Genetic Engineering – summary

Here is a summary of the major issues surrounding Genetic Engineering in its different forms.

Points Summary
What is Genetic Engineering?

  • The technology involved in cloning, gene therapy and gene manipulation;
  • Moving pieces of genetic material;
  • Can be used in plants, animals and now human cells.

What is Embryo Research?

  • Aim to find cures for serious illnesses;
  • Concentrates on stem cells; repair damaged organs as they can develop into any cell;
  • Embryos destroyed as a result, and originally can be created in a lab from donated sperm cells;
  • Could lead to exploitation of poor women.

The Law in the UK

  • Embryos can’t be used past 14 days and can’t be put in animals;
  • Human cloning is NOT allowed;
  • Genetic cell structure of embryo’s cannot be altered;
  • Only allowed for advances in treating infertility, learning about diseases, causes of miscarriages, developing effective contraception.

Frankenfood; GM crops

  • Better taste, quality and resistance to pests;
  • No need for chemical pesticides – good chance to end poverty;
  • BUT threatens environment; could affect human health; poor farmers are exploited as companies demand yearly payments for seeds (eg Zambia refuses to buy GM crops for this reason).

Designer Babies

  • To screen for genetic diseases, create a healthy baby to treat a sibling, chose sex;
  • One embryo selected whilst the rest are all discarded; destroys unwanted embryos ;
  • Whitakers 2002 case; refused by the courts to be allowed to create a match to cure their son’s blood disease;
  • Singer; without individuality it is hard to give the embryo right to life and other rights;
  • Babies will be treated as a commodity.

Genetics

  • Testing; test for diseases (patients must agree to this), the findings could affect family members or lead to discrimination;
  • Screening; for adult/child/foetus, could lead to discrimination against groups (Jews in America stops carriers of Tay-Sachs disease marrying each other), could lead to abortion to stop suffering;
  • Altering Human Genes; to somatic (body) cells (1990, used to treat life threatening diseases); to germ cells (aims to pass on features to future generations, could lead to the ‘perfect child’;
  • Stem Cell Research; totipotent embryo stem cells can change to anything – leads to killing the embryo for the benefit of others; it is the threshold of cloning (Dolly the Sheep 1997);
  • Issue of objects, not people; doctors say not needed to use embryonic ones as adult cells are better (widely found and no issue of rejection)

Quotes

  • “Life, once conceived, must be protected with the utmost care; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes.” The Gift of Life, Donum Vitae
  • “Attempts to obtain a human being without any connection with sexuality through ‘twin fission’, cloning or parthenogenesis are to be considered contrary to the moral law.” Donum Vitae
  • “To procreate beyond the sphere of love or to posit acts of sexual love beyond the sphere of responsible creation means a refusal of the image of God.” Paul Ramsey, protestant writer
  • “It seems to me that laboratory reproduction is radically human, compared to conception by ordinary heterosexual intercourse.” Joseph Fletcher, situationist
  • “At the early stage where research is focused, an embryo has few of the characteristics we associate with a person … there is no brain, no self-awareness, no way of feeling pain or emotion, so an early stage embryo cannot suffer.” British Humanist Association
  • “The moral approach of a totalitarian society, that thinks it can use and abuse individual human beings in accordance with some grand scheme promising ‘the greatest good for the greatest number,'” Richard Doerflinger
  • “The cloning of humans is on most of the lists of things to worry about from Science, along with behaviour control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.” Lewis Thomas, physician
  • “The advance of genetic engineering makes it quite conceivable that we will begin to design our own evolutionary progress.” Isaac Asimov, The Beginning and the End
  • “Humans have long since possessed the tools for crafting a better world. Where love, compassion, altruism and justice have failed, genetic manipulation will not succeed.” Gina Maranto, Quest for Perfection
  • “Britain should be the world’s number one centre for genetic and stem cell research, building on our world leading regulatory regime in the area.” Gordon Brown
  •  “From the beginning, each human embryo has its own unique genetic identity.” Robert Casey
  • “I see nothing wrong ethically with the idea of correcting single gene defects [through genetic engineering]. But I am concerned about any other kind of intervention, for anything else would be an experiment, [which would] impose our will on future generations [and take unreasonable chances] with their welfare … [Thus] such intervention is beyond the scope of consideration. ” Ian Wilmot in The Second Creation: Dolly and the Age of Biological Control

Issues

  • Should any personal genetic information be kept quiet/divulged (eg to insurance company?)
  • Could it lead to a super race or groups like the Nazis?
  • Are we playing God by manipulating nature?
  • Does embryo research undermine the dignity of human beings?
  • How can it be right to treat a human person as a collection of genes?
  • Is embryo wastage a moral issue? (NB embryo = any collection of fertilised cells)

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