Genetic Engineering in Humans

Topics: Ethics, DNA, Genetic engineering Pages: 10 (3677 words) Published: October 27, 2013
Genetic Engineering in Humans: How the concerns of the past shape our thoughts for the future It is human nature to be fascinated by the unknown, to conceive radical ideas and to use humanity’s undying curiosity to fuel investigation into areas which previously were a mystery. Genetic engineering in humans is one such example of a field whose idea emerged countless generations ago and intrigued the likes of many scientists, philosophers and writers, throughout history. However not until the technological revolution of the twentieth century, did the research and ethical debate on this subject begin to take a more practical perspective, as the tools necessary to study the intricacies of living structures were developed. The concept of genetic engineering has sparked an ongoing debate regarding the bioethical concerns of this field, which focus strongly on the ethics involved in tampering with the work of Mother Nature and its possible consequences. However this has not been a topic for scientists alone. Throughout history, the minds of fictional literature have provided countless examples of a genetically engineered world; in several cases presenting a dystopian rendition of society, a clear symbol of what they believe to be the consequence of human intervention with the natural discourse of nature. The ethical issues surrounding human genetic engineering, such as genetic discrimination, a loss of human autonomy and the more profound concepts which threaten to redefine what it means to be a human, have universal value, paralleling the concerns of today. This suggests the paramount significance of exploring ethical issues and the consequences of human genetic engineering, as history implies that such concepts will continue to resonate through time. This essay will examine how the literary texts of the past have helped shape our ethical perspective on genetic engineering today. In essence genetic engineering is the manipulation of an organism’s hereditary material [1]. The goal in creating such genetically altered beings is not only to eradicate disease, but to create a population which carries only the most desirable physical and behavioural traits and has the ability to pass on such traits to future generations [3]. However the treatment of diseases does not create public anxiety, rather it is the concept of eugenics and gene determinism. Eugenics is essentially ‘any attempt to accelerate human evolution by improving the genetic makeup of humans” [1]. Eugenics however cannot succeed unless society accepts some degree of the genetic determinism ideology which perceives that all individuals are “inevitable consequences of the biochemical properties of their cells” and so their “characteristics are uniquely determined by the constituents of their genes” [1]. Ethically this theory seeks to disregard the true essence of human self definition and integrity, eliminating the significance of such immaterial characteristics as self awareness, will power and human spirit. Additionally, an ethical problem surrounding eugenics is that it is human directed evolution, where individuals set the course of evolution depending on chosen ‘desirable’ and ‘undesirable’ traits. As philosopher Jürgen Habermas states “it seems reasonable to allow this in the case of a purely preventive intervention in order to avert diseases (“negative eugenics”). It becomes questionable, however, when it is a case of fitting out a child with certain desirable characteristic (“positive eugenics”) [1]. This statement alludes to several ethical dilemmas which can arise from a society thriving on the application of positive eugenics. From a virtue ethics standpoint, the application of positive eugenics suggests that the accessibility of genetic manipulation will be limited to those parents who can afford it, thus creating discrimination between sectors of society. If a technology is available to eliminate disease and achieve a “better” quality of life, should it not...


References: [1] Kirby, D 2000, The New Eugenics in Cinema: Genetic Determinism and Gene Therapy in GATTACA, Science fiction Studies, accessed 3rd October 2013,
[2] Gleghorn, M 2001, Putting the Brakes on Human Genetic Engineering: Are We Speeding toward a Brave New World? Probe Ministries, accessed 1st October 2013
[3] D, P 2012, Loss of Privacy and Sense of Self, Desperado Philosophy, accessed 19th October 2013
[4] Gehlhaus, Jr R 1998, Brave New World: The Cost of Stability, Soma Web, accessed 29th September 2013
[5] Brave New World (1932), Literature & Film Search, assessed 12th October 2013, Bottom of F
[6] Shakespeare, T 2000, Brave New World II, The Guardian, accessed 2nd October 2013
[7] Epstein, R1999, Ethical Dangers of Genetic Engineering, Institute for World Religions
& San Francisco State University, accessed 2nd October 2013
[8] “Our Code of Ethics”, 2010, Engineer’s Australia, accessed 10th October 2013
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