While gene therapy holds promise as a revolutionary approach to treating disease, ethical concerns over its use and ramifications have been expressed by scientists and lay people alike. For example, since much needs to be learned about how these genes actually work and their long-term effect, is it ethical to test these therapies on humans, where they could have a disastrous result? As with most clinical trials concerning new therapies, including many drugs, the patients participating in these studies have usually not responded to more established the rapies and are often so ill the novel therapy is their only hope for long-term survival. Key ethical issues:
What is normal and what is a disability or disorder, and who decides?
Are disabilities diseases? Do they need to be cured or prevented?
Does searching for a cure demean the lives of individuals presently affected by disabilities?
Is somatic gene therapy (which is done in the adult cells of persons known to have the disease) more or less ethical than germline gene therapy (which is done in egg and sperm cells and prevents the trait from being passed on to further generations)? In cases of somatic gene therapy, the procedure may have to be repeated in future generations.
Preliminary attempts at gene therapy are exorbitantly expensive. Who will have access to these therapies? Who will pay for their use? Another questionable outgrowth of gene therapy is that scientists could possibly manipulate genes to genetically control traits in human offspring that are not health related. For example, perhaps a gene could be inserted to ensure that a child would not be bald, a seemingly harmless goal. However, what if genetic manipulation was used to alter skin color, prevent homosexuality, or ensure good looks? If a gene is found that can enhance intelligence of children who are not yet born, will everyone in society, the rich and the poor, have access to the technology or will it be so expensive only the...
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