Technology has greatly shaped the world in which we now live. The technological advancements seen over the past twenty years have been bountiful and seemingly endless in all aspects of life. Increasingly prominent are the advancements that have been made in science, specifically in genetic engineering. These new scientific technologies have created the possibility of almost transcending humanity and entering into a new realm of genetically enhanced human beings, a realm in which the fate of Homo sapiens is at hand. Technological advancements have proved to be valuable, but those regarding genetic enhancement have ignored possible repercussions and surpassed the moral and ethical limits of scientific technology.
The human being, or Homo sapien, has been defined in both biological and spiritual ways. In the biological definition, the human being is defined as different from other species based on genetic makeup, namely DNA. This definition places importance on the physical nature of the human being, the body, where the spiritual definition offers an alternative view. The spiritual definition goes beyond the body, although it is necessary, and says that human beings have a spiritual soul that will live on after death. This view is commonly held by many religious groups, chiefly Christianity. However, most scientists define human beings in regards to the biological definition. An emphasis placed on DNA seems like it would require some sort of changing of species in order to genetically re-engineer’ one’s biological makeup. With that thought in mind, it would imply that scientists are willing to change the actual nature of human beings to some new and unnamed super-human.
The idea of a human being with a complete modification of attributes caused by the medical manipulation of his DNA is quite scary. The possible benefits of such interventions could be vast, but the unforeseen costs could be astronomical. This could be illustrated in the following example. Let us say that the Army is looking to increase the hearing capabilities of its soldiers and approaches a team of genetic engineers to see if this is feasible. After much research, the genetic engineers find that taking a certain gene from dolphins and inserting it into human genetic material causes for hearing abilities to increase four-fold. The Army is pleased with this research, so they select 5,000 couples who would like to raise genetically engineered children, destined to become soldiers, via in vitro fertilization. Once these children are born, they are monitored for any complications. No complications are detected and once the children are old enough, they enter into the Army. They all display enhanced hearing capabilities, like the research showed, but what is unknown is that the soldiers will develop cancer of the liver that will eventually kill them by forty-five years of age. What was a seemingly easy’ genetic enhancement has now caused a huge problem the death of over 5,000 soldiers!
There are thousands of other enhancements that genetic engineers could some day be capable of performing. Involvement of genetic engineering in childbirth could increase to the extent that parents could not only pick the sex of their child, but they could also give’ him any attributes or qualities they saw fit. As could be hypothesized, if every couple genetically engineered their children with attributes they saw fit, the human being species could drastically change. The changes could accumulate over the generations and lead to a division of the human being species into multiple sub-species groups, resulting in people with vastly different attributes and a huge change in the animal kingdom itself. The effects this could have on the species, as well as the environment, are unknown and most likely undesirable. It is because of this uncertainty of change and manipulation that many oppose genetic enhancement.
The morality of genetic enhancement is another area of concern. Those that consider the embryo, who cannot speak for himself, a non-person having no moral standing find no problem with genetic enhancement. Conversely, those that view the human embryo as a person believe the embryo has full moral standing and deserves a right to life. In this viewpoint, it would be morally unacceptable to genetically enhance the DNA of embryos if there was no real medical need for the genetic intervention. It could be thought of as if the person would not make this choice while in adulthood, the choice should not be made for him while an embryo’. We can assume that the person would want to be treated for a disease that would undoubtedly kill him before living a long life, but we can not be sure that he would want to be genetically altered so that he was over six feet tall and had six toes. This gets at the distinction between genetic enhancement and gene therapy. It would seem morally unacceptable to perform any genetic enhancement, since the embryo may not want that enhancement’ when an adult, but acceptable to perform gene therapy since it would be in the embryo’s best interest to prevent future complications.
Along with morality comes the ethical debate involved with genetic enhancement. The research for genetic enhancement involves millions of embryos created in test tubes that are eventually discarded’. This means that embryos with the potential for life are destroyed for the advancement of scientific knowledge in genetics. Holding the belief that embryos are granted full moral standing and deserve the right to life, this genetic research performed is clearly unethical. The question of whether it is a smaller harm to create a greater good in the world can be an objection to the claims of unethical action, but this can be refuted by using both duty-based and consequentialist ethical principles. From a duty-based ethical standpoint, stress is placed on respect for persons through autonomy, fidelity, veracity, and most of all, the avoidance of killing. Therefore, viewing the embryo as a person would cause genetic enhancement research to be deemed unethical. Similarly, the consequentialist ethical standpoint utilizes the principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence, which require actions to produce good consequences and to not produce bad consequences. One can easily deduce that the killing of the test-subject embryos is an unethical action, since death is a bad consequence.
The value of scientific technological advancements is not questioned, but those regarding genetic engineering have ignored possible repercussions and surpassed the moral and ethical limits of scientific technology. These new technologies of genetic enhancement have created the possibility of transcending humanity and creating an entirely new realm of genetically enhanced human beings. Without strict regulation and a close eye on the moral and ethical aspects of genetic enhancement research, the world in which we live could be changed forever. This change, however, could be detrimental to both our species and the world in which we live.
See also: Pros of Genetic engineering