Daily Archives: March 13, 2012

Ethical Considerations of the Nose Picking Gene

My crazy, writer brain never stops working.  Typically it’s most active when I’m in the shower, where it got a real work out on Sunday.  I know this may be a bit TMI, but while shaving my legs, I noted one big toe had hair on it and the other didn’t.  While I know I’m at fault (got lost in my own head and forgot to shave both big toes the last time), it got me thinking about genetics.

We know hair color and  eye color and finger lengths and big knuckles and hairy backs and unibrows are all genetic.  Some physical traits can be manipulated by outside forces such as weight and height being affected by diet.  While other physical traits are guaranteed such as gender and skin color.

We can bask in or avoid the sun to tan our cheeks or keep them creamy white, but we can’t inherently change the actual, honest to goodness birth-given color of our skin.  It will always revert back to its natural color.

But what about those seemingly random behaviors like, say, nose picking?  Some people have never stuffed a finger in their nostrils while others dig for gold several times a day.  Does this run in the family?  Is it genetic or purely learned?  Or a combination of both?

Because, let’s face it, some behaviors that seem to be completely learned may be very genetic–or vice-versa.  For instance, while recently visiting the zoo, I watched a nasty bunch of monkeys.  This crew was unkempt, boisterous and engaged in base behaviors–like rapidly taking turns urinating on a pile of fresh pooh.  They clamored about and banged on windows.  One went so far as to pick his hinder and sniff his fingers.

Learned or genetic?  I don’t know.  The monkey clan next door was far calmer and seemed prim and proper by comparison.  And cleaner too.  Maybe a hidden camera would have caught this species picking and sniffing and claiming piles of debris like their neighbors did.  Or maybe not.  After all, they could see into each other’s pens…

The question of Nature vs Nurture is a favorite topic in science and psychology.  It has been forever, and likely will continue as a much debated topic through all eternity.

But, what if the code gets cracked and a formula is written that can pinpoint certain predispositions with 100% accuracy.  What then?

Teachers (and maintenance engineers), would you demand that the Nose Picking Gene gets turned off before kids enter school?  Especially the gene that makes some wipe their boogers on anything except a Kleenex?  Even if the frequency and gross-factor of nose picking can vary from student to student?

Seriously, if we could, would we turn off crude behaviors because they disgust and annoy us, effectively creating a homogenized race?  And, who would get to decide the onslaught of Crude Behavior Banning?

Or, what about impinging behavior restrictions on individuals based on medical predispositions?  Is it feasible that insurance companies could refuse treatment to someone genetically predisposed to skin cancer if she sun bathed on the beach?  Even though non-sunbathers still get diagnosed?

The implications are too many and make my head want to explode, so please chime in with your two pennies.

If we could genetically pinpoint behaviors do we have a right/duty to restrict them?  Why or why not?  And who decides which behaviors are merely annoying and which ones are downright dangerous? 

Seriously, do we let school boards determine whether or not to turn off the Nose Picking, Loud Talking and Mouth Open While Chewing genes?  Or, do we simply compile class lists differently?  IE: giving the Nose Picking students to the Nose Picking teachers and assigning Nose Picking janitors to clean those Nose Picking rooms?  Or do we create specific classes, such as Nose Picking etiquette 101, geared toward modifying natural tendencies in a socially acceptable way–even though we know these students will continue to nose-pick on some level because of their genetic codes? 

And, what of the medical implications?  Diseases found in snot can be fatal to certain groups of people.  So, are these genetic Nose Pickers potential murderers?

Curious minds really, really, really want to know!