Imagine a world where humans are able to play around with their genes. You could remove a genetic disorder plaguing your family, add another 20 points to your son’s IQ or even change your daughter’s gender. With the advent of new and improved technology on genetic manipulation barging on our doorsteps, many people believe that all this will soon become possible. But is genetic manipulation really this miraculous? History of failed genetic experiments, time and time again, have shown that perhaps it is just to soon to assume ourselves as Gods. According to Zallen (2002), Jesse Gelsinger, a young man, died in a gene therapy experiment. This tragic event sent shockwaves throughout the United States research community and raised new questions about the prospects of human gene therapy. Friedmann (2002), a professor from UCSD quoted in Recer (2002), said that “ inheritable genetic modification, or IGM, is not safe for humans.”. Indeed, it is clear that genetic manipulation of human beings should not be allowed. Based on our current technology and scientific knowledge, it is simply foolhardy to imitate mother nature.
The most feared and heatedly debated issue on human genetic manipulation is that technology associated with it will be strongly abused, causing discrimination based on the quality of your genes. Scientists around the world predict that even if the technique of manipulating genes could be perfected, it will still be too pricey for the common people. As a result, only rich clients can benefit from the technology.
“Many think that it is inherently unfair for some people to have access to technologies that provide advantages, while others, less well off, are forced to depend on chance alone”
(Silver, 2002) a molecular biologist from Princeton University, quoted in (Hayes, 2002).
As a result, gene theft will occur. Genewatch UK, a group established to monitor the advance in genetic manipulation, reported that people’s genetic information may be used without their information, or even worse, genetic materials could end up stolen and sold on the black market. In the end, your position in society will be based mainly on your genes. People from the genetic underclass or ‘Naturals’, will be excluded from jobs and insurance policies whereas the upperclass, or ‘Genrich’, will be favored (Silver, 2002) After all, wouldn’t you hire someone that has been genetically modified to work for your company?
Furthermore, governments fear that terrorists and rogue scientists will misuse information regarding genetic manipulation of human beings (Eipstein, 2002). By enhancing soldiers’ strength , endurance, stamina and intelligence, a new breed or ‘super soldiers’ will emerge. What will happen if these soldiers were controlled by power-hungry governments? Even more disturbing, what will happen if rogue scientists, using information on the human genome, succeeds in creating a new line of deadly viruses and biological weapons? Terrorists will be interested in these viruses, using them to intimidate the world. Exploitation of both super soldiers and deadly viruses could lead to suspicions and accusations among countries, and possibly even World War III.
Not only that, genetic manipulation is also strongly against human ethics and moral teachings. Wheeler (2002), a teacher at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, says there is a moral problem when it comes to the application of genetic manipulation on human beings. Wheeler also posed speculative questions such as “ Who gets it?”, “Who decides?” and “What conditions do they apply?”. Are we not undermining God’s order when we tailor-make our own children? Plus, the experimentation on germ line gene therapy involves the creation and destruction of thousands of human embryos. Many religious groups around the world strongly condemn this act. After all, are we not committing murder, a sin, when we destroy the embryos? Who has the power and right to say which embryo should live, and which are supposed to die? By continuing our progress on genetic manipulation, we are blatantly going against our own religious beliefs because we are no longer preserving the sanctity of human life.
In addition to that, genetic manipulation of human embryos can lead to an imbalance in the male to female ratio. Normally, there is a 50 percent chance of conceiving either a boy or a girl, that is, the chances of getting either gender are equal. However, through genetic manipulation, parents can change the sex chromosomes in their unborn children, thereby changing their children’s sex. Genetic selection of the unborn is already beginning to lead to the imbalance of the male:female ratio in certain parts of India and China. This phenomenon may not seem that significant at first, but in the long run, it can prove to be disastrous. What will happen if one gender slowly dwindles in number while the other steadily increases? The only probable answer is the shortage of couples and ultimately, the extinction of the human species as we know it.
Besides, with our current technological background and scientific knowledge, genetic manipulation is simply too risky and dangerous to be merited a chance. Experiments done on laboratory animals have produced animals with major birth defects, gross physical distortions and fatal abnormalities. The same thing could happen to humans if the current inheritable genetic modification (IGM) technology is applied (Friedmann, 2002) quoted by (Recer, 2002). Do you really want a child with a misshapen head, severely low intelligence quotient and enough strength to last until his teenage years? Genewatch UK also reported that without any proper safeguards, major scientific mistakes would arise. Flaws in the product of human genetic manipulation cannot be fixed like a machine, and can even be passed on to future generations. There will even be cases where disabled children proceed to sue their parents for engineering their genes, causing them to lead an abnormal life.
Sadly, even with all the proven dangers of genetic manipulation in humans, there are still people who stubbornly believe that its numerous benefits far outweigh the dangers. What benefits? Supporters of genetic manipulation claim that it can overcome fertility problems faced by older women. This is done by transferring cell nuclei from the eggs of older to younger women. The resulting child will of course be the older woman’s biological child. However, because the child is conceived by the younger woman, the baby will also inherit his/her mitochondria, an organelle, from her (King, 2002) . This situation poses a very ethical question. Which woman is the child’s real mother? Who has the right to raise him/her? Having two mothers, the child will suffer from a psychological conflict. This may also result in claims and lawsuits from the second mother. Besides, is it not much less of a hassle and cheaper to just adopt a child. After all, the degree of parenthood is judged by the bond of love between the mother and child, not by whether the child is conceived by her or not.
Besides that, supporters also believe genetic manipulation can be applied to eliminate genetic diseases. This is not entirely true. Genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia are caused by ‘bad’ recessive genes. These diseases will only emerge if two copies of the recessive genes are present, that is, if the recessive genes are paired in the cell. People having only one of the genes in their cells will not be in danger of suffering the disease, but instead become carriers. Therefore, removing the lone copy of the gene from anyone’s body will merely give him or her psychological relief. (King, 2002) Even if the procedure was to be carried out to protect the carrier’s future generations, it cannot guarantee a one hundred percent elimination of the recessive genes. This is because removing ALL of the disease-causing genes from the person’s body is almost impossible. Besides, other safer methods for preventing inherited diseases already exist, there is no need for genetic manipulation. Prenatal and preimplantation genetic testing of human embryos allow the avoidance of such diseases. Should the embryo suffer from such a disease, it can be aborted. Parents can also choose not to have children, or adopt them or to use donor eggs and sperm.
Just like in inherited diseases, humans also cannot gain immunity from sicknesses through genetic manipulation. For one reason, certain viruses and bacteria such as the one causing the common cold constantly evolve, emerging as a new foreign strain each time it attacks our body. That is why we humans suffer from the flu thousands of times in our life, but only once from chicken pox. On the contrary, genetic manipulation of human beings can cause an effect opposite of what was intended. By genetically changing our genes, we are unconsciously reducing the diversity of the human species, because everyone will be pretty much the same. Just as in the case of genetically modified plants, everyone with the same genetic makeup will almost certainly die should a new strain of disease emerge that attacks that particular makeup.
In another aspect, certain people strongly believe that genetic manipulation can help ‘fix’ our weaknesses and flaws by creating a new race of humans with increased intelligence, everlasting stamina, immense strength and so on. Such a miracle being accomplished is possible but only to a short extent. Genetic makeup is only a small factor that determines a person’s traits and characteristics. Other and more important factors such as a person’s upbringing, nutrition, surroundings and educational background must also be considered. Would a child grow up strong and healthy if he is always starving? How smart can someone be if he never attended school before? Also, there are no casual connections between genes and behavior. Instead, behavior is predetermined by the networking of hundreds of genes. We cannot simply change a person’s IQ by substituting a couple of his genes. Moreover, any small mistakes incorporated during genetic manipulation may result in the child actually being less capable than the average human.
It is now evidently clear that genetic manipulation in humans is not as beneficial as it is supposed to be. In fact, its complexity coupled with our limited understanding of its mechanics makes it too dangerous to be tempted. This author is not saying that it is entirely a child’s fantasy. It is just that there is still much we cannot comprehend about the diversity of the human species. Perhaps, in the distant future, when we have advanced scientifically and have firmly grasped the subject, then, and only then, should we begin our first few attempts. After all, it is best to leave what we do not fully understand, alone.