Genetic engineering in our world, as well as in the book Brave New World
There has been a steady increase in the amount of genetics related issues entering our lives ever since research on genes began. As the advancements continue to sound more like the science fiction than what we actually believe is possible, the amount of ethical and debatable dilemmas are increasing proportionally. In February of 1997, the news and media covered one of the largest leaps in genetic science. When a sheep was cloned, the media exploded with coverage on this topic. We were all amazed by this new advancement, and we started asking questions.
What else can they clone? What are the going to use these clones for? Many other questions rose up from that particular incident, and since then there have been even more advancements, and more questions being asked, many of them being about genetically engineering a new generation of children. Now, because genetic engineering is enabling us to make enhancements to our lives, we should encourage the development of this new technology because it can be used to fight, possibly end genetic disease, and advance the human species to a new level.
There are obvious positive and negative aspects to enhancing and using genetic engineering. We are entering an age where the possibility of ending genetic disease is getting closer every year. Advancements in genetic science are making the ability to single out specific sections of DNA possible. This will allow these sections to be studied intensely and if defects are found, they will be able to be removed or replaced, thus diminishing the amount of possible genetic diseases.
Also, there is the new possibility to enhance a person’s genes; for example, we could make children smarter then the generation preceding them, creating a race of humans that will be more civilized and closer to the envisioned utopia of the future. The possibilities are virtually endless. But this may pose to be the negative aspect as well. Lee M. Silver proposes the possibility of creating a genetic segregation. Since these processes are costly, there is the possibility that only the currently elite class of citizens would be able to afford these alterations. This would create a split between genetically enhanced humans and those who still retain their unaltered genes (4).
Many authors on the subject of genetic engineering surreptitiously add the title of Aldous Huxley’s novel, Brave New World. This portrays a civilization so dependent on genetic engineering and cloning, that the birth of natural babies no longer exists. This is an extremely fictitious situation, and will likely never happen. But the threat of the population being segregated by genetic enhancements does seem possible. It doest not necessarily have to be genetic enhancements either. With the new technology, detecting whether a person is going to develop a genetic disease could be used to select applicants for jobs, or health insurance. Martha Newsome wrote, “We are not able to choose out genes and it is wrong to discriminate against people because of circumstances over which they have no control” (165). This is similar to the issue of discrimination by race or color and there are government regulations preventing such problems. If similar issues arise concerning genetics, there will be similar regulations to deal with genetic discrimination as well.
Another issue that is more predominant is the process of genetic screening of embryos. In this process, an embryo is removed “from a woman’s womb so that it can be tested, and the returned to the womb or discarded depending to the test results”(Spallone, 205). The negative aspects of this issue are similar to those of abortion. The Christian faith believes that, “human personhood begins at conception” (www.religioustolerance.org), and therefore, the termination of a child at any stage, be it embryo or fetus, is murder. But the reasons for this testing and possible abortion are not even taken into consideration.
Take for example; both of the parents are at high risk for passing on a very harmful genetic disorder. With the use an embryo screening procedure, the parents will be able to know before hand if the child will develop this disease. In some cases, diseases only affect males or females. The embryo could be screened before hand and aborted earlier on if the parents decide to. This benefits the parents because it is a much simpler operation, and it is easier to deal with emotionally.
As mentioned before, many religions are against genetic engineering procedures because they feel that altering what God has created is a sin. But why is it that we believe that God did not intend for humanity to take new steps into the future of evolution. I ask why would we have the ability to learn and discover such new knowledge and not be expected to make use of it? The director of the Chicago Center for Religion and Science, Philip Heffner, said it very well when he said, “We will continue to pursue our knowledge and technology. We have no alternative. My tradition tells me that we will do so as sinners.” He then quotes one of his mentors who said, “Full speed ahead and sin boldly!” (http://online.sfsu.edu)
These issues are credible, but the positive benefits outweigh them. Physicians can use genetic engineering to help patients, this is known as gene therapy. The therapies that are currently most effective are categorized into two groups: gene splicing, and invasive intervention. Part of the benefit of these procedures is, as these methods reduce the amount of genetic disorders. “Treatment of some genetic diseases can easily cost multiple-millions of dollars over the lifetime of a single individual” (www.religioustolerance.org), so the amount of money saved by the government will become a very large factor.
Gene splicing and invasive intervention are similar procedures. They both add, “Into bacterial cells some instruction for the creation of [a substance] that the body fails to produce.”(McGee, 108) This is most effectively used to treat diabetic patients who lack the ability to produce insulin. The issue in this case is cost, but the final result will make the patient able to live a more healthy, normal life, free of constant blood tests, expensive injections, and will allow them to eat a regular diet.
The difference between the two procedures is the method of “delivery”. Gene splicing uses bacteria to transport the “instruction” into the body, whereas invasive intervention uses “modified viruses” to do the same job (McGee, 108). However, they would both provide a great improvement on the quality of life, which is a very large factor in many medical related topics such as euthanasia, abortion, and life support of terminally ill patients.
So…is society ready? This is an unanswerable question. For every leap in technology, a new and controversial social issue will arise. And, as our civilization is still young, and budding, there is no possible way to stop learning, for it is our human nature to continue to explore. There are many people that wish to find a comfort zone, where they can stay safe and be politically correct, but these places will not be found. The only thing that can be said is, “For better and worse, a new age is upon us-an age in which we as humans will gain the ability to change the nature of our species.”