The Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering

Within the field of human embryo research lies a controversial science that could redefine prenatal care: genetic engineering. Genetic engineering not only offers the possibility of eliminating birth defects and genetic illness, but also presents the moral ambiguity of eugenics. The acceptabilities of genetic engineering, assuming that it will be available in the foreseeable future, must be explored if society is to fully benefit from it.

The most prominent and perhaps the most acceptable reason given for genetic engineering is its potential use in preventative medicine. A few cells from an embryo could be genetically analyzed to detect harmful mutation or predisposition towards disorder, at which point action could be taken either through somatic cell or germ-line gene modification. In 1993, the gene that causes Huntington’s Disease was located, and scientists are currently trying to determine its normal function (The Benefits of Genetic Engineering).

Assuming researchers succeed in this endeavor, genetic engineering could then be used to eliminate a debilitating and ultimately fatal disease that affects approximately 30000 Americans and that has the potential to affect 150000 more through genetic inheritance (Huntington’s Disease). In 1997, a group of scientists successfully diagnosed familial adenomatous polyposis coli, the dominant cancer predisposition syndrome, in three preimplantation embryos.

This type of cancer predisposition affects 1 in every 10000 people America, Britain, and Japan, making it a relatively common malady (Ao, 140). Schizophrenia has been shown to run in families; even adopted children of schizophrenic parents are ten times more likely to develop schizophrenia, regardless of whether or not their adoptive parents are affected (Bernstein, 518). Lastly, birth defects such as downs syndrome could be eliminated through genetic engineering (Resta).

A more ambiguous reason for genetic engineering is the elimination of common defects that vary in seriousness, such as sensory impairment. Dozens of chromosomes linked to hearing impairment have been located (Ruben, 33). Although treatment for such conditions initially looks promising, as the elimination of complete blindness or deafness would alleviate hardships caused by these disabilities, removing serious sensory conditions and actually raising sensory ability to a level above normal are separated by a fine line.

Due to relatively recent historical events, predominantly the practices of the Nazi party before and during World War 2, eugenics is rightly seen as a major risk to developing genetic engineering technology. Eighteen percent of people interviewed in the United Kingdom said that if they could choose, they would make their child less likely to exhibit aggressive or alcoholic behavior (Henig, 58).

Technically, if the gene for this behavior were isolated, it most likely could be altered, but it should be understood that a genetic predisposition towards a certain behavior neither guarantees that the behavior will manifest nor does it guarantee that the behavior will not be apparent even if the genetic predisposition is not present. Thus, not only is genetically engineering behavior morally and ethically questionable, it is highly unfeasible. Also, whether genetic engineering is undertaken for good or bad, the quality of the outcome must be considered.

In the recent experiments in cloning Dolly, many of the mistrials were largely oversized, causing undue pain to both the lamb and the mother (Wolfson). And finally, thought must be given to the psychological trauma that may result from any genetic choice made; family members of victims of Huntington’s disease sometimes display signs of guilt that they have escaped a positive diagnosis while their loved one must suffer, much like the survivor of a major natural disaster feeling guilty that they lived while many others did not (Ruben, 228).

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