We are all faced with making the decision whether we will eat genetically modified food. I had decided not to partake of it and mentioned this to my daughter, who happens to be a doctor. "Mom," she stated firmly, "You will not become what you eat." Now that statement made sense, but it got me to pondering some recent news about our manipulation of the genetic code.
Coincidentally, on our library shelves appeared the book The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee, so I took it home and now have more to worry about than merely genetically modified foods.
Mukherjee has written a history of man's discovery and growth in understanding of the gene and how it works. That could be a bit dry, but he frames his work in an interesting way because he relates his research to his desire to find out about the causes of mental illness which appear in his family throughout the generations.
Once the reader has a basic understanding of how the gene works, complex moral questions are presented. We now have the ability to change our genetic code, and we need to decide if we should, and, if so, to what extent.
Should some individuals or traits be eliminated? With prenatal testing, who should be allowed to live? These questions bring to mind eugenics, now renamed "Newgenics.” Is only average normal?
Now that genetic manipulation has been simplified by using a method named CRISPR, what restrictions should and can be enforced on people who want to manipulate our code of life. There are deep moral and ethical considerations to be decided as we now have the power to alter life.
Mukherjee examines characteristics that people use to divide one another into groups, like race, concluding that there is more that unites us, than divides us. “...we are much more alike than unlike each other." p.340
He discusses the concept of sex identity and sexual identity in great detail, leading to a greater understanding of the complexity and diversity of this component of our humanity.
Those people who are interested in pondering these deep questions and learning about the gene will enjoy Mukherjee's latest book. I certainly enjoyed it and will continue to ponder and discuss these questions for a long time to come.