Gene therapy conducted through human gene transfer is an experimental techniqe applied for curing some genetic and inherited illnesses. The technics yet provided no clear and reliable results since the first clinical experiment was held in 1990 (Sheridan 122), but still it is widely applied on the experimental basics (Richards 2). There are many debates on the question of gene transfer from the ethical point of view. In this paper, the principles of Plato’s justice will be applied to discuss human gene transfer.
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Gene therapy is a process of transferring of genetic material that is DNA or RNA into individual’s body. The technique:
“is being studied to see whether it could treat certain health problems by either compensating for defective genes, prompting the body to make a potentially therapeutic substance, or triggering the immune system to fight disease” (“National Institutions of Health” par. 1).
Gene therapy also known as human gene transfer is applied for treatment of such diseases as myeloma, leukemia, hemophilia, Parkinson disease and some other diseases of genetic or inherited nature. The major principle of the approach is inserting a virus with a modified gene into a patient’s body in hope that the virus while in-building its genome into patient’s cells will provide a cell with a capability to produce normal proteins or the proteins that will provide a cure for the targeted disease.
Thus, the technique is majorly experimental, not providing clear results many debates are raised on this question. Some speculate that human genetic transfer can be applied as a gene doping for athletes (Kayser, Mauron, and Miah 2). There are also many questions raised by the perspective of gene modification conducted to a fetus or a child on parent’s request in attempts to provide with some features that are unlikely to be inherited in a natural way. Some claims of the ethical basis are that a child has a right to be born as it is without any additional improvements (Powell 57). Human genetic transfer theoretically can be applied into a healthy adult individual for improving such functions as memory, metabolism, mental and physical capabilities.
These debates highly correlate with Plato’s views on philosophy of justice. Plato’s understanding of justice was that “Justice is not the right of the stronger but the effective harmony of the whole” (Bhandari par.18), meaning that everything should be in its natural places; performing the function assigned by the Universe or the general order (Plato’s State) will collapse. Another definition of justice lies within specialization, meaning that everyone should perform their own duties, not the duties of another person. In case of genetic therapy, this statement can be applied dually. On one hand, if not treated from a fatal disease the organism will die or will function improperly thus the inner harmony will be ruined and injustice will take place.
Therefore, treatment will be justified. On other hand, if applied to the healthy organism, the genetic therapy will provide it with the capabilities, not provided by nature, thus shifting its specialization to the sphere not assigned to it initially. This would be unfair according to Plato’s theory. Plato’s idea of non-interference also can be applied to the first example of genetic treatment that individuals with an illness have their own specialization, thus treatment should not be provided as a disease is something assigned by the nature. This is if to look from the global point of view.
In general, the application of Plato’s concept of justice gives the idea that the practice of human genetic transfer is unfair, but still there are some issues that might stand for its justice.
Bhandari, Durai R. Plato’s Concept Of Justice: An Analysis. n.d. Web.
Kayser, Bengt, Alexandre Mauron, and Andy Miah. “Current Anti-doping Policy: a Critical Appraisal.” BMC Medical Ethics 8.1 (2007): 2. BioMed Central. Web.
National Institutions of Health: NIH Backgrounder on Gene Transfer 2004. Web.
Powell, Russell, and Allen Buchanan. “Breaking Evolution’s Chains: The Prospect of Deliberate Genetic Modification in Humans.” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 30.1 (2011): 57-59. Print.
Richards, Sabrina. “Gene Therapy Arrives in Europe.” The Scientist 1.1 (2012): 2. Print.
Sheridan, Cormac. “Gene Therapy Finds Its Niche.” Nature Biotechnology 29.2 (2011): 121-128. Print.