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Bioethical Issues Related to Genetic Engineering

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Genetic engineering, in definition, is the artificial manipulation, modification, and recombination of DNA or other nucleic acid molecules in order to modify an organism or a population of organisms. Genetic engineering is beneficial in many ways. In an experiment setting, the technology was demonstrated to be able to edit human cells in order to get rid of defects in the gene sequences. Thus, it is possible that it can be used to treat inherited genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Fanconi anaemia. Furthermore, genetic engineering has also been used in the agriculture field where crops are genetically modified to boost their yield, improve tolerance towards drought and enhance their nutritional properties. Genetic engineering has also been used to create bacteria that can produce medically useful substance such as insulin and human growth hormone (Augustyn, et al., 2019). However, despite the many advantages that this technology could bring to humanity, there are controversies surrounding it with ethical issues being one of them. Ethics is necessary to scientific research in deciding which questions should be addressed and what we may do that is deemed appropriate to living beings. The importance of ethics in scientific research has been illustrated through the news of a pair of new-born twins from China who were genetically modified to be HIV resistant (Cyranoski & Ledford, 2018).

Due to the shocking news, a group of scientists had published an article in Nature that calls for a global moratorium on heritable gene editing. The moratorium is proposed to allow discussions on the technical, scientific, medical, societal, ethical and moral issues that must be taken into consideration before permitting germline editing. There are many ethical issues that are being discussed by scientists on genetic engineering, especially on germline editing. One of the ethical issues that is being discussed is the necessity of genetic engineering to eliminate heritable genetic diseases in human embryos. Some scientists deem germline gene-editing to be unnecessary as there are other more ethical procedures that could be done such as selection of embryos through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Other concern includes the unpredictable risks that genetic engineering could pose to future generations. Genetic engineering could cause unintended changes through off-target mutations or the changes that were made to the gene sequence might cause unforeseen negative effects.

Another ethical issue that is widely discussed among the science community is whether parents have the authority to make decisions on behalf of their future children in editing their genes or not. By nature, it is impossible to acquire informed consent from unborn children. Therefore, by default, the rights to edit the children’s genes falls on their parents. At the International Summit of Human Genome Editing in 2015, this statement was supported by Hille Haker, PhD, an ethicist at Loyola University Chicago where she stated that germline gene editing presupposes that the reproductive rights of prospective parents override the rights of future children (Hampton, 2016). Genetic engineering is, without a doubt, a revolutionary technology that could be mankind’s hope to eliminate dreadful heritable genetic diseases. Nevertheless, the ethical issues that might come along with it have to be considered as well in order to avoid permanent repercussions that we may regret later in the future. Scientists and ethicist should all come together to discuss the regulations and guidelines in editing genes so that the full potential of genetic engineering could be brought out while minimizing the risks it may cause.

References

  1. Augustyn, A., Bauer, P., Duignan, B., Eldridge, A., Gregersen, E., McKenna, A., . . . Zelazko, A. (Eds.). (2019, January 31). Genetic engineering. In Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved May 22, 2019, from https://www.britannica.com/science/genetic-engineering
  2. Cyranoski, D., & Ledford, H. (2018). Genome-edited baby claim provokes international outcry. Nature, 563(7733), 607-608.
  3. Gyngell, C., Douglas, T., & Savulescu, J. (2017). The Ethics of Germline Gene Editing. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 34(4), 498-513. Retrieved from ://WOS:000407248900004 doi:10.1111/japp.12249
  4. Hampton, T. (2016). Ethical and Societal Questions Loom Large as Gene Editing Moves Closer to the Clinic. JAMA, 315(6), 546-548. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2015.19150 doi:10.1001/jama.2015.19150
  5. Lander, E. S., Baylis, F., Zhang, F., Charpentier, E., Berg, P., Bourgain, C., . . . Liu, D. (2019). Adopt a moratorium on heritable genome editing. Nature, 567, 165-168. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00726-5 doi:10.1038/d41586-019-00726-5
  6. Savulescu, J., & Singer, P. (2019). An ethical pathway for gene editing. Bioethics, 33(2), 221-222. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ccm&AN=134360164&site=ehost-live doi:10.1111/bioe.12570
  7. Vidyasagar, A. (2018, April 20). What Is CRISPR? Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/58790- crispr-explained.html

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