Genetic Engineering:
Designing Our Kids Futures
A momentous pioneering journey began in 1987. A group of zealous research scientist received approval for a series of tests involving genetics with the condition that there would be no experiments involving human beings. These scientists carried their experiments to the furthest extreme reaching a cessation. Now they’re brushing the realm of actually altering a fetus before it is conceived. Do humans as a species have the right to “play” with the very threads that make up our existence? Do we have the “right” to alter the natural outcome of fertilization?
The science of Genetics began its fundamental stages in the early 1960’s when the United States Department of Energy conceived it’s Human Genome. The main purpose of this endeavor was to record and chart the 3 billion different codes that make up our estimated 70,000 genes. This Project will conclude in or around 2003 with the completion of the mapping. Harvard Medical School has been involved in the Human Genome Project from its onset with the interests and involvement of the staff, Alumni and students push the increasingly involved knowledge of genetic mastering to new limits. These limits are allowing the identification and manipulation of the chromosomes that tell our cells who and what we are. We are able to over-ride those chromosomes and tell our own cells who or what we want to be Project (U.S. Dept. of Energy, web site).
Gene therapy began in the late 1980’s when geneticist began understanding the essence of genes and chromosomes; the doctors realized that the location and type of chromosome determined the resultant child (Cook 157). With just a few more years of research, the scientists discovered certain patterns that predictably occur to indicate an increased probability of certain genetic diseases. The doctors used this technology to test high-risk mothers for possible fetal abnormalities that earlier tests couldn’t determine. These tests could determine if the embryo was healthy or not, thus giving the would-be mother an advanced opportunity to abort the pregnancy earlier than what was previously (Cook 158).
The increased use of gene testing introduced a new ethical problem. Does a genetic defect give a mother the right to terminate the pregnancy? Does the fetus have the “right to life”? This argument is highly debated among Pro-life and Pro-choice alike. Is it fair to bring a child into this world with a pre-known handicap? In an official letter to all Archbishops, Pope John Paul II denounced the use of genetic testing for any reason. This decision is based on facts pertaining to biblical conflicting passages dealing with infanticide; this is one of the main premises that the Pro-life advocates stand on (Pope John Paul II). Even though the strong religious arguments exist, the medical community is striving toward eradication of birth defects in general. In the process of advancement, If the scientists discover ways to “design” babies to a parent’s specification; there will surely be opponents to its continued forward movement (Lyon 226).
The initial successes in genetics involved inserting an altered gene into a healthy cell. This cell would then simply spread its genetic code throughout the organism using the natural processes of cell splitting called meiosis. The advances in genetics now allow a doctor to manipulate a chromosome (or set of chromosomes) like an order form (Cook 196). The geneticist can program a chromosome to set its code as either recessive or dominant; this allows the doctor to control the outcome of the combination. The possible genetic manipulations have allowed other miracles of modern science (Cook 196).
Cloning is one of the more publicized technologies resultant to genetics. This technology allows the exact duplication of cellular structures including the genetic substructures. Using this technology, genetic engineers have created duplicate skin that is highly effective in treating burn victims as well as certain other patients that have endured surgery leaving them with excessive scarring. This manufactured skin is genetically identical to the host, therefore there is a slim chance of the host rejecting the transplanted skin cells (Cook 203). This has led to experiments toward cloning more vital organs that are commonly used in transplants. This has raised a clamor in the ethically conservative community. Is science going to resort to “people farming”(Lyon 227)?
The scientific community has conceded