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THE CAUSE OR THE CURE

By Kelli Pushman
  

Everyone wants to be beautiful, smart, perfect, immune to disease, and have longevity. However, if this or will it ever be a possibility remains to be seen? Is it ethical to use genetic engineering as a source for improving the quality of life? These questions will soon face the human race, and the answers to these questions are inevitable. Many oppose the prospect of altering humans because they see it as lethal to humanity for religious and moral reasons, and they are also concerned with the unknown consequences. There are also people who think such alternatives will improve the human race and secure the destiny of billions for years to come. Therefore, genetic engineering is a very controversial issue as the twenty first century begins. Political, religious, corporate, and scientific groups around the world each hold their own opinions on the future of genetic engineering.

First, genetic engineering is defined as set of technologies that alter the makeup of cells and move genes across species boundaries to produce novel organisms. It is being used in agriculture, medicine, and animal technology to attempt to make breakthroughs in evolution. These technologies are used by biotech corporations to move genes from one organism to another and transfer the desired trait. Furthermore, "through genetic engineering, organisms are given new combinations of genes -- and therefore new combinations of traits -- that do not occur in nature and, indeed, cannot be developed by natural means?(Union of Concerned Scientists, 1). These biologically engineered animals are different from anything natural evolution will have ever created, and the effects have the possibility of being detrimental to the environment and the balance of nature.

Throughout history, people have bred animals within the same species for desired traits; however, with genetic engineering, scientists will be able to create cross species with unpredictable results. For example, dogs must breed with other dogs, but one may want a mix between a dog and a horse for a bigger, faster and more compassionate animal. What would this do to the existence of species? This genetic material has been altered by artificial means, and no one knows the results. With what will these animals breed, and what will be the genetic result for the future generations? These are all questions that must be answered before society will approve of such an experiment. A few examples of genetic experiments that have taken place are insertion of human genes into a sheep to produce a substance in their milk to treat breast cancer, a chicken with four legs and no wings, a goat with spider genes that produces silk in the milk, and a headless frog (Global Change, 1). These creations seem unethical, and animal rights proponents call them inhumane because animals cannot exhibit pain. Some scientists call this revolutionary, while others call this a step backward for the human race by creating monsters. These examples show that humans can change the very basics of human life in a laboratory without considering the consequences.

A problem arises with the unforseeable ramifications because the chain reaction of one gene causing changes in many more genes. Mutations are also plausible for future generations of the animal. The DNA changed in the genes is a series of proteins which work together with other proteins and is different for every living entity. No one can predict the result of altering the DNA sequence in a living organism. Also, genes are only a single factor among many in predicting traits of an organism (Epstein, 1). These gene transfers pose significant threats in humans. When altering a pig to produce human organs, the result can be the transfer of certain diseases to humans. Diseases, like AIDS, pose threats to the human existence. In transferring a gene from one species to another, disease vulnerability, cancer, unrecognizable diseases in animals, allergies, bacteria, viruses and antibiotic resistance also have the potential of transferring (Heureka, 25-26). This technology is specifically called xenotransplantation and has been banned in Europe and the US. However, approximately 28,000 people die each year from not receiving organ donations (Casey, 1, 5). This technology will give life to those who otherwise would die. But, are the risks and consequences too dangerous? Consequently, "the [known] effects of genetic engineering ... are usually short-term, specific and physical, [and] the effects [not known] are often long-term, general, and also mental?(Epstien, 2). This question will not be answered till the procedure is implemented and doctors are able to see the results, especially on the ecosystem.??

The first step to genetic engineering is cloning of animals. Cloning is the reproduction of an organism using the genetic material from another being, which will produce a replicate of the original. These organisms have asexual reproduction and can only be produced in labs (Magalhaes, 1). However, the famous cloned Dolly (a sheep) is not identical to her mother. Other clones which have been produced are monkeys, pigs, many others to follow. There are also web sites that offer the freezing of DNA from a pet for cloning in the future when the technology becomes available. Yet, there are serious health problems that come with cloning. For instance, many animals are born with underdeveloped lungs and organ failure. Many clones die in the early stages of their life (Dixon, 1). Also, scientists have abandoned cloning because of the large numbers of lethal mutations and other abnormalities. Many cloned cows are 25% larger than normal, have greater levels of potassium in the blood, and underdeveloped lungs (Dixon, 1). These examples all raise important questions on the morality of cloning. Should science proceed on human cloning knowing the grave consequences?

Human cloning is a question which individuals must ask themselves on an individual basis because this is a very complex issue. Many say human cloning is inevitable because science is continually progressing. But is it ethical? Korean scientists have already produced a human clone and allowed it to divide four times (Reuters, 1). This also brings up the question from the 1960's of when does life actually begin. This is the area where controversy arises between politics, corporations and religious organizations. Europe has already banned human cloning because of moral issues. Biotech corporations want to move ahead with the process because the profits will be exuberant, and they are only motivated by profits. Religious organizations are adamant about the banning of cloning, especially on humans. However, human cloning is moving to a small island in Japan because no other country or scientists will take the risks involved. A scientist named Richard Seed has raised fifteen million dollars to support his endeavor. They expect to clone five hundred babies per year (Global Change, 1). Many say man is playing God, and with this technology man is certainly becoming his own deity. Indeed the implications of cloning are unpredictable and could cause damage to the balance of the ecosystem as well as a loss of biodiversity. However, it also has the possibility of saving many lives by curing disease and death on many levels. ?/span>

The notion of cloning is an important step to genetic engineering which promises to cure all problems that face humans. Medicine and pharmaceuticals will be changed forever by this transformation. The multinational Human Genome Project is the next step in introducing genetic engineering worldwide, since it will code the DNA for humans. This will allow scientists to know which genes need to be "fixed,?to making humans resistant to disease and live longer lives. The Human Genome project began in 1990 and will be completed in 2003. This will aid the progress in genetic engineering, and will force the ethical and moral questions to be confronted soon. Technology has become so advanced that the progress is monumental (Casey, 2).

Human beings will have to decide if this new technology should be used on human genetic engineering, since it holds the key to all genes and DNA. Many ethical and moral questions are raised especially on the issue of genetically engineering humans. This new technology will allow scientists to create babies that are perfect, so called "designer babies.?span style="mso-spacerun: yes">?This will give parents the option to choose which traits their children will exhibit, thus manipulating society to make everyone the ideal. Some say: "the time is coming...when parents will pick their children's genes. From the menu of possibilities, parents might select genes to make their babies resist common diseases and infections, things like cancer, AIDS, heart attacks, and Alzheimer's disease?(Haney, 1). These changes will take place at the moment of conception, and every cell in the organism's body will contain the extra gene. The problem lies in what this gene will do in future generations because it will be passed down. The goal is to make babies, and eventually healthier people to share in the advantages most people have (Haney, 2). This will create a population which is much healthier than the previous ones. The most important aspect is increasing brain capacity. At Princeton, the scientists have created mice named "Doogie? because they are rodent geniuses (Haney, 2). This will eventually become a possibility for humans.

Along with brain power, one will also be able to also select personalities and other characteristics that will make the child special. However, fertilization would be through in vitro fertilization and not through traditional methods. But, the next generation will have the genes passed through sexual reproduction, and no one is yet able to predict the results (Haney, 4). Genetic engineering will reverse genetic defects and correct diseases in humans and animals (AVMA, 1). This would be tremendous for humans because doctors would be able to eradicate disease. Many of the genetic changes are for the advancement of the human species. Genetic engineering will give couples who have children with birth defects an alternative. It will allow the children to have normal intelligence (Holme, 3). This will prevent complicated lives for the children and reduce their pain and suffering.

The downside would be manufactured organisms, and designing people to specific specifications. This could potentially create a society without diversity, including personality or style much like Aldoph's Huxley's Brave New World. One must ask "where is the line of acceptability between preventing severe birth defects, on one hand, and genetically engineering a homogenous race of "perfect?humans?(Crenson, 1)? This is the moral and ethical question behind the whole debate. Will people know when to draw the line, and can it be reversed if it goes too far? Also, another problem that arises is the parents would be to blame for every bad choice they make in "creating?their child. Furthermore, only the people who could afford this technology will be able to use it. It will create a huge discrepancy between the rich and poor (Crenson, 2). This will make class dichotomies more stressed with the rich living longer and the poor dying of these diseases which the rich are immune. Will the poor be ugly and stupid, along with holding a lower economic status? This will create huge class differentiation in society.????

This class differentiation is excelled by the biotech corporations because many fear their only aim is to make a profit. This is the case because "global corporations have the ultimate aim of controlling everything in life processes from birth to death - who is born, how we are born, when and where we are born, health care, what we eat, breath and drink?(Heureka, 27). This downfall will eventually lead society to become completely dependent on biotech industries, companies who do not care about the value of human life.

Genetic engineering will also create a substantial loss of biodiversity on the planet, ranging from plants and animals, and eventually to the human species. Now, the environment loses one species per day, and the rate of loss will only increase after altering genes. This interference with the natural ecosystem will create organisms with unnatural combinations of genes that will disrupt the sacred balance of all living things. They will be able to reproduce and mutate, thus inevitably changing the ecosystem (Heureka, 6). Many believe that reengineering nature was not part of the deal, and such disasters could create new animal and plant diseases, cancer, and epidemics (Epstein, 4). The world that has evolved with humans, plants, and animals will be ultimately transfigured into a new system, where humans might not survive.

Religious institutions strongly scorn the idea of genetic engineering because at this stage scientists use human embryonic cells which the religious institutions consider a human life. It is the same as their stance on abortion. However, in this case, one would be ending an uncivilized group of cells in order to save an already socialized life form. These cells would be used to cure cancer, spine problems, and basically all other ailments. This technology would do wonders for the human race, but most likely religion will always oppose it. So, people must concede which is more important, religion or their life.

On the same note, governments will usually support popular opinion, and if the people want genetic engineering, then it will be so. Nevertheless, at this time most governments have a ban on forms of genetic engineering and human cloning. This will slow down the process, and governments will have to have popular support for these projects before they become feasible. Consequently, the US and the European nations will lose the scientists who can perform genetic changes to countries without these regulations. People must realize the industrialized countries need to have control over these projects so it does not get out of hand or in the wrong hands. But this highly volatile issue must be in the hands of people and governments that can control it; therefore, the moral and ethical issues must remain in the hands of the governments who can control the outcome.

Overall, these institutions will decide on the ethical and moral values and if the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. There are many pitfalls which need to be solved, but there can and needs to be a balance between the two differing opinions. Genetic engineering can and will advance the human species to a point where disease will no longer be an issue and people can live freely without certain threats to their survival. This will be a tremendous overhaul of humans?mentality because now we live and we die, but this could change forever. I believe the advances made in pharmaceuticals and medicine will be the most important for the human race. The ethical and moral concerns are real and they do have a point; therefore, this technology must be used very cautiously. No one wants a 4 legged 3 eyed purple human running around our planet.????

Works Cited

Heureka, Clara. "Genetic Engineering - Paradise on Earth or descent into Hell Http://www.heureka.clara.net/gai/genetics.htm.

Epstein, Ron. "Redesigning the World: Ethical Questions about Genetic Engineering. http://online.stsu.edu/~rone/GE%20Essays/Redesigning.htm.

Crenson, Matt. "Designer Babies - Ethics.?Ap US and World. (2000). http://www.netlink.de/gen/Zeitung/2000/000305a.html.

Holme, Howard. "Choose Better Human Genes http://www.med.upenn.edu/bioethic/genetics/articles/10.holme.better.html.

AVMA. "Genetic Engineering is Not All Frankenstein Science, But It's Not All Perfect Either.? (1998). http://www.avma.org/pubimfo/pigenes.htm.

Global Change. various articles. glaobal change.com

Haney, Daniel. "Designer Babies.?AP US & World. (2000). http://www.netlink.de/gen/Zeitung/2000/000305.html.

Casey, Denise. "Genes and Justice?(1999) Vol 83. http://www.ornl.gov/hgmis/publicat/judicature/article3.html.

Cheney, Pat. "Do Genes Justify the Means?" http://www.anth.org/ifgene/cheney.htm.

Dixon, Patrick. "Xenotansplants - safety, reliability, and ethics"

Magalhaes, Joao. "Genetic Engineering." http://www.compaqnet.be/jpnitya/science/germ.htm.

Dowd, Alan. "Ethical Issues Trouble Genome Researchers.?Reuters Online Service(April 2000). http://www.netlink.de/gen/Zeitung/2000/000407c.html.

Union of Concerned Scientists. "What is Genetic Engineering?" http://www.ucsusa.org/

 

 


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