The Human Genome Project, discoveries in molecular biology, and new reproductive technologies have advanced our understanding of how genetic science may be used to treat persons with genetic disorders. Greater knowledge may also make possible genetic interventions to "enhance" normal human characteristics, such as height, hair or eye color, strength, or memory, as well as the transmittal of such modifications to future generations. The prospect of inheritable genetic modifications, or IGMs, whether for therapeutic or enhancement purposes, raises complex scientific, ethical, and regulatory issues.
Designing Our Descendants presents twenty essays by physicians, scientists, philosophers, theologians, lawyers, and policy analysts addressing these issues from diverse perspectives. In three sections, the authors discuss the short- and long-term scientific feasibility of IGM technology; ethical and religious issues related to safety, justice, morality, reproductive rights, and enhancement; and regulatory issues including the necessity of public input and oversight and the influence of commercialization. Their goal is to open a dialogue engaging not only scholars and scientists but also government officials and concerned citizens. The authors conclude that while IGM cannot be carried out safely and responsibly on humans utilizing current methods, it is important to begin public discussion now to determine whether, and if so how, to proceed.