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According to this wikipedia article about Julian Bashir,

human genetic engineering is illegal in the United Federation of Planets

(I'm assuming this means not just human but humanoid genetic engineering, is that right?)

Is that true (and according to what episode), and if so, why have such a law (what is the in-universe justification)?

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3 Answers 3

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The easy answer is the horror of the Eugenics Wars, but it doesn't hold water under closer examination. I believe the answer is more complex and has to do with a number of fears of the 1960s, when the show was produced, in addition to the Federation's lack of desire to repeat earlier mistakes of genetic engineering.

In-Universe

  • The ban against augmentation-grade genetic manipulation was established in the 22nd Century as a direct response to the events of the Eugenics Wars.

  • Federation medical technology was already apt at repairing massive cell damage, non-lethal doses of radiation poisoning and even reversing death by physical traumas that would kill humans today. We know the Federation continued working on genetic engineering at a small scale, mostly correcting congenital genetic disorders, both publicly and privately indicating the science still intrigued, even if it were officially repudiated. (See: Julian Bashir)

  • The Federation's medical technology has had few but notable limitations. While they are able to regrow neural tissue (preventing the need for wheelchairs) including brain cells, they are still incapable of performing a complete brain transfer to another body or cyborg mechanism. (See: Spock's Brain)

  • Genetic manipulation was sufficiently advanced to allow the selective development of physical and mental traits capable of making humans nearly as physically capable as Vulcans. The belief was this modification also resulted in humans who were psychologically unstable and whose ambitions included domination of the species.

  • I suspect this has some measure of truth, but considering the same technology was used to create the Klingon Augment Virus used by the Klingons (which resulted in the smooth headed Klingons of the TOS era) either there was faulty workmanship in the technology, or this particular technology is simply too unreliable to get useful results.

  • A more logical reason such genetic engineering is illegal is because of the Federation's bans on biogenic and metagenic devices.

Biogenic weapons, or "bioweapons", were a classification of weapon that caused little or no damage to starships or infrastructure, but instead were designed to biogenically interfere with lifeforms, most commonly to attack people.

This category included genetically-engineered viruses, poisonous chemical compounds, and other similar materials. Examples of biogenic weapons included cobalt diselenide, which was deadly to Cardassians, and trilithium resin, which was deadly to Humans. (DS9: "For the Uniform") Bio-mimetic gel could be used to make biogenic weapons. (DS9: "In the Pale Moonlight")

  • A responsible galactic government such as the Federation would want to keep the ability to produce, create, and control bio-genetic technologies which could render a planet lifeless in a matter of days under strict controls. In addition, other galactic governments might take it as an act of war if any particular group was caught designing, creating or engineering natural viruses as biogenic weapons.

Metagenic devices were powerful biological weapons outlawed by most major governments in the 24th century. A metagenic device was a genetically engineered, airborne virus that destroyed all DNA it encountered, and was capable of destroying entire planetary ecosystems within days.

Out-of-Universe

  • Gene Roddenberry, while a decorated veteran, was opposed to the idea of perpetual warfare and wanted to create a future where war, while possible, was considered a last resort of thinking species. His focus on non-military applications of technology peppered the show with a wide range of devices, some which predicted the future (or caused those technologies to come into existence) and others were completely overlooked. Genetic engineering was a technological idea in the 1960s but rarely portrayed in a positive fashion, more of a monster-creating technology, than a helpful one.

  • Roddenberry was a humanist and wanted to show a future where mankind chose to evolve socially, placing the welfare of the group ahead of the individual. He also wanted to show it was our humanity that was our greatest strength, not our reliance on technology to replace organs and limbs, hence the lack of cyborgs, active artificially intelligent beings, large-scale robotic development, and extreme levels of genetic-engineering among the general populace.

  • Another more socially challenging issue would be the idea of creating genetic patents that would allow superhuman development (even if it came without psychosis) which might destabilize the social fabric of the Federation as parents would seek to have their children genetically modified in order to improve their capacity to compete. At what point does this alter the human race significantly and what are the potential ramifications of a species making long-term, species-wide modifications upon itself, external to the forces of natural selection?

  • Is there a chance of dangerous mutation, genetic vulnerability, or psychological damage over time? The Federation would probably be unwilling to take this risk on a grand scale without a means of reversing the process, if necessary.

  • The writers of Star Trek hadn't dared to even address the ideas of genetic engineering seriously until the character of Julian Bashir was created and the idea was a THROWAWAY, something added to the script at the last moment, supposedly to give Bashir a secret to be discovered in the episode Dr. Bashir, I Presume.

According to Moore, "I kept saying 'What's the secret of Bashir's past? What's the thing that this guy Zimmerman is going to find that's so interesting?' I remember that René and I started talking about genetics, and René pointed out that genetic engineering is one of the things that is oddly missing in the Star Trek universe. It's a concept that's very much out there in science fiction, and even in the real world of science, but in Star Trek, it's virtually never discussed, aside from the fact that there was this thing called the Eugenics Wars at some point, and Khan came out of it." That conversation ultimately led Moore to come up with the idea that Bashir was genetically enhanced. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)

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I don't even care if you are right -- this answer is epic and now is THE answer. –  zipquincy Jan 2 at 22:57
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Short answer: Eugenics Wars.

Earth was so devastated by them that they decided genetic engineering isn't worth the pain.

The Eugenics Wars (or the Great Wars) were a series of conflicts fought on Earth between 1992 and 1996. The result of a scientific attempt to improve the Human race through selective breeding and genetic engineering, the wars devastated parts of Earth, by some estimates officially causing some 30 million deaths, and nearly plunging the planet into a new Dark Age

As Spock put it: "Superior ability breeds superior ambition."

Please note that it was not 100% illegal - there were some exceptoions, discussed on Memory Alpha.

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It is illegal, because it has been tried on Earth (in universe, of course) and resulted in the Eugenics Wars.

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Genetic modification isnt %100 illegal in the federation they do it as a matter of course to fix genetic based defects and there was that TNG episode –  severa Jan 4 at 2:41
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