X‑Men: Science Can Build Them, But Is It Ethical?

Ever since Jack Kir­by and Stan Lee cre­at­ed the very first install­ment of the The Uncan­ny X‑Men for Mar­vel in 1963, the beloved team of mutant super­heroes known as the X‑Men have con­quered almost every medi­um in pop­u­lar cul­ture from tele­vi­sion to video games, to movies and of course com­ic books. Their endur­ing pop­u­lar­i­ty isn’t hard to under­stand: What Amer­i­can teenag­er (redun­dant, we know, since all Amer­i­cans are basi­cal­ly teenagers) could ever say no to an angsty band of telegenic out­siders who are per­pet­u­al­ly reviled and per­se­cut­ed for the very attrib­ut­es that make them supe­ri­or?

But there’s more than nar­cis­sism at play. The core of the X‑Men myth — genet­ic muta­tion — is some­thing sci­en­tists have been learn­ing how to manip­u­late for decades, and now it’s just a mat­ter of time before we know how to build X‑Men of our own. But just as in the case of nuclear bombs, killer virus­es and 3‑D action movies, the fact that we can make them does­n’t mean we should. In the above video from Emory Uni­ver­si­ty, Bioethics pro­fes­sor Paul Root Wolpe explores this moral dilem­ma via the lat­est iter­a­tion of the beloved mutants’ saga: X‑Men: First Class (In the­aters June 3rd, and, praise be to Mendel, NOT in 3‑D).

Sheer­ly Avni is a San Fran­cis­co-based arts and cul­ture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Week­ly, Moth­er Jones, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low her on twit­ter at @sheerly.


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