"Improvement of the Species"

by Catherine Alfieri

Last year's Super Bowl featured a spot in which Christopher Reeve is portrayed as miraculously regaining his ability to walk.   This courageous man has vowed that this goal will be met within this decade.
Research from several sources promises cures for blindness via retinal and cortical chips - the cortical chip even may even confer a further ability to see in the dark.  Its researcher forecasts that the normally sighted will clamor for this procedure as it will become as easy to perform as the current Lasik surgery for the nearsighted.
Cochlear implants already allow previously deaf individuals to enjoy a modicum of hearing never thought possible.  
Hands and other body parts are reattached with various degrees of regained function.
There are very few of us who would not hail these advances in restoring life functions to the disabled.  Yet some individuals affected by each of the above conditions do not view these developments as necessary or good as they see their lives as normal, fulfilled and not in need of any tweaking.

Pharmacological advances have helped millions conquer depression, reduce hyperactivity, revive sexual potency, withdraw from substance abuse, lose weight and minimize wrinkles.  Plastic surgery allows resculpting of one's anatomy.   Some religious/psychological interventions even claim to extinguish homosexual tendencies.  Genetic mapping promises the possibilities of optimizing the characteristics of future generations.  With amniocentesis we can also preview our progeny and discard any that have less than desirable attributes.

We are a society that prides ourselves on being the best, celebrating excellence, exhorting each other towards continuous improvement.  At what point, however, does the process of natural selection become the process of super-natural selection?   What exactly do we define as a truly superior being and what criteria do we have for a life of the highest quality?  

Is it more important to cure paralysis or to cure the violence that contributes to so many cases of paralysis?

Is it more important to cure blindness or to cure racism so we are truly "color blind"?

Is it more important to cure baldness, obesity, real and/or imagined disfigurements and personality quirks or to cure the intolerance that allows us to denigrate and devalue those who do not adhere to our lofty standards for beauty and behavior?

None of these have to be either/or propositions nor should we shy away from striving to be the best we can be.  It is important, however, to think seriously about what makes one the best, what constitutes a fulfilled life of quality,  what the road to continuous improvement for our society and ourselves should be.


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