Eradication of suffering

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The eradication or abolition of suffering is the concept of using biotechnology to create a permanent absence of involuntary pain and suffering in all sentient beings.

Biology and medicine[edit]

The discovery of modern anesthesia in the 19th century was an early breakthrough in the elimination of pain during surgery, but acceptance was not universal. Some medical practitioners at the time believed that anesthesia was an artificial and harmful intervention in the body's natural response to injury.[1] Opposition to anesthesia has since dissipated; however, the prospect of eradicating pain raises similar concerns about interfering with life's natural functions.[2]

People who are naturally incapable of feeling pain or unpleasant sensations due to rare conditions like pain asymbolia or congenital insensitivity to pain have been studied to discover the biological and genetic reasons for their pain-free lives.[3] A Scottish woman with a previously unreported genetic mutation in a FAAH pseudogene (dubbed FAAH-OUT) with resultant elevated anandamide levels was reported in 2019 to be immune to anxiety, unable to experience fear, and insensitive to pain. The frequent burns and cuts she had due to her full hypoalgesia healed quicker than average.[4][5][6]

In 1990, Medical Hypotheses published an article by L. S. Mancini on the "genetic engineering of a world without pain":[7]

A hypothesis is presented to the effect that everything adaptive which is achievable with a mind capable of experiencing varying degrees of both pleasure and pain (the human condition as we know it) could be achieved with a mind capable of experiencing only varying degrees of pleasure.

The development of gene editing techniques like CRISPR has raised the prospect that "scientists can identify the causes of certain unusual people's physical superpowers and use gene editing to grant them to others."[8] Geneticist George Church has commented on the potential future of replacing pain with a painless sensory system:[9]

I imagine what this would be like on another planet and in the future, and... given that imagined future, whether we would be willing to come back to where we are now. Rather than saying whether we're willing to go forward... ask whether you're willing to come back.

Ethics and philosophy[edit]

Ethicists and philosophers in the schools of hedonism and utilitarianism, especially negative utilitarianism, have debated the merits of eradicating suffering.[10] Transhumanist philosopher David Pearce, in The Hedonistic Imperative (1995), argues that the abolition of suffering is both technically feasible and an issue of moral urgency,[11] stating that: "It is predicted that the world's last unpleasant experience will be a precisely dateable event."[12]

The philosopher Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute, advises a more cautious approach due to pain's function in protecting individuals from harm. However, Bostrom supports the core idea of using biotechnology to get rid of "a huge amount of unnecessary and undeserved suffering."[10] It has also been argued that the eradication of suffering through biotechnology may bring about unwanted consequences, and arguments have been made that transhumanism is not the only philosophy worthy of consideration regarding the question of suffering — many people view suffering as one aspect in a dualist understanding of psychological and physical functioning, without which pleasure could not exist.[13]

Animal welfare[edit]

In 2009, Adam Shriver suggested replacing animals in factory farming with genetically engineered animals with a reduced or absent capacity to suffer and feel pain.[14] Shriver and McConnachie argued that people who wish to improve animal welfare should support gene editing in addition to plant-based diets and cultured meat.[15]

Katrien Devolder and Matthias Eggel proposed gene editing research animals to remove pain and suffering. This would be an intermediate step towards eventually stopping all experimentation on animals and adopting alternatives.[16]

Concerning wild-animal suffering, CRISPR-based gene drives have been suggested as a cost-effective way of spreading benign alleles in sexually reproducing species.[17][18][19] To limit gene drives spreading indefinitely (for test programmes, for example), the Sculpting Evolution group at the MIT Media Lab developed a self-exhausting form of CRISPR-based gene drive called a "daisy-chain drive."[20][21] For potential adverse effects of a gene drive, "[s]everal genetic mechanisms for limiting or eliminating gene drives have been proposed and/or developed, including synthetic resistance, reversal drives, and immunizing reversal drives."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meyer, Rachel; Desai, Sukumar P. (October 2015). "Accepting pain over comfort: resistance to the use of anesthesia in the mid-19th century". Journal of Anesthesia History. 1 (4): 115–121. doi:10.1016/j.janh.2015.07.027. PMID 26828088.
  2. ^ Hildebrandt, Eleanor (2020-05-19). "Scientists may soon be able to turn off pain with gene editing: should they?". leapsmag. Leaps by Bayer.
  3. ^ Shaer, Matthew (May 2019). "The Family That Feels Almost No Pain". Smithsonian Magazine.
  4. ^ Murphy, Heather (2019-03-28). "At 71, She's Never Felt Pain or Anxiety. Now Scientists Know Why". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
  5. ^ Habib, Abdella M.; Okorokov, Andrei L.; Hill, Matthew N.; Bras, Jose T.; Lee, Man-Cheung; Li, Shengnan; Gossage, Samuel J.; van Drimmelen, Marie; Morena, Maria; Houlden, Henry; Ramirez, Juan D. (August 2019). "Microdeletion in a FAAH pseudogene identified in a patient with high anandamide concentrations and pain insensitivity". British Journal of Anaesthesia. 123 (2): e249–e253. doi:10.1016/j.bja.2019.02.019. PMC 6676009. PMID 30929760.
  6. ^ Sample, Ian (2019-03-28). "Scientists find genetic mutation that makes woman feel no pain". The Guardian. Retrieved 2020-05-30.
  7. ^ Mancini, L. S. (1990). "Riley-Day Syndrome, brain stimulation and the genetic engineering of a world without pain". Medical Hypotheses. 31 (3): 201–207. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/0306-9877(90)90093-t. PMID 2189064.
  8. ^ Regalado, Antonio (2019-08-22). "The next trick for CRISPR is gene-editing pain away". MIT Technology Review.
  9. ^ Church, George; Perry, Lucas (2020-05-15). "FLI Podcast: On the Future of Computation, Synthetic Biology, and Life with George Church". Future of Life Institute.
  10. ^ a b Power, Katherine (July–August 2006). "The End of Suffering". Philosophy Now (56).
  11. ^ Dvorsky, George (2012-09-27). "Should we eliminate the human ability to feel pain?". Gizmodo.
  12. ^ Pearce, David (1995). "The Hedonistic Imperative". HEDWEB.
  13. ^ Renstrom, Joelle (2018). "It's the End of the World as We Know It and We Feel Fantastic: Examining the End of Suffering". NANO: New American Notes Online. 13. Retrieved 3 January 2022.
  14. ^ Shriver, Adam (2009). "Knocking Out Pain in Livestock: Can Technology Succeed Where Morality has Stalled?". Neuroethics. 2 (3): 115–124. doi:10.1007/s12152-009-9048-6. S2CID 10504334.
  15. ^ Shriver, Adam; McConnachie, Emilie (2018). "Genetically Modifying Livestock for Improved Welfare: A Path Forward". Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. 31 (2): 161–180. doi:10.1007/s10806-018-9719-6. S2CID 158274840.
  16. ^ Devolder, Katrien; Eggel, Matthias (2019). "No Pain, No Gain? In Defence of Genetically Disenhancing (Most) Research Animals". Animals. 9 (4): 154. doi:10.3390/ani9040154. PMC 6523187. PMID 30970545.
  17. ^ Johannsen, Kyle (2017-04-01). "Animal Rights and the Problem of r-Strategists". Ethical Theory and Moral Practice. 20 (2): 333–345. doi:10.1007/s10677-016-9774-x. ISSN 1572-8447. S2CID 151950095.
  18. ^ Pearce, David (2016–2020). "Compassionate Biology: How CRISPR-based 'gene drives' could cheaply, rapidly and sustainably reduce suffering throughout the living world". Hedweb. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  19. ^ Esvelt, Kevin (2019-08-30). "When Are We Obligated To Edit Wild Creatures?". leapsmag. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  20. ^ Noble, Charleston; Min, John; Olejarz, Jason; Buchthal, Joanna; Chavez, Alejandro; Smidler, Andrea L.; DeBenedictis, Erika A.; Church, George M.; Nowak, Martin A.; Esvelt, Kevin M. (2019-04-23). "Daisy-chain gene drives for the alteration of local populations". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 116 (17): 8275–8282. Bibcode:2019PNAS..116.8275N. doi:10.1073/pnas.1716358116. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 6486765. PMID 30940750.
  21. ^ Esvelt, Kevin. "Daisy Drive Systems". Sculpting Evolution Group. MIT Media Lab. Retrieved 2020-06-02.
  22. ^ Vella, Michael R.; Gunning, Christian E.; Lloyd, Alun L.; Gould, Fred (2017-09-08). "Evaluating strategies for reversing CRISPR-Cas9 gene drives". Scientific Reports. 7 (1): 11038. Bibcode:2017NatSR...711038V. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-10633-2. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 5591286. PMID 28887462.

Further reading[edit]