The Implications of Genetic Engineering Essay Sample
As the science of genetic engineering advances, it poses major ethical issues on which people are seriously divided. The argument in favor of proceeding with research at unrestrained pace is mainly advocated by scientists and medical experts who would like to see some fantastic therapeutic benefits that genetic engineering promises come to daylight. On the other side of the debate are people, sometimes led by religious groups, who are concerned we may going too far too fast. Spinoza, the great seventeenth century philosopher and the author of Ethics, said that “There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” Genetic engineering offers enormous hopes — mingled with highly frightening prospects. In the end, however, the reasons for fear seem to far outweigh the prospects of hope.
Genetic engineering is the ability to alter organisms genetically for a variety of purposes, such as developing more disease-resistant fruits and vegetables, or eventually being able to alter embryos genetically so that the fetus and baby will be healthier. Used in reference to humans, the term genetic engineering usually means genetic manipulation of the embryo (Testart 15). It is hard to deny the enormous potential advantages of genetic engineering, at least speaking strictly from a utilitarian point of view. But the rapidity with which this science is progressing makes it difficult to assess its validity, and its dangers, as well as its usefulness. Besides, it touches some very complicated issues that many find difficult to think about or agree upon. There is a growing sense, however, that with the possibilities that genetic engineering opens up, humanity is entering into very deep waters. We are sure to find some great treasures buried in these depths, and the ride that genetic engineering offers can prove to be the adventure of our lifetimes — at the same time we may find ourselves helplessly sinking… Genetic engineering could turn out to be the costliest misadventure in the history of humanity.
Spinoza said, “Freedom is absolutely necessary for the progress in science and the liberal arts.” Since the times of Renaissance, we have accepted freedom as the highest value, and progress as the greatest cause. But the controversial area of genetic engineering is creating the need for us all to think twice, to think again and again, before we move ahead into the territory of human genome. If scientific progress during the last few centuries led us from darkness to light, today we could about to witness that light turn into one of such dazzling brilliance that it may totally blind us.
Genetic engineering makes it possible for us to correct some genetic defects in embryo, eliminating some very serious genetic diseases early on in the formation of a baby. However, there is a distinction between the therapeutic use of genetic intervention and the possibility that these interventions may be used to modify human characteristics beyond those that are needed to sustain or restore health. The possibility of their use to enhance certain human characteristics has significant social implications. For example, such interventions could offer control over the genetic inheritance, including the biological properties and personality traits of our children.
The American Medical Association, in its “Principles of Medical Ethics” has ruled the following with regard to the issue of genetic manipulation and intervention:
Genetic manipulation generally should be utilized only for therapeutic purposes… Because of the potential for abuse, genetic manipulation to affect non-disease traits may never be acceptable and perhaps should never be pursued (Brody 15).
However, there is no absolute distinction between eliminating ‘defects’ and ‘improving heredity’. Correction of mental deficiency, for example can move easily into enhancement of intelligence, and remedies of severe physical disabilities into enhancement of desirable characteristics such as beauty and intelligence. There is a “slippery slope” between one path and the other. The “slippery slope” scenario is commonly put forward by many people who fear the future that genetic engineering could bring. Research in genetic engineering would lead to a technology that would be used to reduce genetic faults, which seems to be a very welcome prospect indeed, but the same technology can also be used to effect changes that can enhance human capacity. There are any number of potential problems and complexities associated with such a possibility.
For instance, children of wealthy parents who could afford to benefit from such genetic-enhancement procedures would be privileged way above children of parents who are relatively lower in economic status. This could create a most abnormal gap in human species, the extent of which is hard to imagine. However this is just the tip of the iceberg. The fear is not just that the society would be sharply divided between the genetically enhanced individuals and those who are not, the real fear is simply that the human society and civilization as we know it would be thrown into utter confusion and chaos. Letting the science of genetic engineering advance without any restraint and take control of our lives would be unwise in the extreme. Genetic engineering may seem very much like a boon to many of us, and for very right reasons, but it is still a technology that could eventually lead us all to our doom, one way or other.
Brody, Baruch A. “Medical Ethics: Codes, Opinions and Statements” Washington : The Bureau of National Affairs. 2000
Testart, Jacques. “From Random Procreation to Standardized Reproduction.” In Ethics and Law in Biological Research, ed. Cosimo Marco Mazzoni. The Hague, The Netherlands : Kluwer Law International. 2002