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Ethics of Human Genetic Engineering

Autor:   •  March 12, 2018  •  2,265 Words (10 Pages)  •  3 Views

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The main secular objection towards genetic engineering concerns the ethical principles of justice (Koeppsell). This worry of introducing genetic engineering as a commonplace procedure is simple; it can be abused. Much like anabolic steroids are used by athletes to obtain an advantage over their adversaries, many people are concerned that genetic modification can be exploited to give certain people a competitive edge. While it is true that the misuse of this medical practice should be outlawed, the actual consequences of the would-be crime are small. Even without modification, genetics are unfair. Although genetic intervention could exacerbate existing inequities or create new ones, social inequity is already present. Despite Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that all men are created equal, it is evident that he is objectively incorrect. Some people are born shorter or weaker than they would like. Most importantly, some people are born into wealth, while others are poor. The inequality of access of genetic modification is exponentially increased by the fact that the poor, who are more likely to need genetic enhancements, will never be to purchase them. This creates a snowball where the rich will be able to stack the deck in favour of their children, which will in turn increase the likelihood of the children being wealthy in and of themselves. Nonetheless, neither of these dilemmas are unprecedented scenarios. To make money, one needs to have money. Inequality of medical treatment access already exists when someone cannot afford insurance, or a certain procedure. The secular objection to genetic engineering stems from the fear of its use as a means for the rich to give themselves a competitive advantage. The most controversial of all is the procedure to alter one’s genes in a way that increases their intelligence (CSIRO). One of the current ways that the rich obtain a competitive advantage for their children is their ability to afford first-rate education, thereby making their child more intelligent. If this form of raising IQ is permissible, can we confidently disallow the alteration of one’s genes to reach the same goal (Koeppsell)? The difference between the two methods of becoming smarter lies in the moral principles of their processes. If one attends a school where they receive premium education, they must first learn the virtues of hard work, cooperation, and responsibility in order to become smarter. Thus, they become a better person in the process. With genetic engineering, the person will become smarter, but without learning any of the traits that better them as a moral individual. Therefore, the usage of genetic engineering on humans must only be to create equilibrium in those with debilitating disorders. This principle is analogous to the morality of a function procedure like laser eye surgery to a cosmetic procedure like breast enhancement surgery. All humans have a right to vision, hearing, and a healthy life. The technology must be should not be completely prohibited, but regulated fairly to ensure proper use: bringing justice to the individuals that were wronged by Mother Nature, and giving them the ability to function as a healthy person without giving them a competitive advantage.

Ethics is the branch of philosophy that evaluates the concepts of right and wrong conduct. Distinguishing between right and wrong is not as easy as black and white. The moral wrongness of an action can be outweighed by its benefits. For example, although killing is wrong, shooting an armed killer in order to save lives is generally considered morally right. The case of genetic engineering shares a similar moral gradient, but the drawbacks are lesser and the benefits are greater (Stock). The benefits of genetically modifying any organism, is numerous. A genetically modified form of bacteria, called Burkholderia cepacia, can digest petroleum and is used in oil spills to aid in cleanup (Koeppsell). Genetically modified crops have a greater yield, and are more resistant to pests, droughts, and food-borne diseases. Genetically modified farm animals yield more meat and milk. The genetic engineering of farm animals coincides with another common ethical issue: the slaughtering of animals. Because GM animals yield more meat, fewer of them would have to be slaughtered. In addition, advancements in genetic modification could allow people to breed species of farm animals that do not feel pain, due the lack of pain receptors. This would make the slaughtering of these animals more humane, as they would not suffer through the process. Through genetic modification, many of the ethical concerns of animal slaughtering can be eliminated. In humans, gene therapy has already been used in special cases to effectively treat acute lymphocytic leukemia, color blindness, and deafness. It is clear that gene therapy can be used to treat a variety of conditions, and if fully legalized around the world, could be the answer to many of the diseases that plague humanity. Admittedly, the downside to human genetic engineering is rather frightening: the unknown. No one knows what will happen if gene therapy is allowed to be widespread. Although it is very uncommon, the alteration of a gene may have unwanted and unforeseeable side effects. An example of an undesirable side effect is present in the case of Bt-corn. It is a type of corn that was genetically modified to be more resistant to pesticides, and was proven to be safe for human consumption. However, a study done by Cornell in 1999 showed that Bt-corn produced a toxin that was lethal to the larvae of Monarch butterflies (Koeppsell). This unexpected aftereffect disrupted the ecosystem by lowering the population of Monarch butterflies. Fortunately, because Monarch butterflies have a relatively insignificant footprint on the food chain, the state of the ecosystem in relation to human life was unaffected. Nonetheless, this byproduct of Bt-corn is an example of the danger of genetic modification. The most important takeaway from the case of Bt-corn is the lesson that genetic engineers learned. Genome alterations should only be gradually introduced in isolated environments so that generational effects can be observed and evaluated (Pray). If the modification proves to be safe to the entire ecosystem for multiple generations, only then can it be released to the public. When weighing risks to benefits, it is clear that the latter is more substantial. With proper risk assessment and appropriate experimental procedure to ensure safety over multiple generations, geneticists can minimize the possible unfavourable consequences of their work.

Upon examining the grounds of the moral objections of this new technology, one can conclude that the rejections have little legitimacy. A risk analysis on genetic engineering shows that adverse consequences are rare, and can be avoided by being more prudent and regulating


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