Is Genetic Engineering Ethically Correct?

Is Genetic Engineering Ethically Correct?

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Over the past few years, genetic engineering has come a long way from its roots. What spawned as just a project for understanding has now become quite powerful. An article written by Michael Riess aided me in gaining some knowledge of the ethical dilemmas faced in the field of genetic engineering.

Suppose you and your partner both discover that you are carriers of a genetic defect known as cystic fibrosis, and the two of you are expecting a baby. Genetic screening gives you the opportunity to use antenatal diagnosis to see if the baby will have cystic fibrosis or not (Reiss). Three-quarters of the time the news will be good: the baby won't have cystic fibrosis. However, on a quarter of the occasions, the news will be: the baby will have cystic fibrosis (Reiss). “At present the only option available to a couple in this position is to decide whether to continue with the pregnancy or opt for a termination” (Riess). Many will opt for termination, even though most people with cystic fibrosis live to adulthood. This is one of the ethical dilemmas faced due to genetic testing.

Riess also goes on to discuss the possibilities of genetically engineering human genes to alter sex, intelligence, beauty, criminality, etc. “It is the case, as shown by twin studies, cross-fostering, and other evidence, that much human behavior has a genetic component to it” (Riess).
“However, attempts to find genes for homosexuality, intelligence, beauty, or criminality are, at best, the first steps to understanding the rich and complex ways in which we behave” (Riess).

Riess emphasizes that as humans in society are far more than just our genetic makeup, because our lives are dependent on the environment in which we live, although he stated, “Suppose, despite what we have said about the complexities of human behavior, it does eventually transpire that somatic gene therapy could reduce the likelihood of someone being violently aggressive or of being sexually attracted to others of the same sex. What then?” A general consensus would tell us that most people would raise their hands in anger and such genetic treatments should be outlawed (Riess).

Another article, which was written by Mary White, regards the ethic for genetic decision-making. White discusses such items as sex selection and disease.

Today, rare requests for sex selection, testing for late onset disorders, or for aid in deliberately conceiving a child with a disability raise two questions of utmost urgency: What constitutes appropriate use of prenatal genetic testing” (White)?

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“What are the ethical responsibilities of genetic counselors in their role as gatekeepers to genetic testing” (White)? These are very important questions that many people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. Typical responses to these questions have drawn on a number of ethical principles, including respect for autonomy, fetal rights, or parental obligations (White). Many kinds of parental decisions may limit a child's options (White). It is difficult to draw the line between genetic and environmental harms, or between parenting that maximizes children's opportunities and parenting that imposes burdens on them (White).

Later on in the article, White discusses that genetic testing/therapy/engineering can be used to aid our society, but there are three characteristic features for genetic decision-making. One, every genetic decision that we are faced with is unique. Two, every consequence is unique.

Three, advances in the treatment of genetic disorders may rapidly change perceptions of what counts as a genetic disease or disability (White). I believe that this would be a good way for scientists to think through the ethics of their current research. All it takes is three simple steps.

All in all, it becomes very difficult to tell what will happen in the future. Perhaps as the world grows in technology we will focus more on the ethical standings of science than religious differences, race, etc. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that genetic engineering will become a large public issue. We shall just wait and see.

Work Cited:

Reiss, Michael. “What Sort of People Do We Want? The Ethics of Changing People Through Genetic Engineering.” Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, & Public Policy 13.1 (1999): 63-92.
White, Mary. “Making Responsible Decisions: An Interpretive Ethic for Genetic Decisionmaking.” The Hastings Center Report 29.1 Jan./Feb. (1999): 14-21.
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