As our technology continues to advance, new breakthroughs in medicine are discovered. With these new developments serious ethical and moral questions arise. Advancements in genetic engineering, reproductive technologies, cloning, organ transplanting, and human experimentation are all causes of concern. The Human Genome Project, an incredible scientific undertaking determined to produce a map of the human DNA code, will tell us how each gene or group of genes function (Lemonick and Thompson 44). With this map, scientists and doctors will be able to figure out how genes can malfunction and cause deadly diseases.
Of course, they will also know what each gene controls, and how to manipulate and control our genes to get the specified, desired results. This is exactly the type of tool researchers need to perfect the science of eugenics. “Eugenics”- a powerful word from the Greek stem meaning “good in birth” (Gray 84). In the past, it was thought that we could improve the quality of the human race by making it impossible for those with undesirable traits to reproduce. Charles Davenport once said that he hoped “human matings could be placed on the same high plane as that of horse breeding” (qtd. n Gray 84).
Many states in the United States have put into place laws that required people in custody with hereditary defects to be sterilized (Gray 85). The false science of eugenics and purification of the human race swayed these states. One such example of this is the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck vs. Bell. The result of this case was the sterilization of Carrie Buck, the seventeen year old daughter of a “feeble-minded” mother; the mother a seven month old daughter, already determined to be of “subnormal intelligence”; legally declared a “moral imbecile” herself.
But the concept of purging our race was not present in the United States alone. Hitler’s concept of eugenics consisted of sterilizing the blind, schizophrenics, and those with terrible physical deformities (Gray 85). Now, with the advancement of genetic engineering, genetically altering the human race has made a huge leap forward. Soon scientists will be able to genetically pre-determine nearly every characteristic new-born children are likely to have. Doctors will be able to determine how tall a child will be, what type of body they will have, what illnesses they will be resistant to, and even their IQ and personality (Lemonick 64).
As Jeremy Rifkin, a critic of biotechnology, says, “It’s the ultimate shopping experience: designing your baby. In a society used to cosmetic surgery? , this is not a big step” (qtd. in Lemonick 64). However, the gene or combination of genes that make up these favored characteristics have not yet been found, so it is not yet possible to engineer a variety of genes, both in and out of the fetus (Lemonick 64). According to a TIME magazine poll, if given the choice of which traits a person would choice for his or her child, sixty percent of those responding would choose to rule out a fatal disease.
Thirty-three percent of the people would request greater intelligent, twelve percent desired to influence height or weight, and finally, eleven percent of those questioned would determine the sex of the child (Lemonick 64). Also, according to the same survey, thirty-nine percent of those polled believe that parents with genetically linked diseases ought to be required to test their children for them, while fifty-five percent did not (Lemonick 64). When speaking of genetically altering genes to obtain the proverbial “perfect baby,” one must address the issue of genetic discrimination.
If researchers are able to locate the exact genes that determine our mental traits or characteristics, could zealous parents or possibly the government use this ability to destroy any characteristics they see as undesirable and remove them? Then proceed to add the traits they consider good and guarantee everyone receives them (Yount 86)? The issue of genetic discrimination will become more and more prevalent as society continues to strive toward perfection, and new methods of obtaining this are developed.
As geneticist Karl A. Drlica said in 1994, “What we now call an average child may eventually be considered defective” (qtd. in Yount 80). This is a relatively easy point to defend. When a group of parents is genetically altering the future generation to perfection, those not engineered will be at a disadvantage. Soon we will have the technology to escape having children with certain “defects,” such as attention-deficit disorder, below-average height, lower intellect, homosexuality, or a possible genetically linked disease.
Will those individuals still possessing these traits be ostracized and made to feel even more inferior (Lemonick 66)? Canadian biologist N. J. Berill stated it well when he said: “Sooner or later one human society or another will launch out on this adventure [of using gene alteration to produce people with certain characteristics], whether the rest of mankind approves it our not. If this happens, and a superior race emerges with great intelligence and longer lives, how will these people look upon those who are left lagging behind?
They, not we, will be the heirs to the future, and they will assume control. ” (qtd. in Yount 86) Are all of these theories on an emerging “superior race” unfounded and irrational? If researchers use the new science of genetic engineering to achieve positive results, is there really any issue? As the editor of the Economist said in 1992, “? People have a right to make what they want of their lives? ” (qtd. in Yount 81). But the question of genetic discrimination has not yet been adequately covered. There are many every-day situations in which this could rear its ugly head.
For example, if employers were given access to the genetic history of potential employees, might they be hesitant to hire a candidate that has not been altered, if only because they would then have to pay more for health care (Yount 81)? When given the choice between a proven medical endorsement and a possible health disaster, it is not difficult to make a decision. Insurance companies are eager to obtain access to policy holders’ genetic records. With these records, insurers will be able to determine possible health risks more accurately.
However, insurers claim they are only replacing the old method of using medical check-ups and life expectancy calculations with the latest technology (Kirby). According to a TIME magazine poll, most people do not support the practice of charging higher premiums for those with a genetic predisposition to health problems. Eighty-eight percent of those questioned did not agree with higher rates, as opposed to the eight percent that did (Golden 59). Insurance worries and workplace conflicts are not the only situations where this problem becomes apparent. There is new evidence that sexual orientation is partly genetic in nature.
If scientists discover this to be true, will it curb discrimination by proving sexual orientation is instinctive, or will it compound the problem, and result in destruction or alteration of all fetuses showing this mannerism (Kirby)? The problem of genetic discrimination is being addressed. On November 11, 1997, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Universal Declaration of the Human Genome and Human Rights. This declaration states: “No one shall be subjected to discrimination based on genetic characteristics that is intended to infringe or has the effect of infringing human rights? ” (Kirby).
Currently, over seventy genetic discrimination bills are being debated in twenty-four states, and more than thirty states have laws forbidding genetic tests for job or health insurance applicants. Also, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 makes it illegal for health insurers to deny coverage based on pre-existing genetic conditions (Hallowell 60). Whether or not these various laws and regulations will prove to be effective remains to be seen. One piece of the puzzle that has been sorely neglected thus far is the fate of those fetuses having “defective” genes.
Will parents be pressured to abort when confronted will the serious possibility of a genetic disorder? One case in California strongly suggests this is happening. A young woman discovered her child would be born with cystic fibrosis. This woman’s health-care organization would cover the cost of the abortion, but denied care to the child if she gave birth to it; however, a lawsuit reversed this decision (Yount 82). The debate over the ethics of genetic engineering is a heated one. There are many sides to the issues; one must look at the positive, as well as the negative.
Proponents of genetic engineering stress the fact that this technology can be used to do a world of good. The first successful application of this science occurred in 1990. Nine-year-old Cynthia Cutshall and four-year-old Ashanti DeSilva, both diagnosed with immunodeficiency disease, underwent a procedure to replace the defective genes with healthy specimens into their bloodstream; which stimulated production of the enzyme their bodies needed but did not produce. Soon after, both girls became perfectly healthy.
Dr. W. French Anderson, one of the surgeons working with the girls, said afterward that it was “a social and cultural victory. It launched the field of human gene therapy” (qtd. in Wekesser 13). Little did he realize what an impact this life-saving procedure would have on scientists, researchers, doctors, and parents everywhere. Physicians at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center are claiming to be the first group to apply this form of technology to treat heart disease. Scientist injected a gene telling cells to make new blood vessels into a sixty-year-old man’s heart.
Their hope is that, eventually, the heart will grow its own bypass (Physicians 6). Defenders of genetic alterations also claim that this science is perfectly acceptable as long as researchers refrain from doing anything along “racist” or “classist” lines (Yount 88). They also state that although we can change the genetic makeup of an organism, we cannot guarantee our attempts will be successful. In order for something to function properly, all its parts must fit together readily. The only changes that will be successful are those that preserve the internal balance of the said organism (Wekesser 25).
Andrea Kott best summed up these sentiments best when she said: “Imagine beating chronic, debilitating, even fatal diseases before they strike. Think of the lives, the medical dollars, that could be saved if doctors could identify individuals genetically predisposed to heart disease, cancer, and other killers, and, through modification of diet, lifestyle, or other risk factors, reduce or eliminate their susceptibility. The possibility seems within reach as an ever-expanding arsenal of gene-testing technologies is developed. ” (qtd. in Wekesser 27)
It must be stated that the science of genetic engineering does not apply to humans alone. Many breakthroughs have been made in the field of food alteration. Scientists are now able to modify a variety of edible products to achieve a desired effect. But is there a risk to genetically engineering that which we daily consume? Peter Mond, the head of the organization Greenpeace, would tell you that this represents a great hazard. Mond was once arrested for mowing down and uprooting an entire field of genetically modified corn (Congman 43).
Political activists are not the only ones concerned with the issue of genetically engineered food. A Gerber Corporation spokesman verified the suspicion that due to a fax from Greenpeace, the company will cease the use of modified food products in its ingredients (Congman 43). According to researchers, there are potential risks to altered food. Some of these include the threat of an allergy inducing gene being spliced into a relatively harmless organism, the increased production of poison by an altered plant, and the loss of nutritional content in engineered food (Tangley 40).
Agricultural engineering has also undergone several new advancements. Researchers have been able to develop specimens of corn, wheat, rice, and soybeans that are resistant to disease, pests, and are able to create their own fertilizer. One example of this is the new breed of strawberries scientists are generating. Geneticists have taken the gene that prevents the arctic flounder form freezing in icy water and spliced it into strawberries to make them more resistant to frost (Wekesser 12). One can only imagine what this will do to the year-round availability and price of strawberries.
Of course, as anyone from the Cornbelt can see, the rapid reduction of the price of any given agricultural product can devastate the economy. It is now time to discuss society’s ever-growing problem of organ transplanting ethics. It is a sad statistic that more organs are buried each year than the number of patients in need of them (Leone, Biomedical 54). There are over fifty thousand people currently on organ waiting lists, and of those, nearly ten die each day (Leone, Medical 57). How is this problem to be solved?
There is a portion of the medical and scientific field that believes that, in order to provide a constant supply of organ donations, the sale of organs should be made legal. Now, this group does not promote the sale of organs from living donors, rather, the trade of cadaveric organs (Leone, Biomedical 56). The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act has made the trade of organs for monetary exchange illegal (Leone, Medical 53). However, organ trafficking is legal in Turkey, Brazil, Japan, Iraq, and the Phillipines.
Between 1990 and 1995, more than two thousand kidneys were sold annually in the Middle East. The donors were typically poor, relatively unhealthy, and desperately in need of this money to survive (Leone, Medical 54). Opponents of this believe that to accept organs under these conditions is a medical crime. This question is not an easy question to answer. On one hand, the sale of organs could indeed save many lives. On the other hand, is it worth the risk to initiate that form of commerce?
A discussion on the ethics of biotechnology on the human body would not be complete without touching upon new reproductive technologies. This science has gone through extensive developments in the past years. 8. 5 percent of married couples in the United States are infertile (Leone, Reproductive 13). Because of this, several new methods of impregnating infertile women have been developed. One method is “zygote intrafallopian transfer,” otherwise know as “ZIFT. ” With this method, a doctor inserts the embryo into one of the woman’s fallopian tubes, where it travels to the uterus (Leone, Reproductive 13).
Another method, “gamete intrafallopian transfer” (GIFT), is done by injecting sperm and an unfertilized egg into a fallopian tube, at which time conception and implantation will occur (Leone, Reproductive 13). Lastly is the “zona cracking” method. This technique involves piercing the outer layer of the egg and placing a single sperm cell within the egg, then embedding the fertilized egg into the woman (Leone, Reproductive 13). There is yet another well-known fashion for infertile couples to conceive a child – surrogate motherhood. In this process, the fertilized egg of one woman is allowed to develop in the womb of another.
Surrogate motherhood has its benefits. It allows a woman who faces a high-risk pregnancy have a child without jeopardizing her own health, and lessens the chances of premature birth. Surrogate motherhood also gives non-traditional families, such as single or homosexual parents, an opportunity to raise their own descendents (Leone, Reproductive 81). Opponents of reproductive technology argue that the solution to infertility is adoption. However, adoption can be very difficult and expense. Also, some feel they would not be able to love a child that is not their own offspring (Leone, Reproductive 50).