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Ethical Issues Of Genetic Research Essay

1284 words - 5 pages

    Scientific and technological advances are the products of man's inherent desire to improve the society in which he lives. Such progress often accompanies an expansion of intellectual boundaries. As one acquires knowledge, one also encounters new opportunities to be explored. This is true in the area of human genome research. The implications of The Human Genome Project and other attempts to further understand the human genetic code clearly demonstrate the basic principles of social benefit versus social cost. The desired effect is obviously one in which the benefits significantly outweigh the costs. The actual impact of such technology, however, remains only an estimate until this scientific advancement becomes a reality. It is out of this inability to predict how new technology may transform society that controversy arises. For if one estimates the value of knowledge and progress to ultimately influence society in a negative manner, then, perhaps such advancement should not be attempted. The Human Genome Project and other studies involving genetic research invite debate on the most controversial and highly moral issues that characterize and define the nature of life.


The controversy arises from both the techniques and aims of gene therapy. Gene therapy attempts to correct the "deleterious effect(s) of a genetic disorder"(Wheale & McNally, 212) through the replacement or repair of defective genes in human cells. The basic technique of such therapy involves either replacing the activity of a defective gene with a previously dormant gene or inserting genetic material into defective cells(212). The danger of such therapy is due to risks inherent in the techniques. Scientists, for example, may not fully and accurately predict how an affected gene may respond. The insetrion site is random as "there is no control over where the injected DNA will integrate into the genome"(215). Once the replacement gene is integrated in cells inside the patient, the cells and the insertion agent are irretrievable. The inserted gene will be an addition, not a substitute, for the defective gene. Problems may, therefore, arise if the supplementary genetic material "alters the cell's regulatory pathways"(232) and produces undesirable consequences. For if the therapy performed is on germ-line cells, adverse effects may influence multiple generations of people.


But many view these risks as subordinate to the potential of gene therapy to help reduce and eliminate the social burden of genetic disorders. The ability of gene therapy to affect such disorders,however, is restricted to those caused by recessive X-linked or autosomal mutations. The realm of efficacy for treatment includes individuals afflicted with common disorders such as haemophilia, color blindness, Duchenne muscular dystrophy, phenylketonuria (PKU), cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs disease(226-7). The treatment of such disorders must be monitored so that the...

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