Mar 8, 2019

they will come to us as products

The discussion of biotechnology often centers on ethical questions, like when, if ever, inheritable genetic modification might be permissible or even desirable. These questions matter, but the actual choices will not occur in the rarefied atmosphere of bioethical discussion. They will come to us as products, which means that market forces will drive both which products are offered and the persuasion that accompanies them. Because the products need to answer to existing demand, they will reproduce the values of the society in which they are sold. To the extent that they are adopted, they will translate those values into human populations.

George Estreich, Fables and Futures: Biotechnology, Disability, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves. This is one of the reasons why talking about disability and reproductive technologies is such a non-starter. Folks will agree to disagree, acknowledge that every individual situation is different, and thus navigate enormous, profound ethical quandaries with large-scale consequences—about how to have children and which kinds of children—not in the philosophical or deliberative position of civic actors, but rather as consumers. Of products.

I’ll be in discussion with George in Cambridge at the MIT Press Bookstore next week.