Ethical Controversies Involved in the Use of Germ-line and Somatic Gene Therapies
There are many sides to the issue of using germ-line and somatic germ therapies.
Many people argue that it should be stopped completely, whereas others argue
that both germ therapies should continue for the benefit of all people. There are
other arguments that lie somewhere in between. Most of the controversy is caused
by germ-line gene therapy because it can be passed on through generations. Somatic
gene therapy has more support and funding but is still considered untrustworthy by
many who believe it may also affect the germ-line in some cases. These moral
arguments have called the stop to many cases and experiments, more so after a
patient treated with gene therapy dies.
In the ongoing fight for the elimination or continuation of gene therapy, there are four main positions (Sadler et al., 2005). One position is to bring an end to both germ-line and somatic gene therapy practices. This group argues that using gene therapy on humans is dangerous and that changing genes to attempt to make improvements is wrong. It is seen as creating the possibility to design children before birth and change mental and physical characteristics of the next generation, bringing an end to diversity (Sadler et al., 2005). In 2000, the American Association for the Advancement of Science banned “inheritable genetic modification” (Fischer, 2000). They believed that risks from the gene therapy procedures might not cause genetic problems for a few generations after the patient is treated. The AAAS suggested that trials and experiments with gene therapy be stopped.
Another position in the gene therapy ethical argument is to proceed with all gene therapy (Sadler et al., 2005). This group argues that everything possible should be done to attempt to improve human life. Somatic gene therapy offers short-term cures, but germ-line therapy may result in a permanent alteration of the human genome, creating physically superior and healthier people that are able to produce healthier offspring, “improving the human genome” (Sadler et al.,
2005). Gene therapists in Europe and the United States have used gene therapy to cure immune deficiency disorders, heart disease, and to shrink tumors (Fischer, 2000). Many argue that gene therapists should work not only to cure a single patient but also to prevent any problems in the patient’s descendents. James Watson, one of the discoverers of the structure of DNA argues that it is “true moral cowardice to allow children to be born with known genetic defects” (Fischer, 2000). Germ-line gene therapy presents the possibility of passing on improved genes to one’s descendents and could prevent damage to embryos and prevent the children born from needing to undergo somatic gene therapy later in their lives (Shannon, 1999).
A third point of view on gene therapy is to continue the use of somatic gene therapy for the treatment of patients, but to...