Should Genetic Engineering on Human Embryos be Banned?

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Should it be illicit to genetically modify genomes? For over a century, genetic engineering has been under contemplation since it was first speculated by scientists. Since the late 1900s, the idea of genetic engineering has been brought upon into perspective increasingly, due to the animated “reality” created by movies. The movie “Gattaca”, made in 1997, presents the idea of a “perfect” world due to the use of genetic engineering.

In the movie, a superior race is formed, giving the genetically enhanced people privileges. Throughout time, genetic engineering has caused great controversy. On one hand, it is believed by some that genetic engineering can be groundbreaking to science and to humankind. Genetic engineering could be the key to curing diseases or simply slowing the process down, numerous believe. On the contrary, some oppose the idea of genetic engineering, as a result to their religion or moral beliefs. To them, mending genes is like “playing with God” or going against your “purpose.”

There are also concerns about creating a new superior race. In modern day, there is a better co-existing environment, but there are still variety of disputes with racial equality. Scientists see an opportunity to cure diseases, enhance DNA and taking science further. On the flip side, for those who oppose the idea of genetic engineering, they believe it is a hazard, it could create a new form of racism and it raises ethical concerns. As the topic protracts dispute, the question remains, should genetic engineering on human embryos be banned?

Technology has advanced dramatically over the past two decades, opening new windows for scientists to experiment with sensitive subjects, one being human embryos. In 2015, Chinese scientists were the first to genetically modify three human embryos, taking the first step to possibly preventing genetic transmitted diseases. The process was led by Junjiu Huang, a gene-function researcher at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

According to the article “Chinese Scientists Genetically Modify Human Embryos,” written by journalists Sara Reardon and David Cyranoski, Huang “attempted to modify the gene responsible for ‘B-thalassaemia’ which is a potential blood disorder. The embryos used were ‘non-viable’ which means they cannot proceed to live birth, this was done to ease off ethical concerns. The technique used, or “genetic-scissors” is known as CRISPR/Cas9, it helps target and extract faulty mutations, says National Geographic.

After the experiment, Huang acknowledged the obstacles and said they were “too serious to be used in medical procedures.” Furthermore, leaving the team to learn from their mistakes and experiment again, stated Sara Reardon and David Cyranoski, trusted sources who specialise in the biological factor of science, but can be biased toward the idea of genetic engineering. Following the Chinese’s footsteps, the United States first edited human embryos on July 26, 2017. It was done in Portland, Oregon by a group of researchers.

The effort was funded privately, due to a bill passed in 2015 that banned government funds to be used for research that includes genetically modifying human embryos, according to source Sara Reardon, who’s worked for industries such as National Geographic, The Washington Post and Scientific American, to name a few. The process was led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov from Oregon Health and Science University who successfully exhibited that it’s possible to safely and successfully correct abnormal genes that can inherit diseases.

Mitalipov, who in 2007 succeeded and revealed the world’s first cloned monkeys, also created human embryos through cloning in 2013 as a form to create “patient specific stem cells” says Steve Connor in his article “First Human Embryos Edited in U.S.” on “technologyreview.com.” While the embryos were not permitted to flourish for more than a couple of days, there was not an intention of embedding the embryos into a womb, but the experiment is considered a ‘milestone’ to ‘prove the inevitable journey toward the birth of the genetically modified humans,’ concurred Connor, an award-winning journalist and science editor.

In his article, Connor presented vested interest toward genome editing as he was in favor of the advances science could bring to the world. There are roughly “350 million people with rare diseases altogether, over 7,000 existing rare diseases and 80% of them perpetually due to faulty genes” according to “globalgenes.org”; an organization dedicated to advocating for those with diseases.

Along with many scientists, Connor believes genetic engineering is the future to curing these diseases; some have concerns about whether the benefits of editing genes outweigh the risks. Scientists strive for more “perfect” world, which could be provided in a sense by genetic engineering. The experiments on human embryos are a risk some people, including scientists, have to take into consideration.

On the contrary to a vast majority of scientific beliefs, genetic engineering still raises ethical concerns due to people’s moral beliefs. It is believed genetic engineering is mending the way God created you. Everyone starts off as an embryo, but the embryos used to experiment are not given a chance to go past the embryo stage, in their eyes these human beings are being used as ‘disposable material’ instead of a living person, says conservative Paul Stark. Stark’s perspective can be viewed as biased due to his belief system. If these edited embryos lead to live births, any errors in the genes would be passed down.

Gene editing can be a hazard not only one child, but the generations following. The modification of genomes has also raised concerns about creating a superior race. Nobel prize winner in Literature, Nadine Gordimer was once asked about her thoughts on genetic engineering, in her response she said “breeding is politically manipulated” and compared it to the Nazi’s idea of a ‘perfect’ blonde blue eyed race.

She said “There’s a very big distinction between the sort of genetic engineering that could prevent certain diseases, and the possibility of breeding a different or separate race of people,” according to “digitalnpq.org.” Nadine, who was born in South Africa in the 1920s, experienced racism as a young woman, up to the present time until she died. She can be considered a reliable source, as she experienced first hand acts of racism, but can also be viewed as biased for opposing the idea of genetic engineering.

As mentioned previously, the movie Gattaca presents ‘perspective’ on how life would be with genetic engineering. In the movie, a character named Vincent Freeman is a genetically imperfect boy who has a rough upcoming due to his brother always being glorified for being smart, athletic and handsome; in other words, genetically perfect. Vincent later runs away furthermore buying a new identity after he realizes he will never aspire to achieve his dreams if he is “imperfect.” In the real world, everyone is imperfect. There are those who accept that, but there are also those who strive for “perfection.” Creating a superior race could lead to greater inequality than there already is, many believe.

An example of this can be the unemployment rates. Unemployment rates were significantly higher for ethnic minorities at “12.9% compared with 6.3 % for White people” “In Britain, significantly lower percentages of ethnic minorities 8.8% worked as managers, directors and senior officials, compared with White people 10.7%” says “equalityhumanrights.com” employment statistics. The many concerns that come along with genetic engineering are certain matters to keep in mind, such as the racial inequality; conservatives and pro-life should open their train of opinion to the good genetic engineering can bring.

After researching and closely reasoning with both sides, personally, I believe genetic engineering should not be banned. Yes, there are ethical concerns, but science has helped medical research in many ways. It has helped by finding cures or helping slow down diseases. Technology is advancing rapidly and a mass variety of that technology is occupied by science research and experiments. Though genetic engineering is not yet ready to be used on embryos that lead to birth, with a little help of technology, it could soon occur.

The movie ‘Gattaca’ does show a perspective on how life would be if we were all “genetically perfect,” but it is just a movie. Genetic engineering could be the future to curing deadly diseases such as cancer, HIV or alzheimer’s. Helping prevent diseases like these can help lower the cost of treatments and prescriptions; while at the same time slowing down aging. We live in the real world, where we should consider taking a look at the benefits genetic engineering could bring.


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Should Genetic Engineering on Human Embryos be Banned?. (2021, Mar 21). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/should-genetic-engineering-on-human-embryos-be-banned/

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