The Use and Ethics of Genetic Engineering
Ever since the first human genome, we have began to understand and even manipulate DNA. This has led to further scientific discovery, such as gene therapy and cloning. There have been opposing views over whether it is ethical to approach genetic engineering. I believe that genetic engineering has a positive outlook for our future. It will allow us to better understand the human genome so we can improve individuals’ lives. Regulations should be put in place to make sure we are using our technology only for those whose lives are at stake and not for those who wish for designer babies. Gene therapy is most used to ensure a baby will be healthy before it is born. It has also helped treat adults’ diseases. We should, finally, use embryonic stem cells to treat complex conditions, even if cloning is a possibility.
One use of gene therapy is prenatal gene therapy. With this, embryos are modified so that they do not inherit certain hereditary diseases that may cause problems in later life. Prenatal gene therapy has helped through several pregnancies which otherwise would have included babies with defects. According to the Human Fertilization Embryology Authority, out of the 311 women that received PGD in 2010, 121 were able to give birth (“Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis”). There is no guarantee that scientists will find a healthy egg, since they can only use the characteristics from the eggs, rather than creating new ones. Still, prenatal gene therapy has shaped the lives of many by allowing them to remove a hereditary disease from the family line.
Some may argue that the use of this type of gene therapy can become so advanced that we can choose characteristics for a baby. This would not only includes the absence of a hereditary condition but also appearance and personality. While it is possible for our technology to get out of hand, I do not think it is inevitable. With the right measures, we can set apart the parents who want to save their child and the parents who want to make them ideal people. The procedure of finding a healthy egg is complicated and causes a lot of distress, especially when there is always a chance the baby will not make it. The HFEA states that sometimes there are not any embryos suitable to transfer to the womb (“Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis”). If we cannot be certain that a healthy baby will be born, we cannot guarantee that people will want to take this risk just to alter a child’s appearance.
Gene therapy has helped treat diseases. As we continue to understand genetics, we can treat diseases in the future. Currently we have limited knowledge of the human genome. Our experience with using gene therapy has its limits as well. It has not only helped pregnancies result in healthy babies, but it has also treated conditions. This has shown signs of success. According to CNN, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania had a treatment that allowed three blind patients to see again (Cohen et al.). Amazingly, this was done by giving each person only one eye injection. This treatment is proof that understanding how genetics work will lead us to treat more genetic defects.
In opposition, our progress with genetic modification has not shown signs of improvement. Modified viruses too dangerous to use on fetuses, even though they do work. In fact, one person has died from a direct result of gene therapy. Jesse Gelsinger died four days after receiving an injection which was supposed to treat his rare metabolic disorder (Sibbald). Regardless of the mistakes in the past, I believe dangerous measures are sometimes a factor in wanting to make a better change. According to the FDA, the patient had died due to the researchers not reporting the person’s liver damage before he had been given the drug (Hartogs).
Even though the injection is at fault, there were factors in his body chemistry showing he should not have had it in the first place. It is evident that gene therapy has had its failures in the past, but it has shown signs of success. By expanding our knowledge of gene therapy, the only way we can decrease the chances of error are to continue our studies.
Expanding the human genome is always possible, as long as we continue genetic engineering. Further understanding genetics will allow us to understand complex diseases, such as cancer. Stem cells have shown to have a lot of potential in treating conditions. According to Dr. Zoe Holloway of the University of Oxford, adult stem cells have helped with spinal cord injuries by replacing or repairing damaged tissue; unfortunately, they have a limited ability to produce other cells (Holloway). If adult stem cells can repair tissue and treat certain diseases, imagine what embryonic stem cells can do. Specific DNA from embryonic cells can be taken to replace the same damaged DNA in the original sequence (Holloway). This will allow us to discover cures to more complex diseases, since we are relying on a healthy embryo instead of an adult with the condition.
Some may argue that cloning is an unethical possibility. Lawrence Nelson believes that killing an embryo is a violation of a human right, since an embryo is a “carrier of life.” The AAPLOG also believe that cloning goes against religion because it involves “trading a human life” (Aurelia et al.). While I agree that the idea of cloning is problematic, it is unlikely to happen since embryos are only kept for a period of fourteen days (Holloway). I do not believe that a fourteen-day-old embryo has the same rights as a human baby. It is acceptable to kill an embryo, since it does not have a heart or lungs, but I draw the line once the fetus has developed organs. If cloning were to go as far as the clone being born, then killing it would be morally impermissible. As long as it is not necessary to keep an embryo longer than a certain period of time, using embryonic stem cells is something we should further study.
In conclusion, I believe that the pros of genetic modification outweigh the cons. We should continue our research so we can better our world with its advancements, even if it might be possible for people to abuse that power. Currently, gene therapy helps troubled pregnancies. It has helped and will further help treat diseases. Furthering stem cell research will allow us to use embryonic stem cells to treat complex conditions so long as we dispose of the cells within a two week period. Genetic engineering is something that needs to continue. While it is a long shot, perhaps one day we can hope to cure cancer with our knowledge.