Human Genetic Engineering Under Utilitarianism And Deontology

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There are many ethical issues that are currently occurring. One topic that is talked about currently is the idea of genetic engineering in people. While genetic engineering can provide benefits to people with genetic illness, it is not ethically accepted under many forms of ethical traditions. Because genetic engineering only benefits a select group of people, it is often times not regarded as ethical in many situations. However, if genetic engineering can be adjusted and reworked to fit the general public, more people would begin to accept it and it could become considered ethical.

The biggest problem with genetic engineering is that is goes against many ethical principles. The responsibility to future generations is important because it respects the rights of those coming into life later on. The respect for autonomy and privacy is important to an individual’s genetic data which is considered personal data. Therefore, such identifiable data have to be protected from access by unauthorized people as well as from possible misuse. As a general principle, only the person tested has the right to decide, whether she or he wants to know or not to know about her or his genetic makeup, whether someone else may get access to this information and for what purposes genetic data are to be processed and used. With regard to genetics, autonomy as a fundamental feature of the human species leads to the right to self-determination, which obtains its value as an ethical principle from its role in living a good life according to one’s own beliefs. A fetus does not have this ability, meaning that it would be considered unethical to engineer it to suit other peoples wishes and desires.

Further problems arise with regard to individuals who cannot give consent to be genetically tested. A lot of legal instruments exist to protect the welfare of these individuals with legal representatives being one of them. However, all these instruments cannot protect the unborn child from being genetically tested in a comprehensive way, taking into account that the unborn child has a different moral and legal status in different countries. There is a lively controversy about the right of the child, especially the unborn child, to have its future right not to know, its right to an open future and its right to privacy preserved.

Utilitarianism principles would go against the ideas behind genetic modification because utilitarianism says to “maximize happiness for the largest number of people.” Genetic modification for medical purposes does not provide happiness for a large amount of people, but only a select few who have genetic diseases that can be fixed by modifying their genes. The well-being of the community is always taken into consideration when utilitarianism is a practiced ethical style. Jeremy Bentham founded this theory and established the “Greatest Happiness Principle.” Genetic engineering would not be accepted in any form because there is no way to modify the method in order to benefit a lot of people for the greater good of society. Because there is no way to make this work for a large number of people, genetic modification would go against utilitarianism principles. However, some people that may benefit from genetic testing may not agree with utilitarianism principles of benefiting the many because with that principle they would lose out on things that could increase their quality of life. The only way to allow all of society to benefit would be to allow genetic engineering for non- medical purposes and this could lead to scientific problems. Bentham also formulated the hedonistic calculus which is a system to develop the amount of pleasure that different activities cause. The extent variable as well as purity and fecundity are not fulfilled by genetic engineering.

However, based on the utilitarianism rules and set of ethics, if genetic engineering can be adjusted to work and help the many, it may become considered ethical. This is a problem because peoples beliefs should stick the same no matter who something benefits. Just because it may benefit more people, it does not mean that it should automatically become ethical. This would bring up a point that people who follow the utilitarianism style of ethics would have to decide if the time came. If the time came where genetic engineering was benefiting many people, would utilitarianism followers decide to continue following their original methods, or would they hold strong to the belief that genetic engineering is wrong or unethical?

Genetic modification weakens differences between humans. The goal of enhancing individuals and the human species by engineering the genes related to some characteristics and traits is not to be confused with the barbarous projects of eugenics that planned the simple elimination of human beings considered as ‘imperfect’ on an ideological basis. It impinges upon the principle of respect for human dignity in several ways. It weakens the idea that the differences among human beings, regardless of the measure of their endowment, are exactly what the recognition of their equality presupposes and therefore protects. It introduces the risk of new forms of discrimination for those who cannot afford such enhancement or simply do not want to resort to it. This information about genetic modification proves that it would not be accepted under the ideas behind utilitarianism. Since the human population would be scientifically changing, it would not be in the greater good as all populations would be the same.

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Modern ethical thoughts suggest that Germline modification should be banned until it is proven safe. Gene modification has been considered to be efficacious against some genetic diseases due to its impact on the entire body of the offspring. However, there has emerged a global consensus that such gene modifications should be forbidden owing to safety concerns, unprecedented informed consent, challenges to human dignity, and the potential for permanent negative impact on future generations, including its abuse of adjusting traits for non-medical reasons. Human germline gene modification is largely forbidden by law or guidelines even in countries that are permissive to human embryonic stem cell research.

In addition to ethical issues, Human Germline Modification violates multiple international laws. Such as the United Nations Education Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights indicates in article 24 that “germline inventions” could be “contrary to human dignity.” and The 2001 European Union Directive on clinical trials “No gene therapy trials may be carried out which result in modifications to the subjects germline genetic identity.”

Genetic Modifications can’t be reversed meaning that we are talking about inheritable changes in the human genome that could be passed on potentially forever—we know of no proven safe way to reverse genetic modifications in people. Biodiversity, an examination of the genetic diversity argument (GDA) and the possible models under which the technologies would be distributed reveals that there is not strongly persuasive evidence regarding the effects on genetic diversity of the reproductive technologies on human populations. The only available method to produce the required evidence is through a very complex form of human experimentation. The type of human experiment that would produce the evidence is incompatible with present ethical codes of conduct. Therefore, any implementation of these technologies on human populations should be banned. For example, an epidemic could develop and wipe out a specific portion of the human population. If all humans had blue eyes and an epidemic wiped-out blue-eyed people, the human species would go extinct. But if people had brown eyes and blue eyes a strong remainder of the population would survive. This would not be accepted because it is harming a majority of the people.

Deontological ethics is a theory developed by Immanuel Kant. Deontology is a theory where universal morals are followed, and actions are judged by their results. A set of rules is followed. The discussion on genetic engineering can be weighed either way as there are both benefits and negative effects. Often this method results in people finding the issue “unacceptable.” (Deontology) As discussed above, the non-reversal able impacts of genetic engineering would be non-reversable. Under deontology, genetic engineering would not be accepted following the code of ethics. It would be viewed as a form of lying and cheating because it is changing the genetic makeup of a person. Kant believes that human emotions should not play a role in deciding what action to take, therefore making the decision of correcting human genetic illness based on obligation. No conditions can be tied to the decision maker and all decisions must be based on the population and not individuals. (Seven Pillars)

Kant ethics would also argue that genetic engineering is against ethical theories because end of life is against ethical rights. If an embryo is genetically modified or is a means to an end, it would violate Kant’s theory of ethics. If the embryo was not tampered with it could have become a life, therefore tampering with genetic engineering is morally wrong. While genetic engineering could be beneficial even though it poses risks, Kant ethics does not consider each side of the argument. (KANTIAN ethics)

Overall, ethical theories have different concepts that can determine whether or not different controversial topics are ethical or not. Ethical types differ and utilitarianism focuses on maximizing happiness for the largest number of people while keeping the outcome in mind, and deontology only focuses on obligation and the final results do not play a role in the decision making. Genetic engineering, under most types of ethics is not acceptable.

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Human Genetic Engineering Under Utilitarianism And Deontology. (2021, September 06). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
“Human Genetic Engineering Under Utilitarianism And Deontology.” Edubirdie, 06 Sept. 2021,
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