Genetic engineering is a field of science where the genome of an organism is altered in order to produce desirable or useful characteristics in the resultant organism. This includes fields such as GM crops, transgenesis, cloning. The process includes removing, editing or even adding to the DNA of an organism. GE is used for many areas such as food, scientific experimentation, and even entertainment. This article will analyse the case of using GE on animals and humans.
Against Genetic Engineering
While genetic engineering (GE) may have a number of benefits, there are also many potential ethical dilemmas related to this subject. One of the problems put forward is the idea of ‘playing God’ and ‘that life should not be regarded as a product that can be altered and played with for economic benefit’.
One of the main aims of GE is to maximise the quantity of meat from animals for human consumption. To do this, the DNA of the organism is modified so that the animal is made to grow faster than normal. This can put a lot of stress on the animal and can cause discomfort when the animal is too active. It has also been found that transgenic (an organism which contains additional, artificially-introduced genetic material in every cell) pigs can suffer from arthritis; can be partially blind and infertile when a human growth hormone was inserted into their genome to make them grow faster. Using GE to achieve desirable characteristics of farm animals for agriculture could be a slippery slope; it could be reasoned that adding or editing the genes of animals could lead to editing the genes of humans to get the desirable traits.
The consequentialism ethical theorem can be utilised to examine the ethics of the use of GE for the purposes of one’s entertainment. An example of the potential breach of animal welfare in GE is the GloFish, a fish that has been genetically modified to fluoresce. It can be argued that since the goal of the modification is not vastly important it therefore does not justify the means.
Furthermore, in some jurisdictions it is possible to obtain a patent for genetically modified organisms. One example of this is the OncoMouse – a mouse which had been genetically altered in Harvard University to make it more susceptible to develop cancer in order to conduct cancer research. This case brings up multiple ethical dilemmas, for example, patenting a genetic organism can be seen as being unethical as it is treating life as a commodity and grants the possession of genes. The ethics of creating an animal purely for it to have a disease for research is also questionable.
The possible courses of action are to ban GE entirely, to limit the scope of it, or to carry on with the current state of affairs. According to the Rights Approach, ‘the best ethical action is that which protects the ethical rights of those who are affected by the action’. The best course of action should therefore be to certainly limit the scope of GE used in the industry today, in order to avoid the use of unnecessary GE and the patenting of GE animals.
For Genetic Engineering
The advancement of GE enables us to eliminate some diseases and illnesses from one’s body by tracing genomes that lead to the disease. For instance, a life-threatening disease like cystic fibrosis can be removed completely by GE. Research has found that 1 in every 2,500 babies born in the UK have cystic fibrosis. With GE, the spread of the disease can be stopped entirely in the future.
GE can potentially increase the lifespan of humans. The elimination of diseases and illness can lead to that. In addition, research has been conducted on the worms Caenorhabditis elegans which have a lifespan that is comparable to 400-500 years of human lifetime. In the future anti-ageing treatments could be available to increase people lifetime. GE can also be used to reverse cellular damage that is responsible for ageing and by doing so ageing can be decelerated.
Organ replacement also benefits from GE. A report suggested that in the United States around 100 000 people need to undergo organ transplants but there are an insufficient number of organs to fulfil the demand. One of the ways to overcome the problem is to do an animal-human organ transplant. Scientists successfully transplanted a genetically engineered pig heart to a baboon and they believe further research could solve the problem of scarce supply of organs. Researchers are also exploring the possibility of substituting temporary skin for healing wounds and burns.
Unlike controlled breeding, modern GE gives access to an almost limitless scope of modification of animals. GE could help change or add other genes into the gene structure of animal livestock so that more omega-3 fatty acids could be obtained and produce leaner meats. These are traits which directly affect the health of human kind in a positive way.
Animals could also be engineered to be able to resist various diseases. In the food production industry, animals with diseases are simply discarded as they are unable to be consumed. As a result, the cost of meat production could be reduced with the introduction of animals which are impervious to diseases. In the long run, it could also produce healthier meats for consumption as there have been numerous cases which involve the production of diseased animals.
As the population of human kind increases at an accelerating rate, it is getting harder to meet the demand of the world food production. To solve this, animals could be genetically engineered to grow faster similar to the genetically modified (GM) salmon from AquaBounty.
The human race has long benefitted from technological advances such as air transportation, artificial rain and the breeding of crops. All of which were looked upon negatively during their beginning stages as trying to oppose God’s work or “play God”.
The best course of action is to continue GE as such advances are simply vital in human evolution.
41: Jake Steeland, Kaushal Marthi, Ibrahim Iskandar, Akmal Kamarudin