Everyone has an opinion on moral issues, especially when the subject matter has touched their own lives in some way. The subject of genetic engineering is controversial and often raises many moral questions. But how can these issues be tackled pragmatically and ultimately lead to making the right personal decision? Ethical theories can be applied which provide a framework to support rational thinking and decision making. There are different ethical theories and each could potentially lead to a different outcome.
Situation ethics says that each situation is unique and individual resistances should be taken into account. All decisions should be based on love, which for the majority Of people would be considered the most Obvious choice. However, as people will have different interpretations of love, this theory does not provide consistent results and therefore the framework can be vague. Utilitarianism or consequentiality disregards the individual’s circumstances or rights and considers that if the majority benefit, then this will provide the greatest amount of happiness.
Whilst this may seem like a common sense approach, there could be situations where “wrong” or “evil” acts are justified as they satisfy the majority. Kantian or non-consequential ethics are based on duty. If an action is right then do it, if an action is wrong, don’t do it. Whilst this framework is clear in its approach, this can seem like a non-emotional way of dealing with things and doesn’t take into account the whole situation. Genetic engineering is the alteration of genetic material with a view to producing new substances or creating new functions (McGrath, AKA and Blanchard,S, 2001).
The birth of Genetic Engineering was in 1973 when scientists developed a method for joining DNA from two different organisms. Characteristics can be passed on from the DNA of one cell to another. Humans, plants and animals can all be genetically modified. Critics argue that scientists have no right to “play god” whereas others say that they are only doing what nature does through evolution. Is genetic engineering any different to the agricultural methods used to get cows to produce more milk and hens to lay more eggs? However, how far can this be taken and what are the implications to society?
Genetic engineering has developed fast and has already impacted on people’s lives greatly. The possibilities of genetic engineering are unlimited which is why it is the subject of so much debate. Genetically modified foods, advances in medicine and genetic therapy all raise ethical, ecological and economic questions by critics. Being able to transfer genes from one species to an entirely different species may not be natural, but this process allows the characteristics of certain organisms to be changed to benefit our world.
Crops such as rice, maize and potatoes have been genetically modified to be more nutritionally valuable, more tolerant to adverse weather conditions and more resistant to pesticides. Farmers can SSE valuable crops due to drought or severe rainfalls and to pests, and the financial implications to them can be great. Genetically modified crops can eradicate these problems, There are however, concerns that crops that have been genetically modified unintentionally harm other species. Nearby wild plants that are dusted by pollen from GM crops could affect innocent insects that feed on the wild plants, although this loss is said to be negligible.
Experts also believe that genetic engineering can have a positive effect on the world by wiping out starvation and disease through the production of genetically edified foods. Being able to grow crops that contain essential vitamins, particularly in underdeveloped countries where their diet is limited, could help combat diseases and saves lives. For example, golden rice has been genetically modified so that it contains beta-carotene which in the body is converted to vitamin A (Bonnet, 2002). A lack of A-vitamin can cause blindness and death particularly to children under 5.
Whilst this is very positive step in helping people in poorer countries, there are economic concerns. Genetically modified crops are more expensive and are patented by large multinational impasses. Where farmers have traditionally re-used seeds from the previous year, the farmers cannot do this without paying a fee to the companies, and could therefore be forced to buy new seeds every year at a premium rate. Is it right for large companies to be holding these farmers to ransom and profiting from third world countries? The questions many critics also ask in relation to genetically modified crops is, are they safe to eat?
According to the Science Museum, genetically modified foods have been available for 13 years. In the USA, approximately 80% of the food has been unethically modified and so far no-one has reported to have been made ill from these foods. However, critics say there could be long term effects of eating GM foods which has yet to surface. Should the public be made aware that their food contains GM ingredients? According to the Foods Standards Agency (IFS 2008), the EX. ruling on labeling says that products e. G. Flour, oils, glucose syrups from a GM source must be labeled as such.
However, products such as meat, eggs, milk which come from animals that have been fed on GM animal feed, do not have to be labeled. Is this right? Should people have the choice? Genetic modification of crops really does raise many ethical questions. Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks? The world’s population is expected to double in the next 50 years therefore it would seem that GM food is the answer to the food shortages. Producing crops at a faster rate and with added nutritional value could solve many of the issues that the world faces today.
The first major medical breakthrough for genetic engineering was the production of genetically engineered insulin. As the only source of insulin available to diabetics prior to this, was found in animals that were slaughtered, this meant there were shortages. When the U. S Food & Drug Administration approved genetically modified insulin in 1982, these shortages were eradicated. The use of genetically modified mice has been used to test cures for heart disease, cancer and many other devastating diseases. Another advance of genetic engineering in the medical world is genetic therapy.
Most people have heard of the term “designer babies”, but what does it mean? It is a term used to describe babies ‘Shove genetic make-up has been selected in order to eradicate a particular defect, or to ensure that a particular gene is present’ (Oxford, 2012). For example, where there is a story of a genetic condition such as Cystic Fibrosis, the embryos are screened to ensure that the disease has not passed on to their unborn baby. The process of screening the embryos is called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PEG).
This is a very expensive procedure and current legislation set out by the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HAVE, 201 2) only agrees to carry out this process on a number of approved genetic conditions. Other genetic conditions have to be agreed on a case by case basis. PEG is only used in the U. K to detect for genetically inherited diseases, although it an be used for gender selection, where there is a gender -linked hereditary condition e. G. Dutchmen Muscular Dystrophy which affects boys.
Another example would be where a ‘Savior sibling” is created so that they can save their sibling who has a potential life threatening disease such as leukemia. The process involves the parents going through IF treatment to create embryos outside of the body. The embryos created are tested to see if they are a genetic match for their sibling. If they are, the embryo is implanted into the womb. Once the baby is born, blood is taken from the umbilical cord and ill be used to hat-vest stem cells to treat their siblings in the future. There are a number of issues with this process.
Genetic therapy is seen as “playing god” As a number of embryos are created to allow the best chance of creating one without the faulty gene. Unused embryos are destroyed. Some people view this as destroying life; others argue that an embryo at this stage is not a life. One of the arguments for the use of PEG is the potential to stop late term abortions. If parents discover in the later stages of pregnancy of previously unknown inherited diseases, they are faced with a heart-breaking decision whether to continue with the pregnancy. The use of PEG can avoid this.
The concern is how far can/should this selection be taken. Will or should parents be able to choose their children’s hair/eye color, height, personality. Will parents try and create the “perfect” child, without, knowing the full impact of their decision? In creating a “savior sibling’, what are the psychological effects on the child? How will they feel knowing that they came about because their parents wanted to save their brother or sister? If these different ethical theories are applied to the issue of genetic engineering, how would they impact on people’s views and ultimately any decisions they may make?
Utilitarian’s would consider genetic engineering justifiable as the benefits outweigh the risks. However, if for example there was a risk that genetic engineering could put humans at risk e. G. A chance of cross-contamination from another species, utilitarian’s would disagree. In all cases, the consequences of the act must benefit the majority. Another example would be GM crops; millions of people potentially could benefit from these crops; as the minority, utilitarian’s would not consider the farmers, who could be severely affected by the high crop prices. Kantian view the act of genetic engineering itself.
Using the same example of GM crops, regardless of how many millions of people will benefit from these crops. , Kantian would look at the process involved and if it involved human genes. Kantian believe that humans should not be used as a means to an end. In regards to PEG, the embryos must benefit from this process. In the recent cases of the Hashing family and the Whittaker family (Marsh, B, n. D), the Hashish’s were permitted to have PEG to create a savior sibling for their son because their son’s illness was an inherited disorder and therefore, their new child could inherit the name.
The Whittaker were refused this treatment because their son’s illness was not inherited and they specifically needed a genetic match for their son. However, Kantian would disagree with this decision on the basis that potentially the Hasn’t savior sibling could be used in the future for bone marrow transplants or organ donation and therefore was being used as a means to an end. Not all Kantian believe that embryos are people and therefore should be no reason why the Whittaker treatment was refused. Situation ethics would look at each situation individually and consider what the most “loving” thing to do was.
If growing GM crops would save millions of lives, then that is what should be done. Ultimately, human welfare and happiness are paramount. Using the example of the Hashish’s and Whittaker, the most loving thing to do would be to provide a cure for their son’s illnesses and therefore PEG is an acceptable method of doing this. Overall, the subject of genetic engineering raises many ethical issues and questions however, there will be a continuous debate as it seems genetic engineering and it’s development is very much part of the future. The possibilities are endless however daunting some of them might seem.
Being able to select children’s genes for social benefits is not ethical, people’s genetic make-up is what makes them, them and forms their personalities. Parents should however, be able to ensure that their children don’t go through unnecessary suffering due to hereditary illness when it can be prevented.