Ethical Issues of Genetic Screening
As we approach the 21st century, we as a society are increasingly bombarded with technical advances. One such area of advancement is the research involved with the Human Genome Mapping Project (HGMP). HGMP is a multi-billion dollar world wide research collaboration interested in sequencing the entire human genome. Started on October 1, 1990, with a group of over 350 labs, and expected to finish within the next 5 to 7 years, the Human Genome Mapping Project has given rise to many important advancements and many discoveries about the genetic make-up of humans (Bylinsky, 1994). With these advances come many ethical questions and concerns. The ability to screen an individual for specific disease will, in the future, play a major role in each of our lives. Genetic screening is defined in Genethics, by Suzuki and Knudson (1990), as "the examination of the genetic constitution of an individual - whether a fetus, a young child or a mature adult - in search of clues to the likelihood that this person will develop or transmit a heritable defect or disease."
In the 1860's, it was known that progeny tended to resemble it parents; but how or why this occurred was a mystery. An Augustinian Monk by the name of Gregor Mendel was studying the passage of traits in pea plants. His pure bred lines and careful observation were the footing upon which modern genetic theory was based. Little did he know that his garden of peas would eventually open the door to billions of dollars of research and years of legal and ethical debates (Griffiths et. al., 1996).
Since the days of Mendal and his peas, there have been leaps and bound in knowledge. These advances have developed to the point that we have entered a biotechnology based century. The 19th century and the Industrial Revolution gave birth to the 20th century and a time when physics was the key to the world (Carey, 1997). In the past 40 plus years, since the publication of a simplistically short article by Drs. Watson and Crick describing the structure of DNA, the scientific world has slowly been taken over by the ever advancing fields of genetics and its younger sister biotechnology.
There are many different techniques involved in gene sequencing. Without these techniques the mere thought of gene sequencing would still be little more than science fiction. Since the start of the Human Genome Mapping Project some of these techniques have been altered to speed up the screening process. Examples of these techniques include PCR (polymerase chain reaction), RFLP's (restriction fragment length polymorphism), cloning, and the use of markers for specific genes.
One of the biggest inventions that has allowed genetic screening to occur was the invention of PCR (polymerase chain reaction) by Kary Mullis. PCR, patented in 1987, was the key to advancing genetic research to the next level. This technique enables a single copy of a gene to be...