Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering


Dec 11, 2012 (4 years and 8 months ago)


Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering

With genetic engineering, there is potential to develop many useful products that could
potentially save lives. Already, there have been many medical breakthroughs, such as
production of insulin for diabetics, human

growth hormone, and interferon. However, many
people feel that there is also great potential for societal harm either by accident or design.
Many fear that genetic engineers could accidentally create deadly new bacteria or viruses.

In response to pub
lic fears and their own concerns, scientists adhere to strict
laboratory procedures that control genetic engineering. These procedures protect genetic
researchers from infection, by a newly engineered organism. Workers are also specially
trained in techn
iques that prevent the bacteria from escaping into the outside environment.

Another type of safety measure involves altering microorganisms so they cannot
survive outside the laboratory. However, scientists have engineered some organisms, such
as the bac
teria that protect crops from frost damage, knowing that the microbes would be
released into the environment. But once the bacterium is released, it is impossible to capture
it again if there is a problem. What might be the long
term results of these org
anisms in the
environment? Will such organisms change important natural cycles or enter food chains and
affect other organisms? These questions deserve careful consideration.

The potential for modifying human genes brings up many ethical questions, qu
about the professional conduct and moral judgment of genetic engineers and their
administrators. Consider, for example, that someday it may be possible to treat or even
correct genetic defects in human genes before the defects are passed to new o
ffspring. At
the same time, it may be possible to alter human genes to favor other choices. If people
could easily and precisely determine the physical or intellectual potential and traits of their
children, would they make wise and unbiased choices? Sh
ould the state or national
government be the final judge of which human characteristics can or cannot be altered?
Science and technology alone cannot answer these questions. Just because scientists can
do something does not mean they should do it. It is

obvious that the advances possible
using the tools of genetic engineering could present difficult issues for virtually everyone.

Because of the atrocities of World War II, some people fear that genetic engineering
could lead to a form of eugenics. Eugen
ics (yoo
iks) is a practice that seeks to change
human heredity by controlling mating. In one of the worst abuses of science in the twentieth
century, Adolf Hitler used racial traits as the basis for controlling human mating and
reproduction. Genetic

engineering, however, aims to modify genes rather than control
human reproduction. Few people may object to correcting a genetic defect before a child is
born. But should the government be allowed to require genetic alterations? And who should
be the f
inal judge of whether a particular trait is desirable or undesirable? These societal
questions affect the application of genetic engineering to human genes.

At this time, there are clearly more questions than answers. Maybe you will be on the
ts or government officials who helps make the decisions about these and other
difficult ethical questions. You will surely be a voter. How can you make wise decisions on
issues relating to biotechnology? During the next few decades, you will be affected

advances in genetic engineering and other fields of modern biotechnology. You will also help
make difficult and important decisions about their regulation.

Critical Thinking on Genetic Engineering

List all of the positive (or supporting) points re
garding genetic engineering.

List all of the negative points regarding genetic engineering.

1. Does the article present both positive and negative aspects of genetic engineering
equally? Explain your answer!

2. Is the section written from

a biased viewpoint? Explain! (hint: bias exists when a writer
tries to sway the reader to agree with a certain viewpoint)

3. Describe 2 ways that scientists protect the environment from engineered organisms.

4. Identify a benefit and a conce
rn involved with alteration of human genes.

5. Although science can raise certain ethical questions, why is science unable to answer

Critical Thinking on Genetic Engineering

6. African bees produce a great deal of honey, but they are agg
ressive. European varieties
of bees are relatively gentle, but they produce little honey compared to African bees.
Breeders crossed African bees with European bees. What traits do you think they hoped to
attain in the offspring?

7. Brahman cattle a
re resistant to heat and insects. Hereford cattle produce high
beef, but they are often bothered by heat and insects. Breeders crossed cattle from both
breeds. What traits do you think they were looking for?

8. A high
quality race horse na
med Joe was produced by Josephine
(a mare)

and Pete
. The next time Josephine and Pete were bred, they produced a female named
Perky. Like her brother Joe, Perky is very fast. However, she is deaf. Breeders plan to
breed Joe and Perky in th
e future.

a. What desirable traits are the breeders trying to produce?

b. What undesirable traits could result?