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Human Genetic Engineering: Dreams And Nightmares

1418 words - 6 pages

Technological breakthroughs and advancements have occurred so rapidly since the dawn of the information age, that one often overlooks the great power humanity holds over the building blocks of life itself. While our understanding and mapping of Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequences has been slow coming since Friedrich Miescher’s isolation of the double-helix shaped molecule, efforts in recent decades to map the human genome have opened many doors to the potential manipulation of life’s basic elements. By 2001, this potential had been turned into a reality, as scientists had confirmed the healthy birth of the first genetically altered babies . This successful modification has since opened the floodgates of possibility with regard to human genetic modification (Whitehouse). But alongside this vast potential comes equally vast ethical controversy. For instance, should the potential to give children a life without disease be seen as merely a neat possibility, or should it be viewed as a social obligation? Do parents hold the ultimate right to alter their unborn child’s DNA in whatever way they see fit? Or should every fetus hold the right to a life without genetic modification? There are various positive and negative aspects to genetic human engineering. And an analysis of these potentials must be made in order to make any claims regarding the ethics of the practice.
Human genetic engineering holds the potential to affect great change on the human species. The first successful gene therapy trials aimed to remove a gene responsible for severe combined immunodeficiency disorder (SCID). Unfortunately, by 2007, forty percent of these patients had been diagnosed with leukemia . However, to date, gene therapy has restored the immune systems of over 17 children with SCID. Human genetic engineering also holds the potential to abolish asthma, allergies, susceptibilities to diseases, and various other unwanted genetic dispositions (Black). While all of these potential aims of genetic engineering hold positive merits, not all possibilities are of this sort.
There exists a different side of this coin that centers upon what many would consider fashionable, aesthetic, or at least unneeded traits. Human genetic engineering holds the potential to change the physical appearance—and perhaps functioning—of a developing fetus. Therefore, given the availability, parents would be able to choose their child’s sex, eye color, hair color, and a myriad of other physical factors. Naturally, such a service would for some time only be available to the wealthy. But dangers exist in such a system. Lee M. Silver argues in his essay titled, “A Glimpse of Things to Come” that “Affluent parents will choose to give their children genetic advantages that science and biotechnology make available, just as they now choose to pay for private schools and tutors to get them into elite colleges” (Winston, 311). Such an inequality of availability would lead down a dark and dismal path...

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