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The ethical issues of Genetic Engineering Analytical Essay


Introduction

Genetic engineering is a scientific achievement that has led to the development of new ethical issues. Genetic engineering has been a subject of controversy because a lot of people are not comfortable with the technology.

The ethical issues are more evident when it comes to cases of genetic engineering on the human tissue. Historically, the process has been conducted in the west. It has become easier to conduct genetic engineering in plants, animals, and humans due to developments in science.

A case study to consider in the relationship between science and ethics is Argentina. The government allowed several manufactures of genetically modified (GM) seeds to operate within the country due to increasing debts.

The manufacturers were given permits and the produced seeds were supplied to farmers for free. The seeds were of a wide variety, including maize, soya, and sunflower. GM soya seeds became common and the country was able to export its soya produce within a short while (Burachik, 2012).

Thus, the government was able to gain through this strategy. Despite this, ethical questions arose about whether the decision made could be considered moral or not.

The ethical questions arising from science are based on two concepts. The first concept is whether science is a danger in itself. The knowledge that arises from science can be a risk (Griffiths & Stotz, 2013). Secondly, an ethical issue arises based on what the long-term effects of science might be.

The idea of improving nature is considered to be a dangerous choice. Thus, it is unethical to change nature. It is easier to establish the ethical argument by raising an extrinsic question that is related to the long-term effects of GM crops makes.

Thus, such a question will be able to inform whether a choice can be considered to be ethical or not. The consequences that arise from the decision are also looked at in detail. Different results may be achieved. Determining whether the choice taken is ethical depends on weighing both options.

An option that has more positive consequences is always considered to be ethical and ideal to choose. In Argentina’s case, the ethical nature of its actions was defined by the financial costs involved. The country was to gain more from the decision to grow GM crops.

Historical context

For a long time, science was not considered to be a concept that could be tied to ethical considerations. This changed and the social, political, individual, and practical effects were discussed in many forums dealing with the philosophy of science.

Genetic engineering is a science that has the highest potential of changing human lives. Historically, genetic engineering has led to the development of new ethical arguments because GM crops have varied implications that can affect a country as a whole.

In Argentina, the government was able to increase its imports and employ more people in the agricultural sector (Burachik, 2012).

Scientific research has always enjoyed independence when it comes to the expected results. Thus, scientists could conduct any experiment they wanted as long as they were not limited by funds. It is during the 1980s that it was realized that scientific research should be restricted.

The restriction also considered how science should be limited and within what limits (Light & De-Shalit, 2003). It is easier to know the consequences of genetic engineering through rational means. Initially, genetic engineering was witnessed within the field of agriculture.

It was conducted to increase food production by producing better crops that could survive harsh weather conditions. Later, it also involved human genetic engineering. Thus, there was a need to consider the ethical implications of genetic engineering (Stock & Campbell, 2000).

Political context

Genetically modified crops always raise political issues. The debate is hotter where the crops are made for human consumption. A political issue arises on whether to let the crops into the country or not.

Many people have questioned the health risks that arise from genetically modified crops, thus it is the politicians who have to ensure that the interests of the people are met and their safety is assured (Haugen, 2013).

GM crops are usually cheaper and have high yields when planted. This is advantageous because it is an economic advantage to a country and its citizens.

Various negative issues arise, despite the advantages of GM crops because the growth of GM crops intensifies pressure on unspoiled nature areas such as forests and grasslands.

GM crops tend to easily adapt into many environmental conditions, thus large tracts of land are set to maximize on the benefits (Burachik, 2012). The growth of GM crops affects various political aims within a country. In many countries, nature conservation is the duty of the government.

In Argentina’s case, the growth of soya became a political issue due to the land that was required for its growth. Its growth spread so rapidly that more than 14 million hectares of land were covered by the crop within two years.

The government established policies that allowed for the eviction of people from the land that was considered suitable for agricultural production after the establishment of the nation state of Argentina in 1853.

Moreover, an economic model was also adopted to encourage exportation and acquisition of foreign aid. The government was also involved in the acquisition of permits to plant GM crops comprising of soya, cotton, sunflower, potatoes, maize, and wheat.

Neither the public nor the Congress was informed about this decision. Thus, it can be seen that political problems would have emerged if this policy was considered by Congress or the public.

Moreover, the government also considered the ethical issues that would have come up due to this policy. Thus, they chose not to divulge the information about the permits (Burachik, 2012).

The commission set by the government to consider biotechnology was comprised of representatives from biotechnology companies. This scenario would not come up with appropriate ethical considerations because most of representatives wanted growth of GM crops just for personal profits.

Political implications always arise due to GM foods. Such crops can have negative implications within a state. In Argentina’s case, the crops began to take larger tracts of land.

There was a risk of social justice being compromised because the government did not care about the implications of the GM crops. Exports from soya were sufficient to pay back its debts, thus the government saw no need to establish better policies to control the growth of GM crops.

The citizens also gained due to this decision, thus it was in the best interest of the country. On the other hand, an individualized contract-based ethics arises whereby the production of GM crops is against nature.

Thus, the government should not be involved in the production of GM crops because they interfere with nature (Laurie, 2002).

GM crops usually tend to use methods that pollute the environment. Growth of GM crops involves use of advanced agricultural practices. In Argentina’s case, farmers were given both seeds and fertilizers to grow the crops.

These fertilizers had health risks and they polluted the environment in the long run. Moreover, less efficient eco-farming strategies were promoted. The methods used for agricultural production used various methods that facilitated increased productivity.

Conservation of biodiversity also became an issue. GM plants have an accelerated growth rate, thus they can encroach on a large piece of land within a short time.

The fertilizers and chemicals used may also affect the surrounding plants and animals. For instance, ploughed grasslands can lead to loss of important biodiversity. The other risks involved were theoretical in nature.

The government’s decision can be seen as unethical if questions are raised about the potential risks GM crops have on humans. Information in this regard could only be obtained through empirical means.

Experimentation and experience were the best means to establish this information (Barry, 2011). Cultivation of genetic crops also leads to spread of genetic engineering. This becomes an ethical issue for countries that have not legalized the importation or sale of GM crops.

Such fears are usually faced by government agencies dealing with rural development. GM crops require modern methods of agricultural production, thus people in rural areas will lose their source of income if GM crops are promoted.

Social context

The social impacts of GM foods are always considered before permits are given to develop the foods in most western countries. Other food crops can also be affected through jumping genes and pollen flight. This can lead to disastrous consequences, such a limiting food production in the future.

Thus, a democratic decision should be reached through public debate about the implications of GM crops. Establishing a green genetic engineering strategy would be an effective step to begin with (Derr & McNamara, 2003).

The ethical implications within the society arise based on how people will be affected. In Argentina, the government’s decisions can be considered as illegal, but they were ethical to an extent. The government’s decisions, though not revealed to the public, were for the greater good of the public.

Socially, there were gains and losses expected. GM crops are used at the expense of natural crops. Intensive research is usually done to come up with GM crops.

Thus, natural plants will lose their role in life if GM foods. It is a societal obligation to preserve nature. If GM crops are allowed to flourish, then the society will lose its role in protecting nature (Bennett et al., 2013).

Ethical evaluation

Philosophers in the western world have been interested in the development and systemization of the sciences in relation to genetic engineering. There are two general thoughts that have been used to explain how the actions are viewed. These are the utilitarian and Aristotelian thoughts.

Aristotelian uses the belief of good reason to bring out the forces that influence the direction of the actions. Good reasons are always given to explain the reason behind an action, or an event (Light & De-Shalit, 2003).

An ultimate goal is always pursued, thus less credit is given to the negative effects of the action. Such a scenario can be seen with genetic engineering. The larger picture shows that genetic engineering has negative consequences.

Thus, genetic engineers try to show that the process is beneficial and done with good intentions. The goals already achieved through genetic engineering have been helpful to the human race. It is for this reason that genetic engineering has grown and evolved over the years.

Many people ignore the greater consequences of the process. It is as a result of this realization that it becomes important to consider the ethical implications of genetic engineering.

There is always an evaluation of the reasons explaining what genetic engineering seeks to achieve and the product of the process (Reiss & Straughan, 2001).

One the other hand, utilitarian beliefs do not consider the actions of an individual as resulting from either good or bad decisions, but only with a maximization of the agent’s abilities.

This can be applied to genetic engineering where one can view genetic engineering as using knowledge to its maximum. In Argentina’s case, the actions were not specifically for good or bad reasons.

The activities were conducted to ensure that maximum gains were achieved from the knowledge of genetic engineering. Thus, ethical concerns on GM crops arise depending on the implications of GM crops and not the use genetic engineering.

A closer analysis of the field of science would reveal that people always depend on their practical knowledge. This is then utilized when making a judgment on whether something is good or bad.

Ethical considerations are sometimes based on established norms within the society (Frey & Wellman, 2007). Norms are able to describe what rules are applicable within different contexts. The ethical considerations arising from genetic engineering relate to norms within the society.

It determines how certain beliefs are upheld at the expense of other beliefs. It is hard to accept genetic engineering as ethical if the basis of the science is irrational.

The goals of science can be equated to the goals of life. For both concepts, the end involves improvement of human life (Reiss & Straughan, 2001).

Problems are bound to arise more often in cases of cash crops that grow at the expense of food crops. Genetic modification is allowed on cash crops because of their economic importance.

Ethical questions

Scientists usually view ethics as essential to their practice and identity. Despite this, their ethical beliefs can change according to current conditions in society.

Thus, an ethical risk can arise from GM crops whereby it could lead to increased research on genetic engineering on humans (Mizzoni, 2010). Ethical questions also arise on whether it is necessary to genetically modify crops. Naturally, such crops can grow in some environments.

The use of genetic engineering makes the process cheaper because crops are made adaptable to different environments and to yield better products. Though it is cheaper, the negative consequences of this decision can be realized in future.

In the case study, new types of pests have appeared because of the genetically modified crops. Initially, it was thought that such an attack would not occur. This only proves that GM crops are not always the best option (Burachik, 2012).

Many of the ethical and moral debates have followed a one-dimensional strategy whereby they are concerned with a single and a specific application of genetic engineering. Human application of this technology has been given significant coverage in comparison to GM crops.

Research on the implications of genetic engineering on animals, plants, and microorganisms has been largely overlooked. If GM crops are encouraged, then the future will be bleak where most food, animals, or humans will be genetically modified (Nordgren, 2001).

Moral and ethical concerns are effective in controlling public opinion. The public will not easily support an idea if it is considered immoral. Thus, concerns have developed that various biotechnology techniques would fail if not given public acceptance.

Philosophy has been used in the explanation of nature and how to interact with it. An important example is the stoic philosophy that describes that humans have to live with nature as it is (Mizzoni, 2010). It is morally wrong for humans to interfere with nature for their own benefit.

Genetic engineering is seen as the most effective way to interfere with nature because genetic materials are the basic structures that comprise humans, plants, and animals.

The human body and its parts can be seen as a system that works in unison. The different parts play different roles to establish a balance in the human body. The same can be said about nature. Each aspect of nature has its own role to play.

Thus, a balance is established to facilitate the survival of man and his dependence on nature. If nature were to be reconfigured through genetic engineering, then there would be a loss of this balance.

For instance, genetic modification in humans can result in the production of a superhuman. If such a human procreates, then it would lead to a situation where more people have genetically engineered genes resulting from his offspring (Yashon & Cummings, 2012).

Thus, a problem may exist within the individual’s genetic pool and researchers are not aware. The same can be said about GM crops. Their use may result in negative consequences as the case was in Argentina whereby new strains of pests emerged.

A survey conducted in the UK to determine public opinion about GM crops found that 70 percent of the total respondents considered it morally wrong. Thus, globally, the beliefs on genetic engineering depend on individual values. People tend to believe that biotechnology is wrong.

In some cases, this is attributed to lack of knowledge of how genetic modification is done. For most people, they consider the issues that can arise from GM crops to be the same with genetic modification of humans (Haugen, 2013).

The decision to depend on ethics may have negative consequences as well. Something may be considered unethical, but it can lead to improvements.

Conclusion

In conclusion, genetic engineering is a scientific breakthrough that has led to developments in biotechnology. Growth and consumption of GM crops have been on the increase, despite little regard for the consequences.

Thus, ethical issues arise as people try to determine whether GM crops are good or bad for humans. Genetic engineering can have very many dangers, but such fears will reduce once it is realized that everything has the potential to be harmful.

Thus, the issues arising due to GM crops can be related to the ethical issues resulting from science.

Reference List

Barry, VE 2011, Bioethics: At the beginning and end of life, Wadsworth, Belmont, CA.

Bennett, AB, Chi-Ham, C, Barrows, G, Sexton, S, & Zilberman, D, 2013, ‘Agricultural biotechnology: economics, environment, ethics, and the future,’ Annual Review of Environment & Resources, vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 249-279.

Burachik, M 2012, ‘Regulation of GM crops in Argentina’, GM Crops & Food, vol. 3, no.1, pp. 48-51.

Derr, PG. & McNamara, EM 2003, Case studies in environmental ethics, Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, MD.

Frey, RG, & Wellman, CH 2007, A companion to applied ethics, John Wiley & Sons, Oxford.

Griffiths, P, & Stotz, K 2013. Genetics and philosophy : an introduction, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

Haugen, H M 2013, ‘Human rights in natural science and technology professions’ codes of ethics?’, Business & Professional Ethics Journal, vol. 32, no. 1/2, pp. 49-76.

Laurie, GT 2002, Genetic privacy : a challenge to medico-legal norms, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

Light, A, & De-Shalit, A, 2003, Moral and political reasoning in environmental practice, MIT, Cambridge, MA

Mizzoni, J 2010, Ethics: the basics, Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex, UK.

Nordgren, A, 2001, Responsible genetics: the moral responsibility of geneticists for the consequences of human genetics research, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Boston, MA

Reiss, MJ, & Straughan, R 2001, Improving nature?: the science and ethics of genetic engineering, Cambridge University Press, New York, NY.

Stock, G, & Campbell, JH, 2000, Engineering the human germline: an exploration of the science and ethics of altering the genes we pass to our children, Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Yashon, RK, & Cummings, MR 2012, Human genetics and society, 2nd ed, Brooks/Cole, Belmont, MA.

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