The world of science has experienced many profound breakthroughs and advances in the twentieth century, but none perhaps as great as that of genetic engineering. However, the twentieth century society is not prepared or even willing at times to accept the moral and ethical controversies genetic engineering is creating. Genetic engineering, defined as the use or manipulation of an individuals genetic material in order to produce desired characteristics or results in the same individual, other individuals of the same species, or other species, is undoubtedly changing society s relationship with nature, medicine, and perhaps its own cultural values (Thro 69). It has been predicted for the year 2020, people will have new definitions of health and illness (Oleksy 108). The completion of genome mapping will allow a health plan for each person, preventing genetic disease and promoting a better life (Oleksy 108). However, genetic engineering, also called gene splicing or gene cloning, is not being welcomed with open arms. It affects the moral values of human beings, as well as other living things. The competing goods in genetic engineering, i.e. creating a stronger, more advanced human race vs. a natural selective process created by God, are virtually impossible to avoid and have placed a temporary hold one the progress of this new technology and society s moral view. Our society must be persuaded that genetic engineering is of great value in order to become an accepted social practice. This is something that society obviously lacks the conviction for thus far, making genetic engineering an object of continued scientific, as well as philosophical study.
Throughout history, science has allowed for advances in production, transportation, and even entertainment. Although, never in history has science been able to so deeply affect our lives as genetic engineering is undoubtedly doing and will continue to do in the not so distant future. Genetic engineering can help us create a stronger and more advanced human race by increasing food production, revolutionize new medicines, even enhance human intelligence, physical beauty and strength. Diseases could become weakened and cleaned out of humans genetic makeup. For example, if one parent had a bad gene or some type of hereditary disease, it could be removed from the embryo and replace with another clean gene. This process is called embryo screening (Oleksy 48). Embryo screening is used to determine if an embryo has received a defective gene. Several embryos could be genetically cloned, the DNA from one of the embryos could then be removed and standard genetic testing would be used to detect whether or not that embryo contained the genetic disease. If this cloned embryo contained a disease, then one of the other embryos could be used for implantation in a parent, thus, guaranteeing that the child would be free of genetic disease (Oleksy 49). This process would certainly be beneficial for couples who are infertile and want to have children. Genetic engineering would enable the couple to produce a baby with their characteristics. In fact, they would be able to pick and choose the characteristics of their unborn child.
Another benefit of genetic engineering, is the possibility of cloning body organs. This process would prove to be very beneficial to people who have lost a body organ such as a kidney. Scientists could clone a particular organ of an individual. This process could have the potential to work better than a transplanted organ, because the genetic makeup of that individual would be used in the re-creation of the organ.
Not only does genetic engineering present the possibilities of saving lives; it can save entire species from extinction. Genetic engineering could be used to increase the population of endangered species of animals, thus saving them from total extinction. This would help maintain a natural balance, and provide a continuous life cycle.
Even though there is the belief by some that genetic engineering is overall beneficial, many suggest that genetic engineering is unnatural and not ethically correct. Also, we know too little about this technology to understand the long-term effects of placing old genes with new ones. Genetic engineering is triggering an ethical emergency within society, and causing this new science to be cast in a dim light. Anti-technologists, political extremists, as well as numerous individuals of society believe that genetic engineering is not natural and defies the order of things. There are many religious groups that feel genetic engineering should not be considered for any reason whatsoever. Rev. Robert A. Martin states: It appears that from the beginning, God reserved for Himself the right to create living souls (Epstein 2). Others claim that many of the ethical issues being raised about genetic engineering are based in theology, the concern for preserving human dignity and individual freedom. This somehow parallels to the issue of abortion and whether or not it is morally right. Religion is the root of many individual personal values and beliefs about social matters such as genetic engineering and abortion.
Many also believe that genetic engineering will cause unseen disasters because once we decide to begin the process of human genetic engineering, there will really be no logical place to stop and there will be no turning back. If diabetes, sickle cell anemia, and cancer are to be cured by altering human genes, why not proceed to other disorders such as myopia, color blindness, and left-handedness? It is possible that scientists will go too far and genetically alter characteristics that will corrupt society. This scientific information could get into the hands of the economically or politically powerful and used for ill purposes. For example, with the use of genetic engineering, individuals could be created for the sole purpose of fighting war or for a perfect society. Already, there is the possibility of creating new animals to be used as medicine factories. If we pick and choose the characteristics of our children, we will become a society of made-to-order humans who have lost forever the great gift of genetic diversity. A society of eugenics would be created. Eugenics is a theory that deals with the improvement of hereditary qualities by controlling human mating (Tagliaferro 71). In other words, eugenicists believe the human race can be improved by deliberately encouraging people with superior traits to reproduce, while discouraging people with inferior traits from bearing children (Tagliaferro 71).
One very strong view held by society is one that compares genetic engineering to other technologies, such as chemical pesticides and nuclear energy, which were welcomed in their early stages. However, they were later revealed to have dangerous side effects that still threaten society (Tagliaferro 8).
I believe that genetic engineering is a part of our natural evolution. Our ancestors evolved by using their hands and minds, creating language and civilizations which advanced society. Genetic engineering is what will advance our society if used ethically in curing diseases, as well as deformities and not in total re-creation of man or animal. Throughout the centuries disease has plagued the world, forcing everyone to take part in a virtual lottery with the agents of death (Stableford 59). Diseases and deformities are painful, as well as useless. Genetic engineering can aid to the evolution of humans by cleansing our bodies of such ill and in some cases deadly burdens. This isolation and removing of a desired gene is a process that would have taken Mother Nature millions of years of natural selection to develop. I agree that God created the world with a mathematical structure and He had created the human mind with the capacity for grasping that structure (Pearcey, et al 22). I also understand the view held my many that genetic engineering is unnatural and not ethically correct, however, so would be taking medicine when sick. For those who disagree with genetic engineering, I am sure if their child could be saved from a genetic disease, they would reconsider. Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that will yield unprecedented results, specifically in the field of medicine. It will usher in a world where gene defects, bacterial disease, and even aging are a thing of the past. However, I feel that cloning, as well as genetic preference in characteristics is essentially the altering God s sacred creation. I believe that society fails to understand fully enough, correctly enough and makes mistakes. If the atomic bomb revealed original sin, the era of genetic engineering will reveal it much more (Epstein 4).
It has been said that science is the study of nature. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle, analyzed all processes of change in categories borrowed from the growth and development of living organisms. Even prior to modern genetics, it was obvious that the development of living organisms must be directed by some internal pattern that ensures that acorns always grow into oaks, not maples, and that chicks always grow into hens, not horses (Pearcey, et al 60). Aristotle believed that each individual has its built-in specific pattern of development and grows toward proper self-realization as a specimen of its type. Growth, purpose, and direction are thus built into nature (Stumpf 95). Therefore, it is my belief that Aristotle would conclude that genetic engineering is not ethical because it is not a natural process, it is man made. I further believe that Aristotle would claim that genetic engineering is immoral, particularly cloning, because it is not possible to use this process in moderation. Aristotle believed in the golden mean , which means that everything in moderation gives life meaning (Stumpf 101).
In contrast, the philosophical view on morality held by Kant was that morality was regarded as a set of rules which prescribe the means necessary to the achievement of a given end; its rules must be obeyed without consideration of consequences that will follow from doing so or not. (Stumpf 315). Kant states that an act is good which is properly motivated; proper motivation stems from a sense of duty (Stumpf 316). Other motivations for action are self-interest and inclination, which result in either amoral or immoral acts. So, according to Kant, genetic engineering would be an act in accordance with duty because it is the social belief that technology is the means for finding advanced medical solutions. This social view, in Kant s terms, is the universal maxim that applies to all situations. Genetic engineering will promote world good even though there are consequences.
It is not known whether or not genetic engineering will go beyond the laboratory and affect lives of individuals, as well as society. However, what is known is that genetic engineering seems to be very appealing in some aspects and very frightening in others. This is why genetic engineering will continue to be an object of scientific and philosophical study for many years to come.
Stableford, Brian, Future Man. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984
Tagliferro, Linda, Genetic Engineering: Progress or peril? New York: Lerner Publications Company, 1997
Stumpf, Samuel Enoch, Philosophy: History & Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1994
http://online.sfsu.edu/-rone/GE.htm (7/30/99) Ron Epstein Ethical and Spiritual Issues in Genetic Engineering AHIMSA discussion forum on March 17, 1998 and published in Ahimsa Voices: a Quarterly Journal for the Promotion of Universal Values, 5(4), Oct. 1998, pp. 6-7