The question comes to mind in the wake of this week's news that anonymous parents in Seattle had made the decision to keep their 9-year-old brain-damaged daughter in a "childlike" state for the rest of her life, through a combination of surgery and hormone therapy.
The parents claimed that their decision was made out of love and for their daughter's benefit, and that their ability to take care of her would be improved by keeping her body size small and her development immature.
The announcment elicited immediate condemnation from many. Some ethicists argued that medicine should never be used for any purpose that does not directly benefit the patient; others found the whole idea of interfering with and controlling a child's growth unsavory.
Reprogenetics is a term, coined by Lee M. Silver, for the merging of reproductive and genetic technologies. Among the future scenarios that may be made possible by reprogenetics is human cloning, as well as advanced in-vitro fertilization, with which parents will be able to selectively control the genes their children "inherit," including, potentially, some that the parents never possessed.
Such technology, although not yet available, is certainly possible, thanks to the completion of the Human Genome Project, in 2003. In fact, it is hard to imagine that reprogenetics will not become a reality in the near future, given the potential it holds to eliminate susceptibility to disease, and the possibilities it raises for the genetic engineering of "better" humans.
Given the choice - and the ability to afford it - wouldn't most people take advantage of any technology made available if they thought it would improve their child's chance to succeed and to live a healthy life?
On the other hand, reprogenetics may offer options with more than just medical benefits. In the future, maybe we'll see the technology used to optimize athletic, musical or mathematical ability in our progeny. Or, perhaps unequal degrees of availability of the technology to different sectors of society will result in genetics-based discrimination, as in the film Gattaca.
Either way, even as some seek to take advantage of such advancements, there are sure to be others who will proclaim their use to be unethical, as in the case of the Seattle parents.
The more choices technology makes available, the more challenging some of those choices become.