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Genetic Enhancements, Abortion, and Buddhist Ethics

14-1(22)About a year ago, I was asked to do a short email interview concerning the Buddhist viewpoint on genetic manipulation and PGD (Pre-Implantation Genetic Diagnosis). Essentially, this is a process that involves artificially fertilizing a number of human eggs, taking out a few cells and checking them for abnormalities, and then implanting the best ones. This removes the chance of a “bad egg” (pun intended). The very idea opens up a can of ethical worms. Here are the rapid-fire Questions and my Answers. I don’t pretend to be an expert on the science behind it, but I have to say it’s a fascinating topic. What do YOU think? Comment below:


Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to have a baby to provide for the medical needs of an already existing child?

A. Probably not, but it really depends on whether or not the second child suffers.  All of Buddhism revolves around relieving suffering, and if the new baby will suffer to fulfill the role of “spare part donor,” then that’s not going to work out. If you mean the second child will be a caregiver of some sort, that’s not necessarily suffering in itself; a lot of good comes from helping others, both in this world and in the realm of karma. 

Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to attempt to have a child when genetic factors make it likely that the child may be mentally or physically handicapped?

A. Doesn’t really matter. All life is sacred, even mentally or physically handicapped people.
Q. According to Buddhism , is it moral to try to select the sex of one’s baby?

A. Doesn’t apply; the majority of scientific and medical advances are embraced by Buddhists.  If they are used to relieve suffering, they are considered overall a good thing.
Q. According to Buddhism, is it moral to abort a foetus if it prone to obesity of a chronic medical condition?

A. Generally, most Buddhists are against abortion, but it does depend on the situation. Your case would probably not be acceptable if there were no other extenuating circumstances.
Q. According to Buddhism, what is the moral worth of an embryo?

A. That, just like with any other religion, depends on whether you consider an embryo a “person” or not.  Buddhists arguer over this just like everyone else. Generally speaking, it’s probably safer to assume an embryo is a person, or at least a potential person. This leads to the whole abortion discussion, which isn’t what you’re looking for here.
Q. According to Buddhism, who should determine the genes of a person- doctors, parents, or God?

A. Buddhists do not have a God.  Karma perhaps, but many would just attribute this to random luck beyond whatever the parents bring to the genetic table. 
Q. What perspective does Buddhism take on the use of PGD treatment, for both medical use and the enhancement of genes? Has the view on medical treatment changed amongst Buddhists or has certain ideologies continued since the foundation of Buddhism (particularly on the issue of genetic enhancements and PGD treatment)?

A. Many say that the original Buddha was a doctor.  Medicine that relieves suffering is a great thing and is always good.  Medicine that causes suffering, addiction, grasping at a life that may be unnaturally long, and other “wrong” uses are not acceptable.  PGD, like any of these other things, really depends on the motives and reasoning behind their use,
Q. Why do you think religious groups accept the use of gene therapies and even the use of genetic modification for medical reasons but reject use for physical attributes only?

A. With Buddhists, fixing a medical problem would be relieving suffering, while choosing genes to have a prettier nose is simply vanity, which is unhealthy.

Q. In your opinion, do you think religion and science can ever complement each other? Or are they constantly conflicting each other?

A. When science contradicts religion, religion must bend and adapt, according to the Dalai Lama. Some religions go kicking and screaming into the future. You know who I mean.

Q. Do you agree to dealing with prejudices (such as skin and eye colour) by biomedical fixes as a way of solving our social problems?

A. No. If everyone were the same color, we’d find something else to hate people over. Racism aside, I think most people recognize that there really is strength in diversity,

Q. If PGD treatment becomes increasingly popular, what do you think the consequences will be on society AND on the relationship between science and religion?

A. I have no idea, but I think we’d all adapt.

Comments? Agree or disagree with me? There’s a lot of room for discussion on this topic, and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Comment below:

5 comments to Genetic Enhancements, Abortion, and Buddhist Ethics

  • Wes

    I’ve not heard of PGD but it sounds like an interesting idea. With anything related to eugenics and artificially selecting for better humans, there’s always the (valid) fear that at some point things will go awry: someone will take it too far, or there will be some prejudice that comes about. Your responses are good-I agree that if a choice relieves suffering then this choice should be taken, but not everyone making these decisions are going to have Buddhist ideology in mind.
    As far as abortions go, I personally oftentimes feel that going through with these procedures greatly reduces the net suffering in the end. Suffering from losing an unwanted child is nothing to being raised to live a terrible life and potentially further contribute to problems of worldwide hunger and other resource shortages.

  • Omegatron

    Theistic religions abhors abortion. I support some aspects of it becos taking an innocent young life is wrong. If indeed, why is it right that the big guy up there can take the lives of young kids by having it in his plan to have them get Cancer? Whatever it is, a kid is a kid. Having a young kid get illness is no difference from abortion. The only difference is the kid is born and the other is an unborned kid.

  • Karate Kiddo

    Many faiths are pro-life but if ever a creator does exist, he cannot be totally pro-life for millions of innocent kids die becos of illnesses who are literally murdered or premeditated by his PLAN. The best explanation to explain all these phenomenon is Karma.

  • Karate Kiddo

    Many faiths are pro-life but if ever a creator does exist, he cannot be totally pro-life for millions of innocent kids die becos of illnesses who are literally aborted or premeditated by his PLAN. The best explanation to explain all these phenomenon is Karma whch absolve the creator from any blame. Since this world has yet to experience a total world where human refrain from killing, almost every aspects of our lives revolves round killing which we build our happiness onto the suffering of others. Karma is the best answer to all the ups and downs or life though it is not to be fatalistically taken as well.

  • Karate Kiddo

    If we live our lives by building our happiness, needs and wants onto the suffering of others. In return, we are building suffering into the very happiness we set out to achieve for ourselves. One who plants the seed of suffering will only receive the fruit of suffering in return. We have lead many lives with the same lifestyle. How can one who cteates suffering not expect suffering to ripen in one’s life this life or after?