Anti-technologists and political extremists misinform, and over exaggerate statements that genetic engineering is not part of the natural order of things. The moral question of genetic engineering can be answered by studying human evolution and the idea of survival of the fittest. The question of safety can be answered by looking at the current precautions of the industry. The concept that society needs to understand is that with the right amount of time and money genetic engineering will help reduce disease and save countless lives. Many people do not realize that genetic engineering plays a role in many lives through out the world. Genetic engineering includes artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, sperm banks, cloning, and gene manipulation (Goetz 178). Synthetic insulin is now available for use to treat diabetes. This man made insulin has many positive aspects, which include its life span, cost to manufacture it, and the amount that is available. The synthetic insulin lasts two to three times longer than its natural form and costs substantially less to manufacture than to extract it from an animal, primarily pigs. One other benefit is the amount that can be manufactured. In pigs, the scientists need to wait for it to mature to extract the insulin. The synthetic source is completely man made and any amount can be manufactured in large quantities.
The replication of insulin is not the only way biotechnology is being utilized. Today people receive synthetic hormones that their body cannot produce such as growth hormones, thyroid, estrogen, and testosterone. Vaccines are also another form of genetic engineering that has been used for many years. Vaccines already protect against disease to a certain extent, but for a virus like HIV, it is too risky to inject somebody with a vaccine. The reason for this is because a vaccine is a solution that contains a dead or weakened virus that has been synthetically prepared. Further work on a HIV vaccine could save many lives and possibly eliminate the disease. This biotechnology makes it possible for more people to live the lives that would not have been available without genetic engineering.
Plants are also being genetically engineered. This type of genetic engineering is more commonly accepted, but why? It is no different for a plant to be able to fight off pests then it is for a human to be able to fight off diseases. This is a contradiction, because society is saying that it is all right for a plant to be genetically engineered but not a human.
This new technology of genetic engineering dates back to the 1950’s. IN 1951 three scientists, Francis Crick, Maurice Wilkins, and James Dewey Watson, were credited with the discovery of DNA. Later they were presented the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine in 1962. (Lewin 1) DNA is also known as deoxyribonucleic acid and it carries a living organisms genetic code. The discovery of DNA was the very beginning of genetic engineering. Today the science of biotechnology has evolved to a much higher level, but is still many steps away from completely correcting damaged or diseased genes. The reason is partly to blame on the ignorance of society, because it believes that genetic engineering is wrong. The part of genetic engineering that is wrong is holding back the natural process of science evolution.
Some benefits are used in medicine today, but the real benefits will come as genes can be altered more. The real benefit that will help mankind is when bioengineers will be able to replace a cancer or defective gene with a gene that does not have an error in its genetic code. “The new science of genetic engineering aims to take a dramatic shortcut in the slow process of evolution” (Stableford 25). What is meant by the previous quote is that scientists hope to take a gene from an organism and change it so that it will be immune to certain diseases and free from cancer. For example, many years ago small pox was widely spread. Today it is almost nonexistent, because of the evolution of man. The only problem with this was it took hundreds of years for our genetic code to adapt and make our bodies fight it.
The moral question of genetic engineering is answered by looking at the advances in medicine. Today the advancements in medicine are evolving at an extremely high rate. If the science of genetic engineering is wrong, then so are the rest of the advances in medicine. The reason is because genetic engineering is just another form of medical advancement. Gene manipulation is not going to be used for any other purpose except for the treatment and elimination of disease. The one thing that people need to realize is the potential of genetic engineering. Try to visualize what parents of a child is dying from a disease like multiple sclerosis think about the benefits of genetic engineering. Do they think that it is morally wrong or right? They think that it is right because it is going to save their child’s life.
Cloning is another form of genetic engineering that is not accepted as morally right. For example, to clone a human heart scientists do not have to clone the whole person. They only need to clone the heart by itself (http://www.humancloning.org/user/infertil/humancloning.html). This process of cloning would eliminate transplants and the use of anti-rejection drugs. It is; however, wrong to clone a whole human being. There would be no purpose in cloning a person, because it offers science little or no benefits. Some people say that if they could clone Albert Einstein much more could be learned about science and the theory of relativity. This is not true. If somebody is cloned, it does not mean it will be the same person in every way. It only means that their genetic makeup will be exactly alike. The environment in which they grow up plays a major role in the development of the person’s personality.
Safety of genetic engineering is something that presents much concern. Looking at the current precautions and previous precautions of the biotechnological industry can clear up the safety issue. Today the Federal and State Governments set many limitations on biotechnological industries. The FDA and State Governments impose limits such as the illegalization of human cloning and limits on other genetic engineering processes. The only legal forms of genetic engineering that are used today are in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and sperm banks. Another form of genetic engineering is the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy is illegal because people should not be able to create the perfect child, but they should be able to correct a gene in a child if it has a chance of being born with Down syndrome. The safety precautions are in effect in order to save the lives of unborn babies. Gene therapy cannot be used on humans until it is perfected and there is little or no chance of failure. These sciences are not perfect but give it a few years and it will be a great benefit to the human race.
It is not safe to clone a human. It took 277 tries to successfully clone Dolly the sheep. This should not stop scientists from trying to clone organs that could save many lives. Currently three states banned the cloning of humans. Among the states are Michigan, Rhode Island, and California. The state banns will stay in effect for five years in California and Rhode Island. Currently there are three years and eight months left until the ban is lifted. In the state of Michigan, if convicted of attempting or cloning a human there is a number of penalties, including a ten-year prison sentence. (http://www.humancloning.org/legality.htm) With this amount of time, the scientists will have perfected the process of cloning and it will be accepted more then it is now.
The safety regulations of cloning only extend to human cloning at the present time. This is due to the fact that cloning is not perfect and some abnormalities and failures have come about in this new technology. Society cannot expect to be perfect the first time it does something, but merely get better as they practice. The more tests that are done on bacteria, plants, and organisms the more effective genetic engineering will benefit human life in the future. Scientists are also able to detect abnormalities in the cloned organism before it has even started to develop. By monitoring the DNA of the organism, scientists can decide if the clone will be able to further develop. If it is not able to then the process can be terminated.
Society tends to have special concerns about new technologies. This biotechnology is no exception. Among the special concerns are birth defects and the stability of the organism’s life. If a sheep or a plant is cloned or genetically altered, will it have a stable and healthy life? The answer is yes. The reasoning behind genetically engineered organisms is to create a healthy and more stable life form. If it did make life forms unstable what would be the purpose genetic engineering? Society also fears that this biotechnology may get into the wrong hands and somebody could bring back a treacherous person like Adolph Hitler. Cloning is possible and society knows this. Even if it is illegal to clone a person, the technology is available if somebody were to want to clone. The way people talk about cloning is as if it does not exist and think they can prevent it from ever happening. The sad fact is that it exists and people know how to use it and if a terrible person wants to use it for the wrong reasons they will do it no matter what. The only people that are being hurt by the strict guidelines are the doctors and scientist who want to help people. The criminals who use it for the wrong purposes are going to keep doing it as long as they do not get caught.
As society reads increasingly about genetic engineering, they seem to form views that are not based on facts, but merely the opinions of a journalist. It is very easy to find articles in News Week or on the Internet that support genetic engineering. The thing that society needs to do is think about the facts and decide if the benefits of genetic engineering out weigh the consequences. Society tends to argue against genetic engineering using three main topics. First, it is not a safe thing for mankind to do because it is not part of the natural order of things. Many people also think it is letting doctors and scientists play the role of God. Third, people believe that scientists are trying to control something that man was not supposed to control. All of the previous topics have little or no support and were partly created because of society’s ignorance.
The most common defense that people give for not accepting the science of genetic engineering is that it is not part of the nature’s course. If this is the case then driving, flying, wearing clothes and etcetera should be banned and people should be afraid of this. As man has evolved from the earliest stages of Precambrian times, it has introduced things that were completely unknown and not part of nature. This includes fire, clothing, boats, automobiles, planes, medical treatment, computers, and now genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is just another evolutionary step in the great journey of mankind. If the world could harness the possibilities of genetic engineering, it would save many lives and prevent many diseases from ever developing.
Many people also think that this new biotechnology is letting scientists and doctors play god. These doctors are not trying to recreate human science; they are just trying to perfect its flaws. Doctors and scientists have already helped diabetics with their synthetic insulin, and unfertile parents are now able to have children. Those that oppose genetic engineering because doctors are trying to play god, do not realize what genetic engineering has already contributed to our world. Society should research issues before forming an ignorant opinion.
Another opposing view to genetic engineering is the idea that doctors and genetic engineers are trying to control something that man was not supposed to be able to control. These ideas stem from people’s fear and religious affiliation. This is based on opinions that people have formed, once again, because of their ignorance towards genetic engineering.
The fear that people have toward genetic engineering is not new to science. Ever since the beginning of science, man has been afraid of the unknown. Space travel and flying were not widely accepted until the twentieth century and was completely absurd just one hundred years ago. Today they are widely accepted and are used everyday. Genetic engineering is in the first stage of its discovery and will emerge in the twenty first century and will be as accepted as is flying and space travel. The people of the world should ease up on holding back the evolution of science and realize its possibilities for future generations.
Clark, Bryan C. “Genetic Engineering”. Microsoft Encarta [CD-Rom]. Microsoft Corporation, Funk & Wagnalls Corporation, 1994.
Goetz, Philip W., ed. The New Encyclopedia Britannica. 15th ed. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1990
Lewin, Seymour Z. “Nucleic Acids”. Microsoft Encarta [CD-Rom]. Microsoft Corporation, Funk & Wagnalls Corporation, 1994.
Stableford, Brian. Future Man. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984.
“The Legality Of Human Cloning.” Human Cloning Foundation. http://www.humancloning.org/legality.htm