Genetic Engineering ethics

Topics: Ethics, Morality, Immanuel Kant Pages: 6 (1825 words) Published: June 15, 2014
Genes are what code particular traits and characteristics and are the influence to health and disease. Ongoing advances are now making it available for parents to genetically modify implanted embryos aiding in the creation of ‘designer babies’. In my essay I am going to discuss the case of a British couple that will have Britain’s first designer baby. I will cover the ethical issues regarding the topic of genetic engineering and also theories of Kantian Ethics and Utilitarianism to justify if genetic engineering is morally right.

A British couple has bypassed strict laws in Britain for genetic screening by travelling to America and undergoing treatment which costs £30,000 in order to conceive their desired child, in the hope to save their sick 4-year-old son who is recovering from Leukemia. Experts at the Reproductive Genetics Institute based in Chicago did IVF Treatment on the mother and then screened embryos to find a good bone marrow match for the British couple's son, should he relapse and need a transplant. Doctors will collect blood from the umbilical cord, which is rich in stem cells that have the ability to repopulate bone marrow. This has been a controversial case where it is questionable if science has pushed the boundaries too much

The key ethical issues explored in this case include, whether it is fair for parents to manipulate the genes of their children for particular traits when the child themselves cannot give consent, does selecting for certain traits pose health risks that would have not been apparent otherwise and will new forms of inequality arise due to genetic aristocracy. The key ethical issue I am looking at is whether it is morally right for parents to be allowed to create designer babies, is it a step towards scientific success or the pushing of scientific boundaries?

Kantian ethics was a theory developed by Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), he believed in the respect for persons, that no one should be treated as a means to an end only. As Rachels and Rachels (2010) state, the only way human beings can have a moral goodness is to act from a good will as if it is a sense of duty. Cahn (2002) supports this by saying that Kant considered it a duty to treat people with respect because of their freedom and to encourage the pursuit of individual’s ends because it has been their free choice. Therefore treating them as an end and never only as a means, as that is considered as manipulating and using people to get to your desires. Another important part of Kantian Ethics was the idea of an action being applied universally. Christians, Fackler, McKee, Kreshel and Woods (2009) state “what is right for one is right for all” (p. 15). According to Kant he believed that before you acted you would have to question whether you would apply this action universally and allow everyone to do it as well, if so the act would be accepted and if not the act would be disallowed. Rachels and Rachels (2010) support this by saying, “ being a moral agent, then, means guiding ones conduct by universal laws – moral rules that hold without exception in all circumstances” (p. 129).

When applying the theory of Kantian Ethics to the case of this British family undergoing genetic engineering, it is known that Kant believed that if an action was to be justified it should be able to be applied universally. Applying this British couples action universally would mean that it would be justified for every family having children to genetically modify their babies genes by using embryo screening technology. In this case it would be a good outcome as it allows security for both the parents and especially the 4-year-old son who could possibly have a relapse. However Kant would not agree to apply it universally as it would allow all couples to under go embryo screening where not only you can screen for genetic disease but also determine what gender, hair type, eye colour type and height levels your child would be, there would be families...

References: Agar, N. (2006). Designer Babies: Ethical Considerations. Retrieved 8th April 2014, from
Cahn, S. (2002). Classics of political and moral philosophy. New York: Oxford University Press
Catalano, M. (2012). The Prospect of Designer Babies: Is it Inevitable? Retrieved 8th April 2014, from
Christians, C.J., Fackler, M., McKee, K.B., Kresshel, P.J., & Woods, R.H., (2009). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning (8th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon, Incorporated.
Mill, J. S. (2011). Utilitarianism. Luton: Andrews UK.
Lemonick, M. D. (1999). Designer babies. Time. January, 22, 22-24
Lopatto, E. (2014, February 25). Dad May Join Two Moms for Disease-Free Designer Babies. Retrieved 8th April 2014, from
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Parry, W. (2013, February 18). Designing Life: Should Babies Be Genetically Engineered? Retrieved 8th April 2014, from
Rachels, R., & Rachels, S. (2010). The Elements of Moral Philosophy (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education
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