Regenerating extinct species, engineering babies that are born without vital body organs, this is what the use of genetic engineering brings to the world.
In Greek myth, an chimera was a part lion, part goat, part dragon that lived in Lycia; in real life, it s an animal customized with genes of different species. In reality, it could be a human-animal mixture that could result in horror for the scientific community. In myth the chimera was taken down by the warrior Bellerophon, the biotech version faces platoons of lawyers, bioethicists, and biologists (Hager).
In this paper, I am going to discuss what has already been done, the unethical side of genetics, and what will happen in the future if we continue to tinker. Genetics pose a major problem to the modern day world. With the deteriorating conditions of the earth today, the use of genetics will further break down our fragile planet.
As of 1998, many experiments have been done in the field of genetics, in the next section, I will discuss a few.
First, genetics came into the public view in the early 1970 s when a scientist named Paul Berg began experimenting with a strain of E.coli bacteria called SV40. (Tagliaferro 69) This was the public beginning to the struggle surrounding genetics. Berg was not very intelligent about the way he conducted his tests, and he was forced to stop, until the National Institute of Health determined that SV40 was harmless to humans. (Tagliaferro 70)
The next major happening in genetics was the Asilomar Conference of 1973. The Asilomar conference was a good start, but it did not set strict enough standards for experimentation, and this caused many harsh, and disruptive experiments. Then in 1975, the second Asilomar conference was held. This conference helped a little, but it still left to much gray area for scientists to play in. (Tagliaferro 70) The Asilomar Conference were a gigantic step forward, but they still left the scientists with to much freedom. The government should have taken control of the industry when it had the chance, but it let the chance slip through its fingers.
After the Asilomar conferences, there were no major advancements until the early 1990 s. In the early 1990 s private companies began experimenting with plants, and pesticides. They modified the plants, and then marketed them as better foods. In 1991 the Food and Drug administration took the products off the market for examination. They deemed the foods to be fine for human consumption (Levine). These new wonder plants were supposed to produce more crops, and use less space, but in reality they only produced an average of 3-5 percent more, and they used the same amount of space as the original plants. The downside to these genetically engineered plants was the pesticides that must be applied to maintain them; some of these if not applied right can cause illness, or even be fatal to certain people.
There were a few small advancements from 1991 to 1997, when a group of British scientists cloned Dolly the sheep. The scientists used part of the original animals DNA, and they expanded upon it to where they had the animal s entire genetic make-up. This procedure shocked the world, in being it was the first known successful cloning. This experiment raised eyebrows, and it upset many people because of the moral lines it crossed. If we can clone sheep, why don t we clone super humans? This question outraged many, and excited many others. In the United States, human cloning is controlled by teach state government, but on a whole, the majority of the states have outlawed cloning experiments, and for good reason. Cloning is a dangerous area that if not controlled properly could result in the end of the human race, as we now know it. Stuart Newman, a cell biologist at New York Medical College has applied for a patent on ways to make human-animal chimeras. Newman doesn t want to do it. He just wants to make sure no one else does, either (Hager).
Second, there are many concerns that surround the field of genetic engineering. These concerns range from moral, to environmental, and the ethics that are involved. These concerns have a lot of backing, and are very severe.
There are about three moral concerns that surround all genetics, they are; what to do with a mistake, can genetic creatures be patented, and are the things that are made free to live, or should they be contained for experimentation.
First, what happens if a geneticist makes a mistake? Well, there are a few options kill it, let it live in a confined area, or let it roam free. All of these options are bad in one way or another. First, if you kill the mistake, you have wasted time, money, and a life. This is the most scorned option of all three. Next, if you let it live in a confined area, you are depriving it of all the basic frills of life. What kind of life is it to be confined in a small cell with no outside excitement? The last option for geneticists is to let the thing live, and go on with its life as normal. This option provides even more ethical questions, so it is shunned by many. Many times the mistakes may not be well equipped for life in the real world. They may not be equipped for the stress of human life.
The next issues are over the rights, and what rights the creators have. While the 13th amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery can be interpreted as supporting all life, and denying who or what ever made them the right to control them (Goldberg). According to the 13th amendment the creature should have the rights of an American citizen, and the creator would have no control over it. This exception would help total human clones, but what if it was a human-animal chimera? Would it have rights, or would it be an animal? The whole situation is murky, I hope that we never come to a point where we have to answer these questions, but only time will tell.
The last moral concern is what should happen with the created being? The answer is usually that it should be kept for studying, and experimentation. This option denies the being the right to any sort of meaningful existence. Many are against this, they say that it denies the common liberties of life, and is inhumane. Both reasons are true, and they present strong points of interest.
The environmental concerns are obvious. The earth is deteriorating rapidly, and it could not support some of the larger creatures of years past, but still geneticts try to do the impossible (Bryan). Time, after time we see movies, and things that portray dinosaurs coming back from extinction. These portrayals are actually quite real, in the world today, the technology exists, and the DNA is available. If dinosaurs and other large extinct animals were brought back, the earth would falter, and the human race would be facing a grave future. In the future, we should devise plans for what to do with what we create before we create it.
There are many ethical concerns that have arisen over the past five to seven years. Two examples are, is what about being humane, and what about religion? The issues have risen, and people have tried to answer them. I will also try to answer these to questions in depth.
First, humane is defined as marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals. (Reiss) Many believe that being humane is one of the basic responsibilities of life. Others believe that it is something that should be practiced, but only at certain times. Humanity is something that should be practiced regularly, but if we genetically engineer animals or humans, how can we be humane, we are messing with the way a creature is made, and how it behaves. How can humanity be extended to creatures that we have created? I don t feel that it can be done. Since 1993, geneticists have been experimenting with sheep, and their wool production. Geneticists have modified the DNA of as many as five different breeds of sheep. The genes of these sheep were modified to produce help produce more wool (Genetics). Now, how is this humane, we manipulate the genes of animals to better meet the needs of the human race. This is not right. These sheep were not intended to have thick coats, and now they face greater risk of heat related deaths. More over, would we like it if we were being changed and manipulated into living a certain way? I don t believe so, so why don t we start treating things the way we want to be treated? Well, there are a few more issues that come along with humanity, product testing, and when should humanity be implied. First, if an animal is used for product testing, it is looked down upon, but what would happen when companies used genetically engineered animals to test? These genetically engineered animals should be treated the same as all other animals, and they should actually be acted better towards. They should be acted better towards, because we do not know what their bodies, or minds can take. They are fragile creatures, because they have been modified for what humans believe is right, but we do not know the rigors of an animals everyday life, they mainly rely on their natural instincts to act, if we modify them, we might damage their functioning.
The second ethical issue is important in most people s eyes. Seventy-five percent of the world s people say they believe in a higher being. Well, if they believe in this so called higher being, how can they live knowing that there are people in this world that are trying to bypass him, and play god themselves. I believe in god, and I do not see how people can actually let this go on. I could not live with myself, if I tried to be above the man himself, it is very disheartening to hear what goes on in this world.
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Genetics . September 1998. Online. 2 January 1999.
Goldberg, William. Genetics: Tomorrow and Beyond. US News and World Reports, 7 May 1998: 41.
Hager, Mary, and Adam Rodgers. A Biotech Roadblock. Newsweek, 13 April 1998:
Levine, Louis. Genetic Engineering . Encarta Encyclopedia. CD-ROM. 1997.
Reiss, Michael, and Roger Straughan. The Genetic Engineering of Humans . Improving Nature:The Science and Ethics of Genetic Engineering. New York: Cambridge UP,1996.
Tagliaferro,Linda. Who Should Regulate Genetic Engineering? . Genetic Engineering: Progress or Peril? New York: Lerner Publications,1997.
Watson, George. Genetic Tinkering: What are the Consequences? . New Age Scientific Procedures. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.