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Melissa Teixeira

April 30
th
, 2011

Science Gateway Seminar: Pre
-
med

Dean Grosovsky


On February 1997, an announcement was made from Scotland that Dolly the
sheep was cloned from her own mother. She was the “first mammal successfully cloned
from an adult” (S
pangenburg 7). This meant that there was no conception involved. DNA
from the mother was supplied to make Dolly and no father existed. After a few years,
Dolly had to be euthanized, or put to sleep, because of respiratory illness. Her lungs had
not properl
y developed throughout the years she was alive (7
-
8). Still, the public had
finally seen the promise of genetic engineering (8) and with it many questions: was Dolly
really an animal? Did she have a soul? Should there be checks on cloning? What does it
mea
n to be human? Genetic engineering was and is giving rise to moral and legal issues.

Genetic engineering, by definition, is “the manipulation of genes, which are the
functional units of heredity” (11). It includes sciences such as cloning and stem cell
tre
atments. Although it has been a topic of recent discussion, Spangenburg explains that
genetic engineering is not new. Gregor Mendel, “the first person to trace the
characteristics of successive generations of a living thing,” tampered with primitive
geneti
c engineering by cross
-
breeding plants with dominant genes so that those genes
would pass on to the offspring (Rhee; Spangenburg 12). Plants have been cross
-
fertilized
to be healthier and animals have been crossbred to be stronger (11
-
12). Farming
improved

with genetic engineering because the crossbred animals offer “more tender
meat” and “produce better milk” or it allows both plants and animals to “survive more
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successfully in a difficult environment” (14). Recent breakthroughs in science have
further adv
anced genetic engineering: the discovery of the shape of DNA and the
mapping of the human genome (14). Altman tells that in 1953, scientists James Watson
and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA, a double helix present in all
organisms (9). On Apr
il 14, 2003, after thirteen years, “the Human Genome Project had
sequenced… the genetic code

the biochemical structure of human heredity” (Altman 5).
In 2002, gene therapy was used to save Rhys Evans from a condition he was born with.
This condition,
sever
e combined immunodeficiency

that is caused by a single mutated
gene, did not allow him to develop an immune system. He had to live in a bubble, or a
sterile environment in order not to catch any diseases. This problem was fixed by
substituting his defectiv
e gene with a normal one. He now lives normally. This was made
possible because scientists knew which gene to fix (Spangenburg 67
-
69). Watson claimed
that such discoveries in science would give rise to controversial questions like, “Would
people begin enha
ncing the genetic structure of their offspring” (9). Little did he know
that questions such as those are today being seriously considered. Humankind started to
take control of its own biological destiny and people want to know how far it will lead us
(15).

Bioethics is a topic that goes hand in hand with genetic engineering. It “focuses
on the personal, social, and moral consequences of scientific and medical advances”
(Altman 6). Science is not supposed to deal in opinion or feelings, but facts; this raise
s
the question of objectivity: Can

or should

a person stand by and watch experiments
being done on human beings without feeling? Some insist on protective measures to
protect human beings thus the need for bioethics because science takes risks in new
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devel
opments and involves “some hard choices” (16
-
17). Altman tells of the incident in
the 1960’s when the Willowbrook State Institution in New York performed malpractice
by injecting patients who were mentally retarded with hepatitis B, a disease that has no
c
ure. They lied to the families of these patients telling them the study was beneficial. This
continued until 1971 when the government shut them down (24
-
25). Bioethics is needed
to make sure these happenings in science do not go unchecked: “ethics can help

to
determine right and wrong; it can provide standards for making sound decisions” (58).

Cloning, as explained before, is “the transfer of a DNA fragment of… one
organism to a self
-
replicating genetic element such as a bacterial plasmid” (“Fact Sheet”).
T
his means that the DNA of one organism is used to make a clone, “an exact copy of a
living organism: perhaps a plant, an animal, or even a human being” (Altman 90). There
are two types of cloning: reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning
is
the type that was used to make Dolly, recreating a new life from DNA. It is also the one
that puts most fear in people because of the concept of “making” a living organism from
scratch (90
-
91). Therapeutic cloning is the type that would reproduce body p
arts from
DNA to replace damaged ones (90). This is still new technology, but seems promising to
help people, for example, those who lost limbs in accidents.

This cloning technology can improve the world say those who support it. One
benefit is that it “c
an be used to revive endangered species such as the mouflon sheep”
(Spangenburg 63). Another benefit is using cloning to make food. Meat in cloned animals
can be bred healthier and stronger than regular meats (65). In plants, it can make them
“more adaptab
le to various climates or solids and more resistant to common pests” by
adding vitamins and minerals to those genetically engineered (GE) plants (Altman 37).
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By doing so, there is a potential to end world hunger if these GE plants and GE animals
can be gro
wn in different nations (37).

Those who oppose cloning do so for different reasons. One argument opposers
use is that it is immoral to play God and create life without natural process (Spangenburg
64). Humans should create it how it has been since we evolv
ed, not make it in a
laboratory. The second reason poses itself in a “what if” scenario: If in the future indeed
we are able to clone freely, opposers say cloning or genetic engineering in general
“may… enable us to manipulate our own nature

to enhance our

muscles, memories, and
moods; to choose the sex, height and other genetic traits of our own children” (Sandel 5).
This type of tampering with the natural process of life threatens human dignity; some
parents might want to make the perfect child by choosin
g what traits they have. This is
considered immoral because, Sandel says, “To appreciate children as gifts is to accept
them as they come, not as objects of our design, or products of our will, or instruments of
our ambition” (24
-
25; “Makes the Case”). Sex

selection, which may stem from cloning,
would allow parents to choose the sex of their child. This is “an instrument of sex
discrimination, typically against girls.” (22). Of 8,000 abortions in a clinic in Bombay,
India, all but one was for the selection
of sex showing that females are discriminated
against (20). This shows that in some cultures, gender selection could be a problem.
Again, this threatens human dignity and could be made possible if cloning advances.
With the argument of using GE plants and
GE animals to feed people, opposers are
skeptical about the safety of GE crops: “critics say genetic engineering can cause
dangerous changes in a plant’s chemistry” (Altman 38
-
39). The same can be said for GE
animals; their safety as food is questionable (
Spangenburg 66). Maybe cloning animals
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could make their chemistry different and unsafe to eat. These GE opposers are not only
concerned about the safety of these products. “They fear that human tinkering with the
code of life may one day destroy everything

it is trying to save” (Altman 41).


Genetic engineering is more than just on the surface; it changes our very cores,
our unique codes. Serious thought needs to go into what is being done. Right and wrong
decisions will certainly be made, but I believe th
is new science will be beneficial to
humankind.