Do we have a moral obligation as a society to ensure that genetic engineering is pursued, or should we do everything possible to ensure that we do not open this Pandora’s Box? – Lania Louw
Genetic engineering is a concept that has been with us for many, many years, but something humans often refrain from talking about…
Genetic engineering, also called genetic modification, is the ‘direct manipulation of an organism’s genome using biotechnology. It is used to change the genetic makeup of cells, including the transfer of genes within and across species boundaries to produce improved organisms’ (Wikipedia, 2017) (Pezzoli, Chiesa, De Nardo, & Candiani, 2012).
People have many different opinions with regards to the production of genetically modified humans which is based on ethical/moral beliefs that inform each individual’s decisions.
“I suspect any worries about genetic engineering may be unnecessary. Genetic mutations have always happened naturally, anyway.” (James Lovelock)
This quote speaks truth; humans have altered the genomes of species for thousands of years without them even knowing; through selective breeding, or artificial selection as contrasted with natural selection. Genetic engineering as the direct manipulation of DNA by humans outside breeding and mutations, however, has only existed since the 1970s and has been growing ever since (Wikipedia, 2017).
A new technology discovered is CRISPR. CRISPR stands for “Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats” – this is a mouthful; but what it actually is, is a tool that allows us to modify DNA at specific locations in the human body; a tool that allows scientists to produced genetically modified organisms much quicker and easier than in the past. This allows researchers and scientists to permanently modify genes in living cells and organisms, and may make it possible to correct mutations at specific locations in the human genome (Zang, 2017).
Genetic engineering can either lean more towards eugenics, which is used to improve the physical appearance and abilities of humans, or gene therapy, intended to lessen the burden of disease placed upon some individuals and as mentioned; many different opinions exist when it come to topics like these.
Every day in the hospital I see hundreds of individuals suffering from diseases like cancer and cystic fibrosis. People fighting for their lives. I see the agony in their faces and feel the anxiety when they speak to me; this is why I think genetic engineering can possibly be used in a positive way to alter human genes to enhance our genetic make-up in the sense of reducing the diseases within the body; diseases that would otherwise be incurable.
An example of how CRISPR can be helpful is seen in a recent study done. A group of scientists from University of Rochester Medical center used CRISPR to try and eliminate one of the key proteins that allow cancer cells to grow in the body. These researchers were successful in their attempt and, although it was a first of its kind study, they are of meaning that this is a technology that could definitely be used to treat cancer patients in the future (Maldarelli, 2017).
Therefore in the sense of reducing the incidence of disease, I think that we have a moral obligation to ensure that genetic engineering is pursued. However, as soon as the first genetically modified child is born, a door or “Pandora’s box” is opened that cannot be closed; this I think however has already happened. This magic box is already open, and in my opinion; as our knowledge of our genetic code enhances, the temptation to change it will grow. Yes, we could solve a lot of problems, but there will be a few people taking this technology to the extreme and developing humans, which (in their eyes) are perfect; even if it means that humans will be born with wings…
Different moral and ethical issues have been touched on that should be considered when talking about genetic engineering. The two that stood out to me relates to designing the “perfect” human being and then also the effect all of this will have on our mother earth.
The first issue and problem with regards to genetic engineering is that it should never be used as a means of simply enhancing any individual’s genetic make-up. Rather, genetic engineering should be utilized in the field of positive eugenics to improve the genetic stock of the human species through the selection of individuals with desirable genetic characteristics and instead of getting rid of people with undesirable ones. I feel that the practice of eugenics is ethical only when genetic engineering and morality are both a part of it (Sadler & Zeidler, 2004).
Another aspect in which the role of morality in genetic engineering should be considered include the ecological burden that optimization of the human life span will place on the resources of our planet. Genetic engineering will increase the human life span but, from the moral and ethical point of view, this might not actually be desirable. Not only will this place excessive burden on available resources, the human body and mind is not designed by nature for limitless creativity. As such this it is a possibility that such long life spans will doom human existence to a boring, calcified routine (Sadler & Zeidler, 2004).
“I see nothing wrong ethically with the idea of correcting single gene defects through genetic engineering. But I am concerned about any other kind of intervention, for anything else would be an experiment, which would impose our will on future generations and take unreasonable chances with their welfare…Thus such intervention is beyond the scope of consideration.” (Ian Wilmut)
There have been a lot of controversies with regards to genetic engineering and many people are of meaning that this topic is not ethically accepted. Many people feel that it clashes strongly with their personal morals and values, which I understand. I however feel that genetic engineering is not something that should be seen as morally wrong. I feel that it is something that should be used to help those suffering from life threatening diseases. I feel that genetic engineering and morality is something that should be practiced together and it should be used in a moral and ethical way for positive modification only.
For a better understanding on genetic engineering and CRISPR, watch the following YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAhjPd4uNFY
Maldarelli, C. (2017). Scientists are using gene editing to try to slow cancer growth. Retrieved from the popular science website: http://www.popsci.com/CRISPR-cancer
Pezzoli, D., Chiesa, R., De Nardo, L., & Candiani, G. (2012). We still have a long way to go to effectively deliver genes! Journal of Applied Biomaterials & Functional Materials., 10(2), 82-91.
Sadler, T. D., & Zeidler, D. L. (2004). The morality of socio-scientific issues construal and resolution of genetic engineering dilemmas. Science education, 88(1), 4-27.
Wikipedia. (2017). Gene therapy. Retrieved from En.wikipedia.org: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_therapy
Zang, S. (2017). Everything you need to know about CRISPR, the New Tool that Edits DNA. Retrieved from Gizmido.com: https://gizmodo.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-crispr-the-new-tool-1702114381