Germline Engineering: Is it Revolutionary or Unethical?

Since the time we discovered DNA, the thought of changing and “improving” the DNA seemed like a far fetched dream. With recent technological and medical advances, that far fetched dream may soon become reality. However, since gene editing is something that is generally new, we need to ask ourselves if it is worth risking and whether this type of experiment and treatment on humans is even ethical.

Germline Engineering also known as Gene Editing started to interest me last semester in my English 114 class. It started out as just another boring essay topic that we had to research in order to pass the class, but I soon found out that this was probably one of the best topics that we studied in the class. Over the course of two weeks, we gathered information and read articles that were assigned to us through iLearn. However, before we were able to write the actual essay, we had to have a class debate on whether germline engineering and its treatment methods was good or bad for the future of humanity. Once it was time to debate, we had a choice to go with the pros (those in favor of a ban), or the cons (those who opposed a ban). I was in favor of a ban with the exception of having the ability to remove illnesses and diseases. However, throughout the assignment, I was always switching sides because both had their benefits, but I also switched because this treatment seemed unethical to modify DNA just for our benefit other than what would be necessary. Today I am still interested in germline engineering because this topic is still debated on with top scientists around the world, and it offers the ability to improve future generations and take out illnesses and diseases before they become a problem.

When it comes down to germline engineering, now is the time that we need to stop and think about what we are about to do because the altered genes, if it’s allowed, will be passed from one generation to another. According to an article written by The Editorial Board, “A Pause to Weigh Risks of Gene Editing” in the NYTimes, “The technology for altering defects in the human genome has progressed so rapidly in the last three years that it has outstripped the ability of scientists and ethicists to understand and cope with the consequences.” In other words, the scientists have advanced so much in the field during the last few years that they need to take a break and go over what they have done and see if the benefits of editing DNA outweighs the possible dangers that may come if they aren’t careful. And this debate has gone as far as experts asking and calling for a halt on the use of this technology, so they have time to discuss the moral boundaries and whether editing a persons DNA should even be allowed. The article goes on to say, “The technology has the potential to prevent devastating hereditary diseases that are caused by a single defective gene that can be edited out of the germline and replaced with a correct version.” So this technology has the ability to cure people of crippling diseases. However, as of right now, it is not considered to be a cure for cancer or the key for changing things like intelligence and appearance. But there is still that possibility to rid a person of an illness like Parkinson’s Disease. Over the last few years, scientists have gotten a lot of work done for gene editing, so much in fact that they need to stop and go over their findings to find out whether or not they should continue to work on this experiment.

In another NYTimes article by Nicholas Wade, “Scientists Seek Moratorium on Edits to Human Genome That Could Be Inherited”, a group of scientists from the international community, said it would be “irresponsible to proceed.” This is because they don’t know what the risks are at the moment. And Wade goes on to say, “as knowledge advances, the issue of making permanent changes to the human genome “should be revisited on a regular basis.” So rather than continuing as scientists are learning new things about editing, they should stop to rethink and proceed with caution once the scientists understand what they have discovered. Both articles cover the same general ideas, talking about how the technology (aka Crispr-Cas9) has the ability to locate those faulty and damaged genes and alter or completely take them out allowing that person to live a normal life.

However, while some scientists argue that germline engineering should be looked into more carefully before a decision is made, a group of biologists want to ban it before gene editing becomes popular and possibly get out of hand. According to the NYTimes article “Scientists Seek Ban on Method of Editing the Human Genome,” by Nicholas Wade, “The biologists fear that the new technique is so effective and easy to use that some physicians may push ahead before its safety can be assessed.” Safety is a real issue that needs to be taken care of because things like jumping ahead need to be under control before we have people going behind each other backs using these experimental practices on humans. These biologists also stress that things like appearance and intelligence will also be taken advantage of and possibly abused. Even though Altering appearance and intelligence isn’t an option now, in the future it will most likely be a available and we need to get a hold of it now rather than later because then we will have a whole other issue to take care of on top of this. For example, the possibility of discrimination based on what certain places prefer like the sex of the child and skin color are two factors that will be seen in areas that may favor boys over girls and light skin over dark skin.

When it comes down to germline engineering, this is more than just advancing our technology and the understanding of what we are capable of. We also have to take into account the risks that are brought on by altering our own DNA. If we choose to proceed with this experiment, what does this mean for the future generations that will inherit this change? Some scientists are so eager to figure out what will happen if they are getting ahead of themselves and ignoring that fact that they are going to be testing gene editing on humans. Going too fast could result in failure and many issues, while others would rather take things slow and try to figure out what is the “right” thing to do. Germline engineering could be revolutionary but not if it isn’t taken with the proper precautions.

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