Gene therapy, or genetic manipulation as referred by some, is a scientific study that proposes many new found practices with one being the idea of creating “designer babies.” The process of selecting desirable traits for an embryo before it is born is the practice that generated the term “designer babies.” This term has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Gene therapy is a topic that has not acquired a level of notoriety as high as other bioethics such as abortion or stem cell research, but it is one of great importance. The ethical issues on the modification of human genes raise questions about the legal and even moral standpoints on the facts on the ever-growing technological advancements of genetic alteration.
These deliberate alterations of our genetic makeup are commonly known by proponents of its study as “gene therapy.” Those that oppose the study refer to these alterations as “genetic modification” or “genetic manipulation.” The reason for this is that the word “therapy” ensures that one’s health is benefitted, but when the human genes are altered, no benefits can be promised.
The idea of a “cleanse” of a gene pool has been proposed through genetic therapy. An example would be biologist Daniel E. Koshland, Jr., stating that if diabetics are kept alive with insulin the propagation of inherited diseases would increase, but that is only justified if that same diabetic is is willing to undergo genetic therapy so the diabetic gene would be wiped from their DNA, keeping future offspring from suffering the same turmoils of diabetes.
The suggestion of actual enhancement in humans has been made as well. In the same aforementioned article Koshland wrote, it is believed that future offspring’s characteristics can be enhanced through gene therapy to meet future needs in society such as more intelligence to run better computers, more creativity to become better musicians, or more strength to become better soldiers.
The furthering of this type of genetic therapy brings forth another scientific strategy known as trait selection. Similar to the enhancements mentioned above, trait selection is exactly as it sounds, though its purpose is much more on a cosmetic side as opposed to the social and economic benefits of the enhancements. This topic has garnered more media attention than many of the above mentioned subjects due to it’s “Hollywood-esque” appeal. The process of selecting an embryo’s traits has garnered the media’s attention to where it is addressed as creating the “designer babies” mentioned above. The strategy literally offers the parents the choice of how they want their child to appear physically and how they behave. Although this procedure is possible, it has not been implemented because of a number of risks that are taken in executing the procedure. Nevertheless, the topic continues to arise many heated ethical issues.
The idea of creating “designer babies” can be proposed to prove a point in the world of gene therapy. Opponents will bring to light the obvious display of vanity in parents who wish to alter their child’s DNA simply for cosmetic appeal. It is stated as morally questionable because the unborn child is having its entire being changed and there is no way for this future person to give consent to do so. More conservative or religious opponents accuse gene therapy as an unholy act of defiance against God since those who perform the procedure are, in theory, “playing creator.” Though altering for desirable traits is not the only section that is fought against.
Though the removing of a defective or diseased gene (such as the diabetic’s gene in Koshland’s article) can prove to be advantageous in the immediate circumstances, negative affects can take place further down the line. The altering of the embryo’s genes at the beginning stages can have a healing effect, but those modifications can have affect on this embryo’s future offspring which can cause defective and even fatal effects due to the fact that the gene that is naturally intended to be in place is missing. This can inevitably lead to creating new disorders – the exact opposite of what is trying to be achieved through gene therapy.
If the study and practice of genetic manipulation were to stop, the advancement of the human race would plateau. Of course the study of human biology and similar topics would still be prevalent, but additional intelligence or strength that gene therapy can offer would not be acquired. A human’s life span would not increase and possibly decrease due to the environmental problems that are becoming persistent within each passing day. The defective genes that cause disease and disorders in our people today would still remain a problem and continue to be passed on to future generations with the possibility of becoming more and more defective through each generation.
Overall, the topic of gene therapy and the proposition of practices like creating designer babies and enhancing embryos will become more prevalent as time goes on. Only time will tell how this proposition plays out.
By Cody Collier