What Should the Rules Be?

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So what are we to make of this? Does it really matter that scientists can make a slightly fluorescent monkey? How much demand is there for glow-in-the-dark cats, dogs or wayward kids out too late at night on their bikes?

Probably not much. But ANDi represents something much more important. The tiny light cast by this baby monkey shows that it is possible to genetically engineer ourselves.

The scientists in Oregon have taken a tiny step toward doing what many scientists have said no scientist would ever want to do--use genetics to change, improve or enhance our children. Sticking genes into eggs and growing a healthy monkey means that someday scientists could and most likely would insert genes into human eggs to try to make kids smarter, stronger, faster, healthier or happier than their parents.

So is the prospect of a Catherine Zeta-Jones with the mind of a Stephen Hawking something we should celebrate or outlaw?

Some will surely argue that we need tough laws to prevent some kook from setting up a DNA shop on a deserted island and breeding superbabies--a genetic Temptation Island. Others will say we need an international ban lest we find ourselves taking orders from the next Saddam Hussein's eugenically brewed army.

No such laws are needed. Renegade scientists and totalitarian loonies are not the folks most likely to abuse genetic engineering. You and I are--not because we are bad but because we want to do good.

In a world dominated by competition, parents understandably want to give their kids every advantage. There is hardly a religion on the planet that does not exhort its believers to enhance the welfare of their children. The most likely way for eugenics to enter into our lives is through the front door as nervous parents--awash in advertising, marketing and hype--struggle to ensure that their little bundle of joy is not left behind in the genetic race.

Most parents are willing to spend a lot of their money to send their kids to college, to get them piano, tennis and language lessons, to make sure they eat well and are safe. There is little reason to think that the drive to do right by our kids will be any different if and when we are offered the chance to improve them genetically. No one will have to fool us or force us--we will fall over one another to be first to give Junior a better set of genes.

The antidote to the blind application of genetic engineering is to start talking about what should and should not be allowed, who will pay and what standards ought to apply to those who want to promote and sell services that promise to make utopian children. The proper response to ANDi is not legislation to stop the mad scientists but a public debate that will teach us how best to control ourselves.

Caplan is director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center