Picture the day when our genetic engineering techniques have become effective and practical. Barring regulation, in a capitalist society money will in fact buy better genes. “Better” could mean more resistant to disease, cancer, and other afflictions. It might also mean beauty, size, personality and intelligence.
Offspring of richer humans would be able to afford better genetic treatments and would therefore live longer. Isaac Asimov points out in his Robot series that longer lifespans does not necessarily mean more offspring– the colonists live far longer than earthlings and exist in very low population densities. Fiction aside, we can see that individuals in more highly educated, richer nations tend to have fewer children. So let’s imagine that our globe develops a small, wealthy, very genetically well-off population of humans.
At the same time, specific genetic modifications could be marketed to the “worker” humans. Perhaps there will be an “intelligence” trait (which actually modifies your child so that he or she focuses better– no need for Ritalin!) Humans might well develop into two (or likely more) different species, based on class.
Right now genetic experimentation on humans is commonly seen as distasteful to in our society — perhaps because of a widespread belief in the sacredness of every human life– but I don’t think this will stop us in the long run. The incentives are just too high. Also, if someone were to develop human genetic modifications in secret, over a long period of time, and then eventually release modified humans to the world, how would we treat these people? I believe the larger population would still consider them as having the same rights as a “normal” human, therefore assuring them of the right to live and reproduce. In a world of six billion people, it is hard for me to imagine that there isn’t ONE person currently being used for genetic experimentation right now.
We’re at a defining edge in human evolution. Barring major catastrophe, those who are financially well off in the next few centuries might live to see their genes evolve in one manner, while those who are not might see their genes evolve in a very different way.
To a limited extent, this isn’t much different than what has been happening all throughout evolution. Humans have been managing our own breeding for millennium through careful mating selection, which breeds specific traits. The difference is that now the pace will accelerate. You will not only be a product of your ancestor’s genes and their culture, but you will incorporate specific physical and intellectual traits that they consciously decided you should have. Advertising in the medical industry will take on whole new implications.