Genetically modified humans raise ethical concerns
Researchers in New Jersey recently revealed that 30 healthy babies were born after an experimental modification of their genetic material. While movies depicting the future tend to focus on flying cars and other things that clearly haven’t occurred, one thing that imaginative screenwriters were right about is the genetic modification of humans.
Over the past three years, “babies were born to women who had problems conceiving … as a result of one experimental programme at the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science of St Barnabas in New Jersey,” writes Michael Hanlon in the Daily Mail. “Extra genes from a female donor were inserted into their eggs before they were fertilised in an attempt to enable them to conceive.”
Basically, there are three individuals involved: two women and a man, rather than just a woman and a man. During this process, the eggs are taken from the additional woman. Doctors, “using a fine needle, (suck) some of the internal material — containing ‘healthy’ mitochondria — and (inject) it into eggs from the women wanting to conceive,” according to Hanlon. Some women are infertile because of defects in mitochondria— small formations in their egg cells that contain DNA. This experimental transfer of mitochondria creates an alternative for those wishing to have children.
I don’t consider genetic modification to be a problem in this case because, even though it is unnatural, there are many things about modern childbirth that can be unnatural. This experimental process allows for people who wouldn’t naturally be able to have babies to have them. If the parents are guaranteed to pass down a gene that could harm the well-being of the baby, that gene can now be avoided. If someone wants to have a baby of their own, rather than adopt, this is another option for them.
A potential problem is that, according to Hanlon, “geneticists fear that one day this method could be used to create new races of humans with extra, desired characteristics such as strength or high intelligence.”
This is a legitimate concern. If we can control what our children will be like, wouldn’t we do everything in our power to create the best being that they can possibly be? There should be a limit that doctors and scientists place regarding the extent of control that future parents have over the genetics of their future children. “GM babies” shouldn’t be created to make the best baby — that defeats survival of the fittest and will create an unbalanced society.
There have been some criticisms and controversy surrounding these genetically modified babies. Hanlon quoted Lord Winston of the Hammersmith Hospital in West London telling the BBC: “Regarding the treat-ment of the infertile, there is no evidence that this technique is worth doing … I am very surprised that it was even carried out at this stage. It would certainly not be allowed in Britain.”
Due to the morals and views involved in the decision, it is difficult to justify genetically modifying a pregnancy, especially in the early stages. I think it should not be allowed as long as both parents are genetically healthy; if we do, we are then scientifically altering beings simply because we can. I would define “genetically healthy” as having no harmful hereditary diseases or mutations present that could be passed down to the child. We can’t prevent cancer and other common, unpredictable diseases. It would cause the impregnating process to become too complex if people were to check everything that could possibly go wrong with their baby beforehand and then try to fix it through genetic modification.
As with any new procedure, I still question the degree of danger in genetically modifying humans. This is an ethical dilemma, because while some believe that childbirth should be natural, others, like those who found this experiment to work, believe modifications can improve society and their lives.
Karen Podorefsky is Collegian columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.