digress.

Probably because I grew up reading fantasy literature, this question has always had a somewhat sci-fi edge to it in my mind, and that impression was only heightened by the short article I read today on Discovery News about human fetuses being created from the DNA of three parents.

The logic behind these experiments is very simple: if there is a small part of DNA in two parents which could result in a debilitating disorder, using the DNA from a third-party allows science to help the embryo bypass the potentially harmful effects while still creating a child from using boy & girl parts from the original two people. This makes a great deal of sense to me, because as much as the sci-fi nerd in me has bred an inborn fear of the Apocalypse (no, not the Biblical one! Perhaps I shouldn't have capitalized?), I am generally in favor of medical science. And not being ill.

However, I can't help but wonder what this type of in-vitro fertilization will eventually mean for our conception of mankind. Scientists in the article insist that "it would be incorrect to say that the embryos have three parents." Yet it seems to me that human beings, when conceptualizing their own "whatness" (I choose this word because I've already used "being" too much, plus it makes people sound like robots or objects. Cool), do not think in such simple, logical terms.

Adopted children, no matter how much they love the parents who raised them, often get the urge to know or at least meet their birth parents. Not because they find the families that they know inauthentic (keep in mind that I'm generalizing here based on the media perception and documentation of adoption), but because there is some small part of them that wishes to view their origins - the genetic building blocks that came together to result in their very existence.

With the nature/nurture argument placed on temporary time-out, I can sympathize with that logic. Because looking at any part of my body, or contemplating any single aspect of my own mind, brings the inexorable belief that we are complicated and fortuitous little chemistry experiments, and that researching my biological and psychological roots is the sensible first step to understanding myself. I mean, I'm not there yet, but it's a start.

And so I find it hard to believe that a child who carries the DNA of three people would not be curious about the third contributor to their genetic makeup - that some small part of that child would not consider that person a parent (at least when they got old enough to be cripplingly self-analytical).

So while I don't believe that the essence of one's humanity is negatively affected by starting out in a lab, I do think that this discovery is more definitive than simple in-vitro fertilization. Because it is contributing a new angle to the age old question: what are we? And while this may be less important, it is contributing no answers.

******Image credit: 'Good Morning in Room 220' by MegElizabeth on

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