There has always been an interest in genetic modification of life on earth. The possibilities of what scientists can do with this information is both interesting and concerning. What is preventing scientists from taking advantage of the opportunities that genetic modification provides is society’s views on the bioethics of doing so. There have been questions whether scientists should alter the outcome of a family tree or the next stage of human evolution. Some religious beliefs say that genetic modification is violating the way God created each individual. Since these beliefs also suggest that human life begins at conception, experimenting on embryos – something that is necessary for genetic modification, would be akin to murder. On the other hand, there is also the idea that modifying a human life form before it’s born could help prevent diseases. The practice of genetically modifying a human embryo, if used for this purpose, would only be used to improve quality of life, and not for determining something more superficial like an individual’s phenotype. Using genetic modification to make someone taller, or change the color of their eyes should not be the purpose of genetic modification. However, not allowing scientists to use genetic modification to alter disease because of some individual’s religious beliefs is short sighted.
In 2015 congress voted to ban government funding for genetic modification of human embryos. Republicans were threatening to shut down the government, however they were able to include this ban in a much larger spending bill that eventually was passed. Congress wanted to avoid a government shutdown and passed the bill. What sparked this desire to ban funding for genetic modifications was new technology enabling scientists to alter the genomes of any organisms in a very precise manner. This technology is known as CRISPR/Cas9. An article from Business Insider quotes Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at NYU Langone Medical Center “who said, ‘it’s irresponsible to cut off funding for something that has the potential to cure genetic disease.’” The bill that eventually passed said that no government funding should be used for research “in which a human embryo is intentionally created or modified to include a heritable genetic modification.” Others were afraid that this type of research would lead to the ability to produce “designer babies” and they did not want to encourage this with government funding.
This ban, while it prevents scientists from accessing government funding for research on genetically modifying human embryos, may give scientists time to perfect this preactive by contemplating its methods and implications.. A recent Pew survey revealed that many United States citizens are uneasy with the idea of gene editing. In this light, providing more time for scientists to think about how to perfect these techniques and how to ensure that they are used in the proper manner might not be a bad thing. But, some people believe this will stall the development of science in our nation. Alex Perlman, writing for Motherboard states, “As the biotech revolution accelerates globally, the US could be getting left behind on key technological advances: namely, human genetic modification.” This article goes on to talk about the moral issue of not providing the best care for individuals with genetic disease. “We are on the cusp of being able to do [gene editing] safely, and the prospect of a telling a parent that they won’t have access to these therapies is morally untenable,” said bioethicist James Hughes, who is the executive director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies.
The benefits of expanding this area of science by allowing the appropriate genetic modification of human embryos far outweighs the risks associated with this practice. Funding in this area not only should be allowed but expanded.Tags: gmo