Very rarely does a debate anger me more than the debate over genetic modification in medicine. For those who do not know, I am very in favor of curing every illness, disability, and disorder that stops a person from living a healthy and happy life. However, that position can sometimes put me in the minority of the population, who seem to be very skeptical of the medicine that is not yet created, but not of the medicine that has already been given.
Case in point, last night I found an article on the trending section of Twitter with this caption:
Gene therapy could end deafness. Should it?
Now, I can’t speak for the 48 million Americans who have some form of hearing loss, but I think I agree with many of them when I say yes. And that’s true with other genetic disorders as well, just talk to somebody who has type one diabetes if you don’t believe me. However, I decided to see what could make a question with an obvious answer something you can ask in the first place, leading me to an article from Future Human titled The End Of Deafness.
However, this article did find one woman named Jaipreet Virdi (along with a few others), who was born deaf and has since come out against the idea it’s a disease. As she puts it in the article:
Deafness is a difference. It’s a disability. It’s not a disease.
Mind you, it seems the more important something is the more likely we are to hear — um, be informed that surgery to correct it is wrong. Having small boobs is also not a disease, yet nobody cares nearly to this level when a woman decides to get a boob job. Even in the realms of gene editing, having average muscles is not an illness, yet when CRISPR kits were sold for self use and they were used to change muscle size, almost nobody cared. In fact, if it wasn’t mentioned during a segment of Last Week Tonight, almost nobody would have heard of the topic in general.
For that matter, if it is true that deafness is not a disease, it’s quite odd another person mentioned in this article, a woman named Jessica Chaikof, tried to cure it:
When Jessica was 14 months old, the family flew to New York to find out whether she would be a candidate for a cochlear implant, an electronic device that provides a modified sense of sound. The following month, Jessica underwent surgery, at the time becoming the youngest child in the country to get a cochlear implant.
“It’s given me the opportunity to communicate with the world, get to know people, be fully mainstream, and identify very much with the hearing world,” says Jessica, who’s now 25.
A cochlear implant receives and processes sound and speech but doesn’t provide natural hearing. Jessica needed years of intensive training to learn how to listen to and interpret spoken language with her cochlear implants, and though they’re made to be long lasting, they sometimes break and need to be replaced. Even with the device, Jessica is still deaf.
Where are the articles asking if cochlear implants should cure deafness? Where are the pundits warning of a race of super humans who can hear because of implants? Where’s John Oliver to talk about a dream the creator of cochlear implants had where their co-worker is best friends with Hitler? We never see those, yet now, when something comes along that could allow every human being to use their five senses, this is suddenly highly controversial.
However, this article does make a compelling point, because it uses that pesky “e” word:
Many deaf people don’t view deafness as a condition that needs to be “cured,” and some see the attempt to do away with deaf people as a modern form of eugenics.
However, the Nazis did not use surgery to alter the genetics of those they considered undesirable, they locked them up, they performed experiments on them, and they killed them. Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi doctor known for his experiments as Auschwitz, never showed any interest in genetic therapy (which might make the anti-gene therapy crowd consider him more moral than modern doctors). In fact, doing such a thing would deprive him of a large number of his guinea pigs he used for the purpose of experimentation. Their were also disabled people, including deaf people, in Nazi Germany, nobody even considered using genetic therapy on them — they were just killed.
A Nazi would not have used genetic modification technology because in large part the ideology of Nazism is based around extreme Germen and European nationalism. In order for this to be comparable, you would not only have to be able to edit genes, but also go back in time and put the ancestors of a person in a different nation.
Genetic editing is more based around healing, about allowing you to live the best life you can. Eugenics destroys life, genetic editing uplifts it and allows it be the best it can be. It more resembles the healing miracles of religious icons of old than anything Adolf Hitler and the Nazis ever did. I normally don’t like the pull this card, but which of these two sounds closer to genetic editing?
Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” hen He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. — Mark 8:22–26
Upon arrival at the concentration camp, all the inmates had to undergo a ‘selection’ procedure, which identified their group. Healthy and strong men formed one group, while women, children, and elderly were put into another.
Horrendous practices of tearing the families apart were followed in the concentration camps. Soldiers particularly aimed at separating the people of the same family. People would be then stripped off their valuables, and an identification number would be tattooed on their forearms. This snatched away the identity of the victims and left them as nothing more than a mere inmate, at the mercy of German soldiers.
Groups of people would be sent to their respective barracks, which hardly offered conditions worth living in the concentration camps. They were made to sleep on the bunkers with straw mattresses, which were often infested with lice and other rodents.
At the concentration camp, the day for the inmates would normally begin at the crack of dawn. They would be made to stand for hours together, for their roll calls. When the roll call was finally over, they were served a breakfast of a slice of bread, ground acorns, and water. The midday meal consisted of a soup of potato peels and beet, while the dinner was just another slice of bread. People resorted to eating grass and roots in order to survive.
I think you get the idea.
Hitler himself even denied that his issue with Jews was one of genetics, saying in 1945:
Our racial pride is not aggressive except in so far as the Jewish race is concerned. We use the term Jewish race as a matter of convenience, for in reality and from the genetic point of view there is no such thing as the Jewish race. There does, however, exist a community, to which, in fact, the term can be applied and the existence of which is admitted by the Jews themselves. It is the spiritually homogeneous group, to membership of which all Jews throughout the world deliberately adhere, regardless of their whereabouts and of their country of domicile; and it is this group of human beings to which we give the title Jewish race.
Basically, Hitler would have not cared one way or the other about genetic editing because that was not his issue with the Jewish. But if still gets the label of Hitler because, while many with genetic disabilities suffer, our society is most concerned with if we’re helping them too well.