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Human germline engineering is the process by which a human’s inherited traits (or genes) are adapted. This is attained through altering specimen within the germinal cells, for instance, the oocyte and spermatogonium. Human germline engineering should not be confused with gene therapy. Gene therapy consists of altering somatic cells, which are all cells in the body that are not involved in reproduction. While gene therapy does change the genome of the targeted cells, these cells are not within the germline, so the alterations are not heritable and cannot be passed on to the next generation. This attempt was rather unsuccessful; only a small fraction of the embryos successfully spliced the new genetic material and many of the embryos contained a large number of random mutations.
Currently, there are no successfully engineered humans, but there are many prospective uses such as curing genetic diseases and disorders. In the first study published regarding human germline engineering, the researchers attempted to edit the HBB gene which codes for the human ?-globin protein. In an extreme case, people would be able to effectively create the offspring that they want, with traits of their choosing. Not only does human germline engineering allow for the selection of specific traits, but it also allows for enhancement of these traits. The topic of human germline engineering is a widely debated topic.
Currently, 15 of 22 Western European nations have outlawed human germline engineering. There is no current legislation in the United States that explicitly prohibits germline engineering, however, the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2016 banned the use of U.S. Food and Drug Administration funds to engage in research regarding human germline modifications. Ethical and moral debates As it stands, there is much controversy surrounding human germline engineering. The scientific community and global community are quite divided regarding whether or not human germline engineering should be practiced or not. It is currently banned in many of the leading, developed countries, and highly regulated in the others due to ethical issues. The large debate lies in the possibility of eugenics if human germline engineering were to be practiced clinically. This topic is hotly debated because the side opposing human germline modification believes that it will be used to create humans with traits more appealing to the eye. Those in favor of human germline modification see it as a potential medical tool or a medical cure for certain diseases that lie within the genetic code. There is a debate as to if this is morally acceptable as well.
While typically there is a clash between religion and science, the topic of human germline engineering has shown some unity between the two fields. Several religious positions have been published with regards to human germline engineering. According to them, many see germline modification as being more moral than the alternative, which would be either discarding of the embryo or birth of a diseased human. The main conditions when it comes to whether or not it is morally and ethically acceptable lie within the intent of the modification, and the conditions in which the engineering is done. Another very interesting point on the debate of whether or not it is ethical and moral to engineer the human germline is a perspective of looking at past technologies and how they have evolved. Dr. Gregory Stock discusses the use of several diagnostic tests used to monitor current pregnancies and several diagnostic tests that can be done to determine the health of embryos. Such tests include amniocentesis, ultrasounds, and other preimplantation genetic diagnostic tests. These tests are quite common, and reliable, as we talk about them today; however, in the past when they were first introduced, they too were scrutinized. One of the main arguments against human germline engineering lies in the ethical feeling that it will dehumanize children. At an extreme, parents may be able to completely design their own child, and there is a fear that this will transform children into objects, rather than human beings.
There is also a large opposition as people state that by engineering the human germline, there is an attempt at “playing God”, and there is a strong opposition to this. One final, and very possible issue that causes a strong opposition of this technology is one that lies within the scientific community itself. Inevitably, this technology would be used for enhancements to the genome, which would likely cause many more to use these same enhancements. By doing this, the genetic diversity of the human race and the human gene pool as we know it would slowly and surely diminish. Despite the controversy surrounding the topic of human germline engineering, it is slowly and very carefully making its way into many laboratories around the world. These experiments are highly regulated, and they do not include the use of viable human embryos, which allows scientists to refine the techniques, without posing a threat to any real human beings.
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