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The science of genetic engineering, also referred to as biotechnology, first came into the scientific realm in the 1970s. This recent technology offered a new way to manipulate an organism or a population of organisms. Researchers and scientists from around the world were thrilled at the upcoming knowledge that could answer many of their questions dealing with all aspects of genetics. The new genetic engineering technology was never meant to hurt individuals. On the contrary, it offered promises of manipulating the molecules that make up the genetics of living matter in order to benefit, even save, an individual's life. Although genetic engineering promises good fortune for the human race, many questions have been raised pertaining to issues concerning safety, necessity, and, most of all, morality of the entire enterprise. It has been shown through the years, that genetic engineering not only provides great risks to men, women, and children but also presents potential dangers to the environment. True, genetic engineering can have numerous medical advantages, but overall, it is a detrimental procedure to the advancement of humanity.
The subject of genetic engineering performed on humans has achieved great acclaim as well as great opposition. Some people say that genetic engineering is beneficial to society while others argue that it should be halted. In order to fully understand this issue, it is important to look at both views in this controversy. One must believe that those who do not know their opponent's arguments do not completely understand their own. When the opinion of others is known one can then become a more "intelligent and discriminating consumer of information in our media-centered culture" (Dudley 9).
What are the benefits of genetic engineering? For one thing, chronic and fatal diseases can be avoided before they strike. Many lives, as well as medical dollars, could be saved if doctors could identify individuals that have a likelihood of developing heart disease, cancer, and other fatal diseases. If genetic engineering is allowed to continue, there might even someday be a cure for heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer, and even AIDS. Genetic engineering might also be used to correct genetic disorders.
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Biotechnology presents the possibility of correcting genetic disorders. Caused by an insufficient amount of a single protein, severed combined immune deficiency is the hereditary disorder brought to public attention by David, the "Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Children with this disease cannot fight off simple infections, and they rarely survive the first two years of life. The condition may be cured by replacing the gene that codes for the deficient protein. (Dudley 85)
Genetic screening can also detect problems during a pregnancy. Discovery of genetic deformities at an early stage of pregnancy introduces the possibility of treating the fetus by replacing or repairing imperfect genes, aborting the fetus, or allowing parents time to plan proper care after birth. Such deformities and birth defects can be controlled with genetic engineering technology. Genetic procedures are also used for infertility problems. These days, for example, artificial insemination permits a female to carry a child by an unknown donor whose sperm can now be examined for genetic health.
Genetic engineering might also help elderly people. Through cloning - a procedure in which an organism or gene is duplicated from the original and incorporates precise genetic makeup - the elderly are able to deal with infectious diseases, heart and kidney problems, and even cancer. Aging individuals who remain healthy because of such manipulations, support themselves with little or no cost to the rest of the population. In fact, "they are a benefit to their community. They have time for the very young, they have vocational and professional experiences that can be a valuable resource to working people, and they may be reservoirs of community and family history" (McKinnell 72). Although proponents point to the advantages of genetic engineering, however, one needs to consider "the manipulative power of the new biotechnologies poses a threat to public health, to the quality of the food we eat, and to the biological integrity of life itself" (Wekesser 37).
Thus, although genetic engineering has many benefits, it also has the potential to have its power abused. According to physicist Richard Seed, altering of embryos will "start therapeutically, and in the future will be used to control evolution" (Dudley 54). This aspect of genetic engineering applies not only to altering embryos but to all branches of biotechnology. Consider genetic screening, for instance. "...What if the couple (or the government) is permitted to monitor embryos so that any with an Ôundesirable' genetic trait may be aborted? ... is this the first step towards creating Hitler's master race through eugenics (i.e. preserving only genetically Ôsuperior' people)? What if tests show there is only a 50 percent possibility of contracting an incurable debilitating disease? What if the disease is not necessarily life-threatening, like cerebral pasly or multiple sclerosis? What if genetic screening shows that a baby will be blind or deaf? What if it shows the baby will be a boy and not the girl the couple wants? Under which of these situations would abortion be moral? Where does a responsible society draw a line?" (Vorspan 286) Clearly, one can see that there are many moral issues involved in a simple procedure of genetic screening. Wouldn't this procedure, in the long run, lead parent to construct whatever genetic makeup they want the child to have? An innocent fetus might be terminated just because it wasn't of the desirable sex that the parents desired. Can we let this happen in our society? The answer is most definitely not!
Genetic screening also increases the chance of discrimination, in jobs, in schools, and in services. The information acquired through genetic screening may cause insurance companies not to offer life or health insurance coverage to people who have a chance of getting a certain disease, even though a portion of these people will never actually contract the disease. The most dramatic recent examples of the industry's fears in this regard was provoked by the AIDS epidemic. Insurance companies charge low premiums for people in their twenties and thirties. Lately however, companies have found themselves insuring people in their twenties and thirties who have been infected with the HIV virus. This caused many insurance companies to try to screen clients for HIV and base the insurance coverage on that information. This dilemma is thus posed:
If people are going to undergo predictive screening, both to advance knowledge in the field and to find out information of potential value to their own health and even their own life, they will need to be protected against unfair discrimination by insurance companies, while at the same time these companies will need to be protected against adverse selection. (Wekesser 211)
Many questions still need to be answered before we continue with biotechnology. If genetic screening was to occur, who should the newly found information about an individual be given to? Should this information be given to insurance companies causing great discrimination? Should information about an inclination toward alcoholism be given to a potential employer? Should information about a genetic tendency to emotional problems be given to a university admissions office? Where do we draw the line? It will be virtually impossible to set up fair and moral policies concerning such issues.
Dick Russell, a free-lance writer specializing in environmental matters poses a very crucial question: "Should biotechnology be allowed to play God? The implications are frightening" (Dudley 25). In his essay on the dangers of genetic engineering, he quotes Dr. Edwin Chagaff, Professor Emeritus of biochemistry at Columbia University Medical School, who says that "science is now the craft of manipulation, modification, substitution and deflection of the forces of nature" (Dudley 26). He warns, we are heading toward "human husbandry" in which embryos will be mass-produced for experimental purposes. "What I see coming is a gigantic slaughterhouse, a molecular Auschwitz, in which valuable enzymes, hormones and so on will be extracted instead of gold teeth" (Dudley 26). Jeremy Rifkin, a major critic of biotechnology, supports this view by asking, "Do we want our children to grow up in a world where the genes of plants, animals and humans are interchangeable and living things are engineered products with no greater intrinsic value than microwave ovens?" (Dudley 76). One can see that it is not wise to pursue genetic engineering studies.
Cloning, a branch of genetic engineering, raises serious ethical issues. Its supporters believe that it would be incredibly useful to society if we had, let's say, one hundred Einsteins. Surely if one Einstein revolutionized our whole perception of the universe decades ago, wouldn't one hundred of them increase greatly the advancement of humanity? Although this sounds very convincing and beneficial, the cloning of humans would cause a downfall of the morals, ethics, and principles engraved in Americans by their founding fathers. If Einstein could be cloned, what about Hitler or Attila the Hun? "In theory, it is not inconceivable that, from a single living cell of Beethoven or Einstein, a new Beethoven or Einstein could be produced. The same would of course, apply to Attila the Hun or Hitler" (Vorspan 281). Under Hitler's rule millions of people died during the Holocaust. If we had one hundred Hitler's, imagine all the innocent lives put to risk because of this "experiment" with such deadly technology. Is experimentation worth millions of lives? Most definitely not!
One of the major lessons that we all learn in grade school, is to believe in yourself and love yourself as an individual. In our society we value uniqueness and individualism. Cloning of humans could end this individuality. Could uniqueness be possible? Definitely not! Distinction between people would not be possible, and our world would turn into a conformist society.
In the Declaration of a Heretic, Jeremy Rifkin describes risks posed by the power genetic engineering creates:
Every new technological revolution brings with it both benefits and costs. The more powerful the technology is at expropriating and controlling the forces of nature, the more exacting the price we are forced to pay in terms of disruption and destruction wreaked on the ecosystems that sustain life... Genetic engineering represents the ultimate tool. It extends humanity's reach over the forces of nature as no other technology in history... With genetic technology we assume control over the hereditary blueprints of life itself. Can any reasonable person believe for a moment that such unprecedented power is without great risk? (Dudley 27)
These "great risks" to nature were illustrated in Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Although a work of fiction, Jurassic Park clearly captures the world of genetic engineering at its most destructive point. Questions continue to arise regarding the release of genetically manipulated strains into the environment. In 1987, a company called Advanced Genetic Sciences conducted two controversial experiments on a strawberry patch in California. The company altered bacteria in order to prevent crops from freezing in hard frost. Once hundreds, even thousands, of new-manipulated organisms are let loose, the results could be devastating. Agronomists have found that although many non-native natural species brought to the United Sates have adapted, others have been found to be destructive with other species. The gypsy moth, kudzu vine, Dutch elm disease and chestnut blight are examples. As seen in Jurassic Park and in such experiments, humans do not have the power to "play God." If we choose to... we will most definitely fail.
Many skeptics believe that genetic engineering will never be functional. For example, Gerald R. Campbell speculates on the many difficulties that we would inevitably encounter if we support genetic engineering. He states:
Even if there were no ethical questions about human genetic engineering, it is highly unlikely that this procedure could be attempted in our lifetimes. Genetic engineering is extremely difficult technically and has had a low success rate in experimental animals. It can also create genetic damage in the fertilized egg rather than correcting it. It would involve repeated surgical procedures which would pose health risks for the mother. There is not a hospital or clinic anywhere in the United States, and most likely anywhere in the world, that should allow such a risky procedure to be done in its facilities. (Dudley 88)
The introduction of foreign DNA into the egg or sperm prior to fertilization presents even greater dilemmas. These procedures are referred to as "germ-line genetic engineering." This is true because the altered gene becomes incorporated into the embryos's own germ-line, and thus is passed down from one generation to the next. In other words, when altering a specific trait, an error that might possibly occur, will spread through generations and extend to the children of the manipulated person. In this case, we are predetermining not only the fate of one person, but of all the generations that follow. Before long, we might even be controlling the evolutionary process! This must be stopped! Scientific knowledge is still not advanced enough to promote genetic engineering. Because of this, we may inadvertently engineer a gene which could start a new disease in human beings from "a bacteria that would multiply so fast we would not be able to contain it" (Vorspan 280). In Modern Biotechnology, W.F. Anderson stated:
Our knowledge of how the human body works is still elementary. Our understanding of how the mind, both conscious and subconscious, functions is even more rudimentary. The genetic basis for instinctual behavior is largely unknown. Our disagreements about what constitutes "human-hood" are notorious. And our insight into what, and to what extent, genetic components might play a role in what we comprehend as our "spiritual" side is almost nonexistent. We simply should not meddle in areas where we are so ignorant. (Dudley 76)
Anderson's concerns are valid. For example, it is known that one copy of a gene connected with sickle cell anemia also protects against malaria; the transgenic tomato could transfer antibiotic resistance to gut bacteria. As a result, farm animals might transfer this resistance to human beings. There is too much at risk if we pursue with these studies.
Should humanity embark on the expedition of genetic engineering or should it be stopped before it gets out of hand? These are questions that will continue to baffle us. However, one must acknowledge that, although great medical knowledge can save lives in the future, it can also destroy lives in the present. Therefore, genetic engineering can be detrimental to the development of our society. The following is a passage by Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation of Emerging Technologies in Washington D.C.
The question, then, is whether or not humanity should begin the process of engineering future generations of human beings by technological design in the laboratory. What is the price we pay for embarking on a course whose final goal is the "perfection" of the human species? How important is it that we eliminate all the imperfections, all the defects? What price are we willing to pay to extend our lives , to ensure our own health, to do away with all the inconveniences, the irritations, the nuisances, the infirmities, the suffering, that are so much a part of the human experience? Are we so enamored with the idea of physical perpetuation at all costs that we are even willing to subject the human species to rigid architectural design?
With human genetic engineering, we get something and we give up something. In return for securing our own physical well-being we are forced to accept the idea of reducing the human species to a technologically designed product. Genetic engineering poses the most fundamental of questions. Is guaranteeing our health worth trading away our humanity? (Dudley 78)
Jeremy Rifkin's questions, although unanswerable need to be grappled with to ensure the safety of future generations.
Genetic engineering began in the 1970s The recent technology offered a new way to manipulate an organism. Although genetic engineering promises good fortune for the human race, there are many questions pertaining to issues concerning safety, necessity, and most of all morality of the entire enterprise
Although genetic engineering can have numerous medical advantages, it is overall a detrimental procedure to the advancement of humanity
A. Prevents diseases
B. Agricultural benefits
C. Environmental benefits
D. Benefits the elderly
A. Negative effects on human health
1. New diseases
2. Genetic mutations are passed through generations
B. Ethical concerns
1. Genetic Engineering allows the opportunity to tamper with nature and play God
C. Encourages discrimination
1. Insurance companies
2. Who should the genetic information about a person be given to?
D. Risk to nature
1. Manipulated crops can be destructive with other species
2. The new bacteria can cause disruption on the ecosystem
E. We do not have enough knowledge to genetically engineer
1. Genetic engineering is a very difficult procedure
2. Genetic damage to the fertilized egg might occur
Genetic engineering is detrimental to the development of our society. Tie in all important points. Genetic engineering is not scientifically possible, it is a risk to nature, discrimination, negative effects on human health, ethics, broad general statement on the topic, and there is too much at risk if we pursue with these studies.
Research in Genetic Engineering Should Be Halted