Genetic Engineering

Just imagine the scene: and newlywed wife and husband are sitting down with a catalog, browsing joyously, pointing and awing at all the different options, fantasizing about all the possibilities that could become of their future. Is this a catalog for new furniture? No. This catalog for all features, phenotype and genotype, for the child they are planning to have. It is basically a database for parents to pick and choose all aspects of their children, from the sex of the child, to looks, and even to personality traits.

Parents since the beginning of time have “planned” to have children, but never have they been able to legitimately “plan” out their child. This scene does not seem typical for our time and age, but truthfully it is what is becoming of our world. Through substantial research and experimentation that is taking place, scientists, specifically biologists, are becoming keener to the field of engineering. Genetic engineering that is. When one thinks of “genetic engineering,” the first thought is probably a perfect child, or paradoxically some inconceivable creature, forged under the microscope in a scientific laboratory.

Though both of these are genetic engineering, many people do not consider other things, such as genetic engineering of agriculture and medicine, both of which are extremely useful. Through the genetic altering of plants and crops, scientists have been able to manipulate their genes to withstand lower temperatures, to resist herbicides and insects, and to even extending shelf life of some particular products (Gert 1). This technology has made farmers more prosperous, as well as given the population more food that will last longer.

In medicine, “a patent has already been applied for to mix human embryo cells with those from a monkey or ape to create an animal that might have kidneys or livers more suitable for transplantation to human beings” (ibid 1). Another application of genetic engineering alters the genes of an embryo to prevent passing on genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle-cell anemia (Hayes 1). And of course, there is the genetic engineering that allows parents to have “designer babies,” where they can pick different aspects of their child (Sandel 1).

Imagining that there will never be a wait list for specific organs, a decrease in genetic diseases, and a society of perfect children seems Utopian, but, as with anything in medicine, there a debate about whether or not genetic engineering is ethical. Numerous moral arguments against genetic engineering exist. Through the more straightforward types of genetic engineering, such as those in agriculture and those that deal with health concerns, there is not much of an ethical debate (Gert 1). Most of the controversy arises when it comes to allowing direct alteration of “genetic structure of human beings” (Gert 1).

What makes genetic engineering different from other technologies is that there is no room for error (Epstein 1). If one generation has a flaw due to a mistake, every generation to follow will also suffer the consequences. This is most obviously a problem that many doctors and scientists, and even regular people could have. According to George Wald, a Nobel Prize winning biologist, Genetic engineering “presents probably the largest ethical problem that science has ever had to face” (Epstein 2). Though genetic engineering does not seem like a lousy idea, it could ultimately lead to the demise of the future generations of the Utopian world.

Scientists believe that new technology creates “pressures for its use” (Gert 4). Since this is the case, if genetic engineering is accepted, it will be used inappropriately, making genetic engineering procedures even more risky than they already are. Some scientists believe there are people in the world who have convinced themselves that these risks do not exist, and all genetic engineering does is provide benefits for humans, solely because they are trying to earn national and international prizes and awards, possibly even patents or grants (ibid).

Patients should be wary of doctors who use them to earn money or recognition and do not explain or believe in all the risks of genetic engineering. If the doctor claims the risks are minute, and there is nothing to worry about, a patient will feel comfortable with the doctor doing the procedure. If the doctor were to tell the patient there are risks of error that could affect every generation following the current one, the patient might reconsider his or her choice. Addictive incentives such as wealth and recognition entice doctors to exaggerate the details and even believe genetic engineering does not hold any risks (ibid).

Before genetic engineering, having a child with Down syndrome was like drawing the short stick; there was not anything to be done except live life how it came. Now-a-days, parents are looked down upon and or judged for bringing a child into the world that does not have a chance at being normal when there is genetic engineering that exists. As parents, a decision like this basically changes not only their lives but their child’s. According to Michael Sandel, “parenthood is a school for humility” (Sandel 4). Parents should not have to deal with the criticisms of other parents.

If they decided to live with what they were given, so be it. The fear is that parents in the future will be critiquing each other on whose “GenetiKid” is better (Sandel 6). Sandel, in an argument about genetic engineering, explains a scene where “they have an example of someone playing a magnificently complex piano concerto and as the camera zooms in on the keyboard, you see that the person has six fingers on each hand, genetically engineered to be capable of playing this incredibly complex piano concerto, written for someone genetically designed with six fingers” (ibid).

Though Sandel is already a far-fetched skeptic, he makes a good point. Has genetic engineering gone too far? With the development of cloning and genetic alteration technology, “scientists to have entered uncharted and dangerous territory” (“Has genetic engineering gone too far? ” 1). The creation of “chimeras,” animals containing cells from another animal, has been one of the biggest controversial topics in genetic engineering (ibid). Researchers fret over creating new diseases by combining genes to make new ones (ibid).

If this were to happen, political figures may step in and enforce strict guidelines and regulations for genetic engineering. In fact, in 2006, President George Bush asked to prohibit the creation of “human-animal hybrids” (ibid). Other scientists retaliate by claiming that these “chimeras” can help find cures to known diseases, and could become one of the most helpful tools in their arsenal of ideas for the future (ibid). Either way, whether or not the use of chimeras is acceptable is debatable. If used, they could bring up new problems as well as solve old ones that have riddled us for decades.