Genetic engineering is a technology of genetic modification. It allows scientists to alter the arrangement of genes by manipulating the protein sequence of the gene. This technology started to gain momentum in the middle of the twentieth century, although the concept first appeared in the 1920s. With the structure of DNA being revealed in 1953, genetic engineering received a solid foundation and attracted more and more enthusiasts. The rapid progression of research caused by such interest also led to some conflicts. The use of genetic engineering in the field of food production, for instance, divided scientists and consumers into two sides, where the first group argued about the immense benefits of cheaper, more resilient crops, and the second was concerned about possible health outcomes for people who consumed genetically modified foods.
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As the science of genetic engineering progressed, so did the debate about its ethics. Currently, the main point of contention is the issue of human genes’ modification. This sphere of innovation usually includes two major topics – reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. While the latter is mostly used for research and medical experiments, the former deals with replication of animals, crops, and, theoretically, human beings. In this case, the ethics of human cloning and human genes’ alteration are at the center of the most heated debates. One side supports the modification of genes, while another argues against it on the grounds of morality and artificiality. It is clear that genetic engineering of humans is ethically flawed and should be heavily regulated to avoid harmful and society-damaging results.
The first reason to oppose the idea of manipulation of human genes lies in the morality of the process. While the creation of synthetic drugs and genetically modified vegetables can be excused on the grounds of helping people with limited resources, the process of gene alteration for humans stands on a different level of intrusion. As Bruce and Bruce note, personal benefits always come first when people try to defend the importance of genetic engineering (146). However, this argument usually only concerns non-human species and does not include the issue of genetic modifications in people. In this case, the morality of interfering with a human body is much more complicated. The level of research in genetic engineering has not reached the point where it is entirely safe to use on humans with no adverse effects. Thus, it places individuals who decide to participate in such experiments at risk. Moreover, their future children also become exposed to the same dangers.
Another issue lies in the future of humanity as well because researchers interested in human engineering can lose track of the primary purpose of this innovative scientific sphere. Millstone et al. argue that the regulations concerning genetic modifications lack structure and rigidity, which allows scientists to manipulate the current restrictions (24). A variety of dangers presented by the technology do not include moral considerations, instead focusing on purely scientific problems. This approach ignores the negative possibilities that can arise as a result. For instance, while talking about human modifications, Lynas argues that the science of genetic engineering can reach a point where human embryo may be sufficiently modified to fit one’s desires. Indeed, such a method can help some people to get rid of bad genes, but it can also damage the natural progression of the human population. The science behind these operations is not fully covered by the law, which allows researchers and enthusiasts to abuse the possibilities of gene modification.
The opposing side of this debate often argues about the benefits of genetic engineering and centers on the fact that future generations may become healthier and smarter as a result. For instance, de Araujo states that people may develop new cognitive capacities and eradicate diseases with the help of genetic modification (26). This argument is not baseless as science often focuses on the need to prevent genetic diseases from spreading. Nevertheless, the given description of the process resembles artificial selection and bares a profoundly unethical tone. As the author notes, many people compare this methodology with eugenics and highlight the adverse outcomes to human enhancement. In fact, the issue of the so-called gifted children comes into questions while discussing one’s ambition to modify the human gene. Artificially altered individuals may have privileges that others do not have due to their cognitive or physical abilities, which further supports the argument about unnatural selection. Therefore, this counterpoint fails to address moral considerations of the current population.
The discussion about genetic engineering and human enhancement is complicated by various ethical issues. The fact that people are divided on the grounds of scientific discovery and artificial human selection shows a divide between one’s drive to find new information and preserve the natural course of evolution. Although one can argue that non-human modification can bring positive results to the planet’s inhabitants, it is clear that its lack of regulation and overflowing ambitions of researchers may lead to dangerous consequences. Human genetic engineering should be heavily regulated to ensure that some individuals do not disrupt the natural progression of human development.
Bruce, Donald and Ann Bruce, editors. Engineering Genesis: Ethics of Genetic Engineering in Non-Human Species. Routledge, 2014.
de Araujo, Marcelo. “Editing the Genome of Human Beings: CRISPR-Cas9 and the Ethics of Genetic Enhancement.” Journal of Evolution and Technology, vol. 27, no. 1, 2017, pp. 24-42.
Lynas, Mark. “We Must Stop Trying to Engineer Nature.” NewStatesman. 2007, Web.
Millstone, Erik, et al. “Regulating Genetic Engineering: The Limits and Politics of Knowledge.” Issues in Science and Technology, vol. 31, no. 4, 2015, pp. 23-26.