Modifying Humanity’s Future?

Gene editing “CRISPR” [1] is the process of editing a cell’s DNA to create enhanced offspring.  On one hand this technology can be used to ensure the wellbeing of children treated with this technology. On the other hand, this can be used to create ‘designer’ babies with certain attributes/traits desired in certain cultures. Should this technology be available to all or should it be banned based on it being unnatural and the unknown future impact?

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The Anti Argument For Reproductive Gene Editing

Social inequalities

Despite the great potential of this technology there are many issues surrounding it from a utilitarian perspective. Producing genetically altered humans is easier now than it ever was before, giving rise to potential “designer” babies where just about any feature of a child could be decided by the parents. This could give rise to unfair advantages for some people in terms of their life prospects, and producing a lot of anger and disenfranchisement from “normal” people, particularly if this technology was restricted behind a high paywall.

Clearly this could lead to a very dystopian future with increasing class divides or even discrimination based on your genetics. Imagine trying to take out health insurance but having to pay extra high rates due to having a genetic tendency for heart attacks or other medical conditions. This doesn’t mean the benefits of using this technology to reduce heart disease should be ignored, but it should be as widely accessible as possible and people should not be valued on their genetic makeup. There are still moral questions if everyone had equal access to this technology however. Every parent wants the best for their child, so would likely pick the better traits available. This could lead to another dystopian future where humanity tends towards a single genetic makeup, removing most variation between individuals.

Going against nature

The application of editing genes goes against nature. By doing gene editing, you are basically playing god. For example, changing a person’s height, or in extreme cases a person’s skin colour or gender would be unthinkable. Racial identity which differentiate us can be lost. Heredity or ancestry quality such as the DNA of the child will be different from the parents.

CRISPR is not limited to humans however, it can be applied to any living cell. Although there are huge potential benefits from genetic modification, what if gene editing goes wrong? What if a modified organism does something unexpected and causes irreversible damage? Who knows how badly we could damage ecosystems, particularly those which we rely on for food. No matter how much we try to predict the result of a genetic modification, we may not fully understand its effects until it’s too late. It’s not hard to think of the consequences if say a modified lethal bacterium is released into the world.

The worrying development of CRISPR compared to other techniques however, is how easy it is to implement. There are websites online where anyone can buy genetic material used to modify genomes [1]. There are even “Biohacker” clubs springing up around the world! [2] No matter how well intentioned it may be, the effects of genetic engineering on the environment could be catastrophic or even apocalyptic.

In conclusion, from a Utilitarian perspective, CRISPR should be used in humans to remove genetic diseases but other non-essential modifications should be limited. It should be as accessible as possible but should be very carefully regulated to prevent potential environmental problems.

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The Pro Argument for Reproductive Gene Editing

Gene editing is a relatively new technology with the potential to improve millions of lives by removing abnormalities from the genetic code such as cystic fibrosis [2]. Some people argue that gene editing is playing god but you can argue that we as humans already do so by using technologies such as IVF [3] and editing of somatic, non-reproductive cells [4]. Gene editing could lead mankind to a disease-free future where humans are born with no defects and live long, prosperous lives.

An argument the opposition procures against gene editing is the prospect of people taking advantage of this technology to produce humans with desired physical and intellectual traits, which may exacerbate inequality. However, research is not normally, if taken with Kantian [5] understanding bound by whether the results may or may not lead to inequality. This understanding also ignores the opinion of religious thought, another main opposition to the editing of the human germline. Additionally, from an economic viewpoint, in a utilitarian sense it could save money by removing the need to treat people with these hereditary conditions [6].

For the argument that is based on risk the response is that there is more of an uncertainty, not enough is understood and research needs to go forward. Additionally, the consent of the unborn argument can be rebutted with the reasoning that all decisions future parents make have a non-consensual impact. Furthermore, the idea that it will be better if this research is prevented will likely just lead to it being pushed underground instead of properly regulated.

This could lead to a future where humans do not have to live with debilitating disease and ignoring the suffering of others by not allowing every option to be explored would go against Kantian thinking. Negative arguments seem to be based on more emotive prospects like the preciousness of DNA, which in reality is just atoms that are together to form a complex chemical. An emotive rebuttal for this would be to highlight the effect of prevention of diseases such as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. It is the most common and severe [7] form and has no effective treatments. Life begins normally but as time passes sufferers begin to lose functions and can no longer walk, this gradual weakening of muscles then leads to a sad and early death. If many of the parents of children with these diseases could have been asked beforehand if they would use it what would their likely answer be?

In conclusion, this technology is vulnerable to being misused however based on the Kantian ethical framework we should allow research to go forward because it has the potential to save lives and that is the morally correct thing to do. Every pathway should be taken to eliminate human suffering.

References

Against Argument

[1] http://www.synthego.com/

[2] http://www.sciencefocus.com/feature/biohacking/welcome-gene-club-underground-genome-editing

For argument

[1]http://www.yourgenome.org/facts/what-is-crispr-cas9

[2]http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/cystic-fibrosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[3] http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/IVF/Pages/Introduction.aspx

[4] http://study.com/academy/lesson/somatic-cells-definition-examples-types.html

[5]http://www.csus.edu/indiv/g/gaskilld/ethics/kantian%20ethics.htm

[6]http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Genetics/Pages/Facts.aspx

[7]http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/news-releases/year-2015/dec/duchenne-muscular-dystrophy-olson.html

Group 48: Myles Carey, Jake Hooley, Mohd Aiman, Brien Allison 

 

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6 thoughts on “Modifying Humanity’s Future?

  1. Fascinating topic.

    I’m using the hammer as a tool analogy. It can harm or be used to build.

    A similar principle can be used here. So.. whether for good or bad.. denying this technology an actual opportunity to be used is definitely not the solution. Everything at the beginning has its flaws.. and as people improve and learn from the initial stages.. subsequent or newer iterations get better and better.

    I can’t agree with the fact we deny this technology because of the fears of humanity playing God. It’s silly. Right now… I’m typing on my smart-phone and no way it is something natural.. yet here I am and millions of people using it too. Humans have always possessed the propensity to control our environment. This is just another similar step forward in humanity’s drive to assért control or be empowered. Gene-editing then is not so far apart than a person typing on a smartphone.

    Concerning inequality however, I’m neutral. Inequality in some form or another will exist. Globalisation was said to help reduce inequality but instead it promotes it.. With few countries benefiting and most countries being exploited. Again… The same can be said of CRISPR. It is a matter of control and what precautions are taken to ensure that gene-editing is a greater force for good.

    I’m supportive of it to edit out genetic defects. However, I’m a proponent that evolution still has its place. As your article mentions.. lack of genetic variety and a single direction in terms of designers babies created would be a huge problem… making humans susceptible to disease and inability to adapt to our environment etc.

    All in all, CRISPR has both immense potential for both good and bad. With such a capacity to make the world a better place, it would be ridiculous to withhold this technology and developing the intellectual or moral maturity in using this tech would be a better solution in preventing misuse and most of the problems that come with its misuse.

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  2. I have come across this topic before and was also against gene editing initially as it can be easily misused for personal benefits and also goes against my beliefs. However, as stated in the argument, from the medical perspective it is one of the ways of curing an hereditary disease, which does not have a cure so far. In this respect, I agree that it can be researched as part of the effort to find cure for those diseases. In this effect, gene editing should be researched if and only if it is used for medical purposes. Implementing such ethical rules are hard however, but it is possible.

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  3. I think it is a quantum leap into​ the future of our medical world in preventing diseases. It can be misused in the wrong hands so of cause does pose ethical concern. With careful guidance within strict measure of use, it has a remarkable future in the field of medicine.

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  4. Research into the genetic modification could be useful to treat diseases after the baby is born. But, engineering a baby’s gene before it is born would limit genetic diversity, which could negatively impact he’s/her resilience and adaptability to future unknown diseases.

    Conclusion : gene editing research is good, just depends on how it is implemented.

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  5. I agree with the pro-argument for gene editing research. It could have many benefit. It just depends on how gene editing is being implemented.

    Even is gene editing research is not applied in humans, the potential benefit for gene editing in other sectors such as agriculture and energy production could indirectly improve the quality of human lives and the environment.

    Gene editing involving improve growth rate for crop production could help with food scarcity in poor countries. The improved crop growth rate could could also benefit the energy sector. Countries like brazil that use corn to produce ethanol for car fuel could benefit from this research.

    In this case, the potential return outweights the risks.

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  6. It truly is fascinating how we are developing these new technologies that can influence a change in genetics instantly instead of taking places over millions of years. I believe this huge difference in effective periods is what people have the hardest time overcoming, as it is just so hard to conceive that humans could affect something that would otherwise be determined by ‘time’ or ‘luck’. but i personally believe that if anything has the ability to better someones quality of life then as people we should at least try to make it a reality.

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