Ethical Genetic Engineering?


Dec 14, 2012 (4 years and 6 months ago)


Ethical Genetic Engineering?

, Dan Hussey, Robbie Canning

The history of genetic engineering in humans can be traced back to the early 20

century with eugenics in the United States and the Nazi regime in Europe. Genetic
engineering resurfaced in the late 1980s with the Human Genome Project, which recently concluded its studies in 2003. As we l

to the future the technology is almost
at the point where “designer babies” could become a legitimate option. With pregnancy screening currently available the ethic
questions have arisen with much debate on
both sides. In our project we have examined genetic engineering from the past (eugenics), present (human genome project), and

ture (designer babies and pregnancy
screening) and the ethical debates that accompany each case.

The term eugenics was coined by Francis Galton to refer
to “one born in good stock, hereditarily endowed with
noble qualities.”

In the early 20

century, eugenics became an
intellectual and social movement, which endeavored to
improve the hereditary qualities of the human species
through science.

Eugenics research at the time was largely inconclusive.
Even so, eugenicists made bold claims about the
genetic basis of “feeblemindedness” and those at the
bottom of the human race.

Eugenicists in the US successfully lobbied for eugenics
based immigration restrictions and there was the
passage of compulsory eugenic sterilization laws in over
thirty states. By 1933, the US had sterilized about
30,000 Americans.

The argument for sterilization was to prevent individuals
from passing on defective genes.

Eugenic sterilization was only adopted in Germany after
the Nazi’s came to power. By the end of the Nazi
regime, Germany had sterilized over 300,00 individuals.

Ethical problems of eugenic sterilization:

Biological side: Many of the traits for which people
were sterilized did not necessarily have a genetic
basis, rather, they came from environmental effects
and cannot be passed down through genetics.

Moral side: There were questions discussing whether
or not sterilization was “cruel and unusual
punishment,” and also regarding how the state was
able to determine who was defective and who was

Human Genome Project

The Human Genome Project was an international scientific collaboration of
research with the primary goal of mapping the human genome.

The HGP started in 1990 and took 13 years to complete

The human genome consists of 25,000 genes

Why map the human genome?

Knowledge of the complete set of instructions that result in the human body
is important for many aspects of health care including developing more
effective medicines

While the project is considered complete, some heterochromatic areas
(genes that have an effect on variation of the genes around them) remain

Recently, federal courts struck down patents on genes linked to breast and
ovarian cancer. However, about 20% of human genes are already patented
and multi
billion dollar industries have been created through the intellectual
property that those patents grant

Why is it bad to have patents on human genes? It basically privatizes that
which is involved in the laws of nature. The corporations trying to patent
these genes that have been discovered, not created. It’s like Columbus
trying to patent America because he found it first.

Genetic engineering is a laboratory technique used by scientists
to change the DNA of living organisms or of children before
birth. The growing substantial use of genetic engineering for
agricultural purposes has opened the door to the idea of human
genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has become the ethical
question of the 21

century, with great debate and reasons on
both ends of the spectrum.


Eradication of debilitating diseases and mental retardations

Children for those who are unable to procreate

Extended life spans

Best opportunity for children to succeed


Genetically similar race, susceptible to disease

Greater rift between wealthy and poor

Those who aren’t modified are less likely

to succeed

In Vitro Fertilization

Common, accepted (albeit expensive) fertility treatment

Emerged in late 1970s

In 2006 41,343 births were a result of IVF in the US alone

In 2009 in the UK a mother gave birth to a girl whose
embryo had been selected to be free from a form of breast

Ethical question about the rights of the unborn child

Fetus should be free from genetic modification

Parents should have the choice because they bear the
responsibility of raising the child

Current Practices

Prenatal diagnosis or screening

Diagnoses birth defects such as Down syndrome,
chromosome abnormalities, and other diseases such as

bifida, cleft palate,

Sachs disease, sickle cell anemia,
, cystic fibrosis, and fragile



genetic diagnosis and

screening (PGD)