Utilitarianism and Genetic Engineering
In the past thirty years, humans are witnessing a huge revolution in the genetic engineering industry. Having identified most of the Human Genome, gene sequencing has become programmed and extremely fast, and laboratory techniques in molecular biology allow for in-vitro fertilization and transfer of genetic material. Gene therapy and repair based on stem cells research allows for replacement of a defected allele in the DNA, and even a whole damaged tissue in the patient. In general, it is accurate to say that genetic engineering is a controversial topic about which people tend to have strong opinions. The genetic engineering issues that mainly catch the attention of the moral community involve the pre-birth improvement of human fetuses. The ability to screen for detectable diseases is already available in the laboratories. Fertility clinics are also currently able to satisfy the need of a couple for conceiving a male or female child, following the parents’ request, but this is routine compared to the potential of genetic engineering, whose avant-garde aim is the selection of specific traits such as hair color, height and even intelligence. It is this selection that is the most fascinating upshot of advances in genetic engineering, but also the most difficult genetic issue facing the moral society. In this essay, the ethical analysis applied to debate human genetic engineering is the Utilitarianism theory. The Utilitarian method seeks to maximize the utility of an act or a rule while minimizing the pain that could possibly be caused. Utilitarian principles are the foundation of many US policies, especially those that deal with economics and trade (1, P4, Williams, 1999). Utility is very tightly linked to efficiency and productivity, and maximum efficiency classically concurs with maximum utility. However, a Utilitarian argument can seem imperfect when dealing with concerns of justice and personal rights, which is the case with the genetic engineering affecting the very intimate identity of each individual. That is exactly what this essay is meant to prove.
Delving more deeply in the basic elements of Utilitarianism, it is commonly identified as a consequentialist theory. It targets some end goal and estimates the morality of the actions in progress toward that goal. This theory defines morality as the maximization of net expectable utility for all parties affected by a certain decision or action. Many forms of utilitarianism have been suggested and deliberated, but the modern theory is correlated with the British philosopher John Stuart Mill who built up the theory from a plain hedonistic version put forward by his mentor Jeremy Bentham. As Mill uttered, the basic principle of utilitarianism is: “Actions are right to the degree that they tend to promote the greatest good for the greatest number” (2, P1, Kay, 1997). For Bentham, the “greatest good” was simply "the tendency to augment or diminish happiness or pleasure", with no distinctions to be made between pleasures or persons; all measures are strictly quantitative (2, P2, Kay, 1997). For Mill, however, not all pleasures were equally worthy. He defined "the good" in terms of well-being, and distinguished not just quantitatively but also qualitatively between various forms of pleasure (2, P2, Kay, 1997) (lower and higher pleasures). In either case, both men insisted that "the greatest number" included all who were affected by the action in question with "each to count as one, and no one as more than one”. This can be labeled as a form of altruism. Utilitarianism is a simple theory and its results are easy to apply (2, P4, Kay, 1997). It also allows for degrees of right and wrong, and for every situation the choice between actions is straightforward: always choose that which has the greatest utility. According to the utilitarian view, biotechnology should be assessed on the basis of its consequences, which means on how much good or...
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