Eugenics & Ethics

“The selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations, typically in reference to humans” (Wilson, 2017). This bold statement grasps one’s attention. Everyone wants to make a change and teach their children to be better human beings, especially from experiences of what not to do. Eugenics can make that happen without the teaching, scolding, and frustration of having lazy children. The upcoming Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) allows a human being to select certain characteristics to create the ideal offspring. It is an easier, faster and cost-effective way to edit genes and create the perfect humans, rather than the traditional methods of grooming.  As enticing as this may sound, one can’t help but wonder why this novel technology has not been implemented in human beings.

After thorough research, here are some ethical concerns that have been found, with regard to Eugenics: what if the gene targeted is incomplete or altered? What if technology is heading in the direction of changing appearances, thus making everyone alike? What if this technology is abused by those with malicious intent? Are humans playing God? Could we perhaps be creating an unsustainable life for future generations?

Nobel laureate, David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology said at the opening of the International summit of human Gene Editing in 2015 “We’re taking on a heavy responsibility for our society because we understand that we could be on the cusp of a new era in human history”. At the end of the summit, the process of Eugenics relied on two conditions being met: firstly, the safety aspects, and secondly, the issue of societal consensus (Baker, 2016).

By default, no technology can be perfect; therefore it is unsurprising that errors in gene targeting have occurred in the past during human genetic modification. A Chinese experiment done on editing genes by Canquan Zhou and Junjiu Huang of the Guangdong Province Key Laboratory of Reproductive Medicine, used human embryos, which caused “untoward mutations,” (Fox, 2015). The wrong gena was targeted in this experiment, while in several other trials it showed new genetic material inserting itself on wrong genomes (Powledge, 2015). Initially, it begins with the use of one embryo. However, it takes more than one to try to achieve the perfect match. In order for the process to be successful, many embryos will be culled to get the perfect gene.

A common ethical question with regards to people of religion: Are humans trying to take the place of God?  The Islamic belief in monotheism clarifies the existence of God. The Quran being the divine scripture of Islam states clearly “We have certainly created man in the best of stature” Verse (95:4). Therefore here shouldn’t be a need to edit what imperfect, on the one hand. However, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars about genetic modification of an embryo re influencing the sex of a child. With genetic manipulation we are merely editing and not creating. This introduces a grey area of Islamic jurisprudence.

Another concerning factor is that it will open a gene pool filled with various new diseases. In the article, Chinese Gene-editing experiment creeps out scientist by Fox (2015), reports that gene therapy has been known to cause diseases, such as Leukemia.  More time and effort would perhaps be required, in order to combat these conditions through medical means or maybe through genetics. More problems will be created, with higher expenses to combat one disease, resulting in more emotional pain for all those involved.  On a positive note, we could have new beings and a different species which could bring about a different exciting life. However it could also open doors to new stereotypes. Fox (2015) said “Creating genetically modified human beings could easily lead to new forms of inequality, discrimination and societal conflict”.

Is aim for the new era to alter appearances thus making everyone  look alike? In this generation already most humans are “Kardashian wannabe”. The Kardashian are known for their successful reality TV show (Kerr & Pearce, 2017).  Many young adults’ idolise the Kardashians’ and feel the need to follow their ways. So many females would like to have that appearance, in order to be successful like Kim.  “She was most recently seen showing off her iconic curves while on holiday – with fans applauding her for allowing them to remain untouched” (Kerr & Pearce, 2017). Apart from that, it is common among our generation to keep up with a trend. This would entail for majority of humans to become, act and look alike.

Nelson (2016) quoted from the spectator (1912) “The only way of cutting off the constant stream of idiots and imbeciles and feeble-minded persons who help to fill our prisons and workhouses, reformatories, and asylums is to prevent those who are known to be mentally defective from producing offspring. Undoubtedly the best way of doing this is to place these defectives under control.” He wants to improve society’s intelligence thus creating a harmonious, peaceful world. In contrast in order for this to be done, selective breeding should be encouraged to stop the stupid, ill and malign from passing their “defective” genes to future generations. The aim is to create a number of robotic humans in order to follow certain people preferences or ways. It would cause retardation in creativity, uniqueness, and create tedious jobs therefore leaving many unemployed.

Due to the high cost of these treatments, unfortunately they would be only available to the wealthy. This could result in specific individuals, utilising this to increase corruption and evil throughout the world. There is a saying “history repeats itself”. In as early as the 1930s, Nazi Germany rulers selectively reduced the presence of those deemed to be “socially inferior” through involuntary sterilization (Wilson, 2017).  A mentality has been brought upon in this day and age to same effect as the German ruler in an attempt to replace people who lack intelligence with a gene that would enhance their intellect. Mr Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa already manipulated the people of the country by making big promises yet using the countries money for his luxurious lifestyle. If he had access to eugenics, the outcome that would possibly occur might be destructive to our country. Powledge (2015) mentioned that the real danger would be something like “a government or society” that isn’t bound by normal human ethical standards, and begins to treat their population like livestock.

Single men and parents who want perfect children will genetically engineer their kids. Parents will influence the ability to choose their prospective offspring for any number of traits, from hair colour to character therefore “producing” the perfect child (Heyes, 2016).  This would deem to create competition between parents as to whose child was created more perfectly. Biases and stereotypes among children and adults will expand into several aspects. Hence children could then be continuously having a genetic code inserted in them until they fit the so call “norm”.  Nelson (2016) said “We may perhaps assume that, if people grow less superstitious, government will acquire the right to sterilise those who are not considered desirable as parents”. This indicates that the parent who has genetically created a child fitting for society will be accepted while others who do not fit the criteria will face consequences such as cessation of their progeny.

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An important aspect is the attempt to perfect the human race, which could possibly make people less appreciative. Humans’ intend to always better the world, yet at the same time they could be destroying it by introducing new advancements. Amid technology come several harmful effects such as cancer resulting from exposure to toxins and radiation. Are humans not the cause for such pollution, yet they claim to create a better place.

Josephine Johnston says, “We don’t have a good way of talking about what we owe future generations,” she adds, “It’s difficult for us to think beyond our grandchildren and to imagine what that world will be like and to understand what we owe to people we will never know.” (Fox, 2015) This is quite scary, since it shows human thinking to be selfish and inconsiderate. Being concerned about future generations should be something that is part of our co-existence. If we’re more conscious of the future, we’ll move towards sustainable living and spend more time ensuring.

A professor of genetics at Harvard University Medical School, George Church, told the International summit of human gene editing in 2015 that the real battle would not be between editing cells yet over, where to draw the line between disease prevention and enhancing human characteristics (Baker, 2016). The “Pandora’s box” should remain closed to trying to improve humans. There are other ways of bettering our nation. We, just need to teach, encourage and hope for the best because the future is not guaranteed. “Gene therapy in adults and children is still experimental; the idea is to fix faulty disease-causing genes.” (Fox, 2015). The main concern currently should focus on preventing further diseases. Research with regard to medical diseases, could perhaps find a safer way to use genetic therapy. Fox (2015) says Gene therapy “would be a good thing for curing disease, but if something went wrong, any mistakes would also be permanent.”

In conclusion, many people believe that gene therapy should continue to advance while others not. One’s perspective on this would depend on their beliefs, background knowledge and past experiences. The views expressed here, while respecting all views on genetic modifications, are mostly based on religion and research gathered.

References

Baker, B. (2016). The Ethics of Changing the Human Genome . American Institute of Biological Sciences, 267-273.

Fox, M. (2015). Chinese Gene-Editing Experiment Creeps Out Scientists. NBC News.

Heyes, J. D. (2016). Genetic engineering technology now spearheading the return of eugenics and the push for a ‘master’ superior race of men. Natural News.

Kerr, C., & Pearce, T. (2017). ARE YOU KEEPING UP? Who are the Kardashian and Jenner family and how did they become famous? The complicated family tree explained. The Sun.

Muanya, C. (2015). Red alert over DNA mutation, editing of human embryos. The Guardian.

Nelson, F. (2016). The return of eugenics. The Spectator.

Powledge, T. (2015). Homo sap is now a GMO. Shall we edit the genes of human embryos? On Science Blogs.

Wilson, P. (2017). Eugenics. Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

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