I’ve never had a strong opinion of genetic alterations because I’ve never thought about using them to affect change in my life or future. I have not yet considered having children in the near future and therefore haven’t put much thought into whether or not I would use genetic engineering to craft their gene traits. But, if I consider my own battles with health throughout my life I can’t say that it may never be something I consider. If there was some way I could prevent my kids or any kid from having to endure medical condition(s) linked to their genes, I would. And while many individuals and parents share the same opinion; with new technology developments such as this, ethical considerations cannot be ignored.
Ethical questions to consider in the event that genetic engineering become an everyday concept are as follows (Genetics home reference, 2017):
- Distinguishing good from bad when looking at the intention of the gene intervention
- Exclusivity: will genetic engineering only be available to individuals who can afford it?
- Which traits will be considered health hazards and be granted ethical clearance for change?
- Acceptance in society: with genetic alteration being readily available; will the “other” or “different” individuals in society be socially excluded and isolated?
- Should genetic engineering be approved for changing basic human traits such as height, intellect, athletic ability?
For the individuals who want to make use of genetic alterations, what are their intentions? Is it simply physical appearance preferences? Or, are their motives tainted like when eugenic experiments became co-opted by the Nazis during World War II to justify genocide (Northwesternedu, 2017). Interrogating intentions in the use of engineering is vital to avoid World War 2 tendencies. A suggested guideline for granting participation in the use of genetic engineering should include and extensive investigation of intent.
Will every person, regardless of their economic class and current financial status, have access to the option of genetic engineering? Or will, like many other medical interventions, engineering only be for the “wealthy”? In South Africa, even though access to medical care is a basic human right, the quality of your medical care depends on whether or not you have medical aid. Medical aid is a monthly fee you pay to insurance or medical companies to secure yourself medical care and attention in the private sector. This is when you have access to better, safer (sometimes) and a more prestige medical experience i.e. access to more expensive medication, hospital stay, equipment, chance of serious/costly operations etc. So will the average South African, for example, be able to shield their kids from cystic fibrosis, downs syndrome, relevant cancers, haemophilia, and progeria (Genomegov, 2017). Or will healthy children soon be a marker of wealth? (Thedailybeastcom, 2017)
Traits to consider
When genetic engineering becomes an everyday household term, which traits will families be able to intervene? Will the government release a list of approved medical conditions that may be extracted from embryos to prevent certain gene linked disease in society? Will it become as preventative as HIV or will decisions still lie in the hands of parents? Also, which disease will make the cut? Should only life threatening disease be considered or will there be a way for parents to justify which interventions they want to take and then have it be judged by a governing body? For example, you discover you and your partner’s zygote carries the cystic fibrosis gene and you would like to intervene to remove it on the basis of not being able to afford the chronic/every medical expenses associated with this disorder. It I then put in front of a “genetics judge”, your financial records are investigated and overall capability is explored to which it is decided that you have permission to continue your genetic alteration. Will medical gene therapy become protocol? For example, will absolutely every embryo need to undergo screening for disease to prevent any and all gene related disease? Will future societies have little to no genetic disorder prevalence’s and every disorder be standardly intervened just like HIV and TB? Will the very controversial debate of disease evening out population size conquer? Many people believe that disease occurs naturally and for good reason: to balance out population size. A gentleman born in the late 1700’s had a theory that the planet would only sustain a certain population and once it had reached its peak, nature would find a way to level out the demand on her natural resources. He suggested that Plagues, Famine and diseases would assist with population control (News24com, 2013). Perhaps many individuals such as this gentleman, share the same theory that disease balances out population and contributes to the reduction in over-population.
Society has a reputation of being brutal. Issues around bullying are very prevalent these days. Consider families who cannot afford gene therapy and who do not fit into the category of wealth able to make use of it. Will this not create yet another dividing dynamic. Will disease and indifference relating to health be another contributing factor to “poor shaming”? Society needs to consider the shame related to poverty and how it can affect mental/psychological health with this new dynamic of gene therapy (Issac bailey , 2017).
Changing basic human traits
Imagine being able to craft the perfect athlete. The perfect scientist. What if humans could make “designer babies” (Thedailybeastcom, 2017) for industries of sport, film, science and other? Would this be ethical? Would these babies have any chance at a life that’s their own? Why else would parents choose to influence height, athletic ability or intellect if not for their own predisposing expectations of their kids? Is it fair to raise someone with these ideals? I feel not. I would not particularly choose to tamper with the above however, I can understand why short people would want to help their kid avoid being bullied for being the little one. Or, how elevated intellect can play a role on someone’s success in life.
I do not believe that one person can judge another on what they want/prefer in life. Above I have highlighted common concerns around genetic engineering and asked many questions in the hope that whoever reads this post will ask themselves the same questions and hopefully have a better idea or understanding of the ethical considerations linked to genetic engineering or at least discover your own thoughts around it.
Genetics home reference. (2017). Genetics Home Reference. Retrieved 24 June, 2017, from https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/therapy/ethics
Issac bailey . (2017). CNN. Retrieved 26 June, 2017, from http://edition.cnn.com/2017/03/29/opinions/stop-shaming-poor-for-being-poor-bailey/index.html
News24com. (2013). News24. Retrieved 26 June, 2017, from http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Disease-vs-Population-control-20130730
Northwesternedu. (2017). Northwesternedu. Retrieved 26 June, 2017, from https://helix.northwestern.edu/article/modern-eugenics-building-better-person
Thedailybeastcom. (2017). Thedailybeastcom. Retrieved 26 June, 2017, from http://www.thedailybeast.com/designer-babies-are-only-for-the-rich