Blog‎ > ‎

Should we eliminate malaria?

posted Dec 15, 2014, 11:14 AM by Kevin Esvelt   [ updated Oct 25, 2016, 9:31 AM ]
The answer to this one may seem trivial, but evidently not to everyone. A person who called in during our discussion of gene drives on Radio Boston in July took issue not with the potential side-effects of gene drives, but the goal of eliminating malaria itself. According to this person's argument, diseases such as malaria are nature's way of keeping the human population in check, so their absence will lead to a population boom, greater environmental costs, and a reduced quality of life for everyone.

This is wrong on many levels. Disease is not a major check on human populations in the modern era. Rather, historical declines in fertility have always followed reductions in the child mortality rate. Just as importantly, refraining from eliminating malaria isn't all that different from murdering half a million children and mildly poisoning two hundred million people every year. Is this a loaded statement with respect to the question of whether we should use gene drives to alter populations of malarial mosquitoes? Absolutely. Does that make it invalid? Not at all. It simply reflects the reality that the moral case favoring action against malaria is strong. Whether it is strong enough to overcome the many potentially valid arguments opposing the use of gene drives must be decided collectively by society - and especially by those currently living in regions afflicted with malaria.

Tags: malaria eradication, gene drives, philosophy