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The Controversy Of Gene Editing In A Technologically Developing World

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According to a Pew Research Center study, conducted in 2018, “About seven-in-ten Americans (72%) say that changing an unborn baby’s genetic characteristics to treat a serious disease or condition that the baby would have at birth is an appropriate use of medical technology”. Advancements in gene editing are being made everyday by scientists, doctors and engineers worldwide, all attempting to better the lives of those with health struggles. Technology has been discovered in recent years that was absolutely unheard of just a few decades ago. These sudden developments have not only shocked the world, but they have also caused society to question the ethics behind what others consider a medical miracle. Genetic editing refers to the genetic interventions into pre-implantation embryos in an attempt to influence the traits the resulting children have (Bonnie Steinbock). The ability doctors now have to alter a fetus’s genes has claimed the attention of many, as it is such a complex and recent concept. Some people view it as a lifesaving medical breakthrough, while just as many people view it as an improper invasion of the life of the future child. Genetic editing can be split into two general categories based on their purposes- for the use of disease resistance and prevention, and for the use of cosmetic and physical enhancement. Gene editing used to cure babies of a potential life-threatening disease holds the potential to save countless lives, and it abides by the ethical standards of many individuals and medical organizations. However, gene editing to achieve a certain look, body type, or athletic ability for one’s child is a direct violation of multiple laws and ideals intended to protect the well-being of children. This developing technology holds the potential to improve the world for future generations, if it is used wisely and with pure intentions. To what extent is genetic editing ethical in the interest of the baby itself, along with the greater community?

Countless lives are lost everyday due to diseases caused by genetic abnormalities, present in the person’s body even before they were born. Professionals have worked to develop procedures and strategies to entirely eliminate certain deadly diseases from the body, before the baby is even born. Ideally, this would make it so the baby would never have to deal with the disease at all because it would be removed from it’s genetic makeup. The most recent and most advanced system in the medical community to alter genes is called the CRISPR-Cas9 system. CRISPR is a set of bacterial enzymes that can be harnessed as a versatile gene-editing tool. According to The Center for the Study of Technology and Society, “what sets CRISPR apart from earlier genetic modification techniques is its accuracy and versatility: the enzymes that cut the targeted DNA are guided by short sequences of RNA that can be custom-designed for any site in the genome”. Although CRISPR and other systems of technology could potentially prevent diseases, some people are concerned with the lack of control the baby seems to have over what is happening to them, and if it is morally correct. Paul Knoepfler, author of the book GMO Sapiens, describes parents who choose to genetically modify a child “as having forced that decision on the future child without the child’s consent.” Many fight this claim, saying how it is not only the future generations who are unable to consent to medical procedures. “Children in general lack the legal, moral, and practical ability to provide freely given informed consent. Newborn babies, for example, are not able to consent to the various medical treatments they receive in hospitals” (Brendan P. Foht, CSTS). So, the argument is less about the control and consent of the child, and more about the overall well being and needs of the individual and family. The parents of the unborn child are legally responsible, and therefore have the choice to genetically edit their child, based on their view of the child’s best interest.

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Potential candidates to receive genetic alterations to their unborn child also show concerns regarding their discomfort with exerting control over the traits their child could possess. They fear that changing the fetus’s genetic makeup will change how they develop as a person. This claim could only be accurate if our genes determine who we are and what we are like. According to Bonnie Steinbock, “Of course genes play a role in the traits we have, but what we are actually like is the result of multiple genes interacting with each other, and all of them interacting with the environment. Even if you could choose the entire genome of a child, you would not have control over the child’s traits”. Altering the genetics of a human, especially if it’s for the purposes of disease prevention, would leave their personality, likes, dislikes, talents, and who they are as a person unaffected. As Princeton microbiologist Lee Silver puts it, “all that anyone will ever get from the use of genetic alterations, or any other reproductive technology, is an unpredictable son or daughter”. Contrary to many people’s views of genetic alterations, no one will ever be able to design a child to the point of determining in advance what abilities, virtues and dreams that they will have.

While gene editing for the prevention of deadly conditions is further researched and more commonly desired, there have been advancements in gene editing for cosmetic and physical purposes. It is very possible that in the coming decades, technology will be developed enough that doctors will have the ability to control traits such as eye color, hair color, height, muscle mass, and athletic ability. Many fear that this option will bring out the perfectionist parents who want to craft the most ideal human possible. After looking into the effects of this capability, member of the US President’s Council on Bioethics, Michael Sandel fears it will threaten the “ethic of giftedness”. He argues, “to appreciate our 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”. He claims this would be considered a form of hyper-parenting, which is when parents disregard the natural talents and abilities of their children, and instead force them to do what will satisfy their selfish desires and expectations. According to Exploring Your Mind, hyper-parenting can cause “children to grow up socially awkward, emotionally rigid, difficult to control, and prone to depression”. Although most parents have a natural desire for what is best for their children, humans are also conditioned to have selfish desires. There is no guarantee that parents will act wisely when contemplating genetic alterations, which puts the child in danger.

Gene editing has the potential to drastically change the medical community and the ways in which diseases are treated. Although there are many contrasting opinions regarding the limitations that should be enforced, it is clear that gene editing for the purpose of disease prevention is an extraordinary achievement that could improve the quality of life for so many. It stands by many people’s ethical views and it gets safer and safer the more it develops. One of the multiple conditions genetic editing can help with is Tay Sachs disease, a genetic disorder that results in the destruction of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. According to the Center for the Study of Technology and Society, “Tay Sachs begins to manifest early in pregnancy and is generally fatal for the child before it turns five”. Genetic editing can remove the diseased portion of the gene so the child will never suffer from it. The development of this new technology has the ability to change countless lives and benefit the overall existence of people all over the world.

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The Controversy Of Gene Editing In A Technologically Developing World. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 2, 2023, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-controversy-of-gene-editing-in-a-technologically-developing-world/
“The Controversy Of Gene Editing In A Technologically Developing World.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/the-controversy-of-gene-editing-in-a-technologically-developing-world/
The Controversy Of Gene Editing In A Technologically Developing World. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-controversy-of-gene-editing-in-a-technologically-developing-world/> [Accessed 2 Feb. 2023].
The Controversy Of Gene Editing In A Technologically Developing World [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Feb 2]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/the-controversy-of-gene-editing-in-a-technologically-developing-world/
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