By its very mechanism, mRNA technology cannot alter our DNA, but an entirely different technology can, such as CRISPR which is a candidate to make mankind resistant chromosomally. Furthermore, the role of an mRNA vaccine is ONLY to trigger natural immune system response to create necessary antibodies and memory T cells. The vaccine itself does NOT remain, destroyed within a few hours. The vaccinated cells are also killed by our immune system. What remains is only our enhanced immune system that remembers Covid (the actual memory length is still being improved), just like the effect of a regular vaccine. For these reasons, mRNA technology (unlike CRISPR) is not on a slippery slope to Transhumanism.
Since the residue of mRNA Vaccine treatment is simply a better trained but still naturally functioning immune system, taking the vaccine is NOT a transhumanist action (because no new capability is added). Replacing your cornea to avoid glaucoma or replacing your prostate to avoid cancer is also NOT a transhumanist action since the function of the new organ remains the same. Please read the longer answer for the full explanation.
The answer has 4 parts:
- clarifying how mRNA is never designed to alter DNA
- brief description of the application of natural law reasoning to improve health using medical technology
- answering your 2nd question by first establishing the red line separating the allowed vs. disallowed (such as transhumanism) and then explaining the morality of using mRNA for an individual
- answering your 1st question by first explaining the morality of the technology development of mRNA and then addressing the concern of slippery slope toward transhumanism by previewing the future use of the mRNA technology
How the mRNA vaccine works
Very short summary
The mRNA vaccine works by giving synthetically constructed instruction to our cells (based on real virus genetic sequencing) to make copies for a part of the virus.
After our cells make copies of the protein, they destroy the genetic material from the vaccine. Our bodies recognize that the protein should not be there and build T-lymphocytes and B-lymphocytes that will remember how to fight the virus that causes COVID-19 if we are infected in the future.
(Source: Understanding How COVID-19 Vaccines Work)
mRNA vaccine does NOT modify DNA
By design, an mRNA vaccine is supposed to work only within the cytoplasm of the cell, never entering the area where the DNA resides (the nucleus).
There can be unintentional (but extremely rare) exceptions, but is still not dangerous:
... One is where genetic elements, known as retro-transposons, hijack cellular mRNA, convert it into DNA and insert that DNA back into your genetic material.
This has occurred sporadically throughout evolution, producing some ancient copies of mRNAs scattered throughout our genome, to form so-called pseudogenes.
However, there is a vanishingly small chance of a naturally occurring retro-transposon becoming active in a cell that has just received a mRNA vaccine. ...
Even if a retro-transposon were to become active or a virus such as HIV were present, the chances of it finding the COVID vaccine mRNA, among the tens of thousands of natural mRNAs, is extremely unlikely. That’s because vaccine mRNA is degraded within several hours of entering the body.
Even if vaccine mRNA did become a pseudogene, it would not produce the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but just one of the viral products, the harmless spike protein.
Source: June 2021 article Can the Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccines affect my genetic code?
Natural Law application to medical technology
Natural law morality reasoning is built on
- what is natural (original design)
- final end (proper operation of perfect nature)
- intention (goal of action, which needs to be aligned to target the 'final end').
What is the "natural" in this case? The "natural" is the perfect natural human. I emphasize perfect to distinguish it from disability (such as born with one eye, or with Down syndrome) or disease (from common flu to covid to cancer).
A perfect natural human has the best physique & mind possible that Adam and Eve would have had prior to the Fall (except for death), who has the potential to
- have musical intelligence like Mozart
- win several Olympic gold medals (without performance enhancing drugs)
- discover scientific theories like Einstein
- make inventions like Thomas Edison
- never be sick, but will STILL die a natural death (through natural degeneration)
I will approach both questions in terms of whether the technology will reasonably align with a natural final end (prevent sickness) with as little non-natural side effect as possible.
Answering your second question
- If mRNA vaccines are not transhumanist in nature, when it is injecting your body with a synthetic mechanism to prevent (not treat) a disease, how is it less transhumanist than replacing your cornea to avoid glaucoma or replacing your prostate to avoid cancer?
I answer in two parts:
- Definition of transhumanism and what types of actions are allowed under natural law
- Whether the taking of an mRNA vaccine is allowed under natural law
Definition of transhumanism and what is allowed under natural law
Let's use a working definition of Transhumanism as "using technology to permanently add abilities that a perfect natural human will never have".
First let's consider scenarios that are allowed by natural law to highlight certain distinctions:
As long as medical technologies (including mRNA vaccines) are used to prevent sickness and to prolong the life of a person naturally born, I think the actions are still allowed under natural law because these technologies are helping humans to be closer to a perfect but natural human (who should not be sick and who should live to a natural old age). No technologies we know of today can prevent death (when there is, we'll revisit this point).
When the cure of a disability / disease results in enhancing a human's ability beyond what a perfect human could ever be (i.e. titanium leg is stronger, cochlear implant can be more sensitive, artificial heart gives more stamina, tooth implant lasts longer), this is still allowed under natural law because
- the enhancement is accidental (i.e. the titanium leg, cochlear implant, artificial heart or tooth implant was not given by intentionally ripping out a healthy leg/ear/heart/tooth).
- the design (intention) is to not to add, but merely to replace, the function of the original organ.
Even proactive replacements of organs are allowed if the case can be reasonably made that the original organ will fail prematurely without intervention, such as in the examples you mentioned: replacing your cornea to avoid glaucoma or replacing your prostate to avoid cancer. The key criteria is the same as in the previous scenario: not to intentionally ripping out healthy organ, not to intentionally add function.
Non-permanent enhancements attached to the body such as the use of night vision goggles by a soldier (to enhance vision) or a bio-neural interface of a fighter jet pilot (to enhance brain) or even semi permanent implants (which can be surgically removed) such as biometric chip (to facilitate security), are also okay under natural law because they are considered tools (by definition, non-permanent) that humans for millennia have used starting from stone age axe and hunting bow.
In contrast, a transhumanist wants to intentionally add a new permanent ability to a healthy individual beyond the potential of a natural perfect human described above. Hypothetical examples: genetic enhancement that produce humans like X-men, implanting a computer in the brain to enhance cognitive function, adding a third arm genetically / biologically. Permanent intentional non-accidental addition is the red line separating allowed vs. disallowed action under natural law.
Whether the taking of an mRNA vaccine is allowed under natural law
The concern is because the mRNA vaccine is synthetic, proactively done (as in scenario #3) and potentially enhances our immune system beyond the usual (as in scenario #2, see Immune Response From mRNA COVID-19 Vaccines Is More Robust Than Natural Infection).
As is usual in natural law, the scope of morality is the single action evaluated on a case by case basis. The scope here is whether the individual's decision to take the shot of an mRNA vaccine is allowed. I think it is allowed because the intention is to prevent sickness and the course of action aligns with a final end that is natural (i.e. consistent with the natural functioning of the immune system; the enhancement itself is accidental).
Whether the vaccine is synthetic (mRNA) or natural is irrelevant in this case, since the end result in BOTH cases is the SAME: that our natural immune system is being "trained" to fight future real-virus infection. It is similar to the training data for a neural net model in a machine learning system. The only difference is that the mRNA vaccine (which is synthetically generated, and which disappears within a few hours) uses our body to create the actual training data. Neither the mRNA vaccine nor the partial-virus copies (the training data) modifies the DNA or cross the germline since both operate only within the cytoplasm area.
CONCLUSION: the taking mRNA vaccine lies within scenario #3 (proactive prevention of the failure of a natural function), similar to proactive cornea/prostrate replacement when there is a reasonable chance that the immune system / cornea / prostrate would be endangered in the future if we do not take action. This is similar to vaccinating kids with polio / smallpox vaccine. All of these are NOT considered transhumanist actions.
Answering your first question
Now we are ready to address your first question, which deals with the technology development rather than the moral situation of taking the vaccine:
- If mRNA vaccines look like they're useful, an obvious better vector than a shot for stopping a disease would be to make mankind resistant chromosomally, does the mRNA vaccine represent a staging area for the efficacy of such a treatment and therefore represent a first step in a slippery slope that we should reject?
As described in the first section above, we need to keep in mind that the mRNA technology so far:
- is not designed for the intentional modification of the DNA (only staying in the cytoplasm, not in the nucleus)
- is only used to bolster the natural human immune system for a natural end (prevent sickness)
Intention-wise (as far as natural law is concerned) it is thus the same with the older vaccine technologies that we have been using such as polio & flu (inactivated), smallpox (virus vector), measles (live-attenuated), hepatitis B (protein subunit) (see the article linked above).
How about the future use of mRNA? A Jan 2021 interview with Derrick Rossi (co-founder of Moderna) discussing future use of the mRNA technology within 15 years shows the following application:
- creating vaccines for other diseases such as flu
- treatment for diseases such as cystic fibrosis, cancer and HIV
- make advances in anti-aging research
A more extensive March 2021 article from Wired magazine previews more potential use of mRNA technology: The mRNA vaccine revolution is just beginning.
From those articles we can see how the projected path of mRNA development in the next 15 years is still limited to fighting diseases and prolonging life.
While there are signs that mRNA could add unnatural functionality (mice injected with mRNA encoded for the protein that makes fireflies light up causes the mice to have a glowing spot one hour later), the addition is temporary, and is usually only for diagnostic / experiment (see this paper In a possible step forward for gene therapy, Stanford researchers made mice glow like fireflies). As long as the mRNA use is intended for gene therapy it is still allowed by natural law.
A more relevant technology that a transhumanist would use is CRISPR, a tool to edit DNA for permanent effect. If one uses CRISPR to edit unborn fetus's DNA, it is possibly against natural law, but still depends on the intention of use. It is probably okay if it is to prevent future sickness (which makes it to fall under scenario #3).
CONCLUSION: Given the projection of the use of the mRNA technology in the next 15 years and given the inherent limit of its applicability (temporary effect), mRNA technology is NOT likely to be on a slippery slope to transhumanism, compared to CRISPR which certainly IS.