Attitudes to life extension via genetic engineering

Patrick O'Neil patrick at corona
Thu Mar 2 23:11:28 EST 1995

On Thu, 2 Mar 1995, Peter Merel wrote:
> >The third path is: reduction of world population (in the developed world 
> >because it consumes most of the resources and produces the most pollution 
> >and in the developing world so it doesn't exacerbate the problem as it 
> >develops); 
> I think that this is a desirable course in the short-term; the only
> ethical way to do it, I think, is to modify human fertility. Not to
> sterilize humanity as some have suggested here, but to reduce its
> fertility to manageable levels.  We could perhaps modify Patrick
> O'Neils' genocide virus to only alter human hormone levels so that no
> one would be fertile until the age of 30, and so that no one would be
> fertile after the age of 40. Of course the real problem with this is 
> not how to engineer it, but how to introduce it without getting lynched
> by religious fundamentalists ...

The problem with engineering a virus (or any potential pathogen) to do 
"good" deeds for us is that once it is released, all control over its 
further development and direction are totally lost.  It will follow 
whatever path it follows irrespective of what we might want and that 
might not be reduced fertility (in this case), but outright sterility or 
worse.  Don't look to viruses, per se, for any nice answers.  They, like 
all organisms, are subject to natural selective forces which do not take 
our desires or wishes into account.  A germ-line modification could be 
accomplished, though male fertility is declining as is with no known 
cause (sperm counts are lower, in general, and going down - who knows 
where it will end?) or something like a childhood somatic gene therapy 
innoculation that leads to a reduced period of fertility.  So long as 
there is some assurance of controlling or reversing the alteration, then 
it might suffice with little harm overall.


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