By Elizabeth Han
One order of Healthy Baby coming right up!
Genetically modifying lifeforms is not a new thing for humans. We have been toying with genetics for centuries, with the start of selective breeding, all the way to, now common, genetically modified organisms. Most of us have never batted an eye at GMO produce. Besides their being bigger, and seemingly more appetizing, it seems that there are no major differences between these genetically modified organisms and their organic siblings. When farming is the context, genetic modification seems almost necessary, but what if the context is… humans? What if parents were given the God-like ability to genetically select the traits of their children?
How does it work?
Before we get into the controversy, it is important to discuss the science behind it all. This specific type of genetic engineering is called Germline Gene Therapy. DNA is inserted into the reproductive cells of the body in hopes of changing a phenotypic trait of the child. This would necessitate targeting nuclear and mitochondrial DNA in preimplantation embryos. This is a change induced in the DNA of the reproductive cells of an individual, meaning it would be passed down to future generations. In other words, germline gene therapy essentially erases or induces the trait from future family lines forever. Currently, it is being debated whether using this technology is ethical or not.
The Pro-Germline-Gene-Therapy Argument
Germline gene therapy should most definitely be incorporated into the future types of gene therapy, or at least further discussed. Germline gene therapy helps correct genetic mutations in the sex cells of soon-to-be-parents so that the possibility of any possible diseases being passed down is extirpated. This allows the future generations of the family to confidently await happy and healthy children. In addition, it is a perfectly ethical choice. In 1993, the UK created the Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC) to regulate any and all uses of gene therapy. This committee makes sure all humans follow the take advantage of gene therapy wisely, and morally through their Research Ethics Committee. The GTAC also oversees the requests for gene therapy research on humans. This committee helps ensure the prevention of the possibility of this technology being used in cosmetic ways, rather than genetic ways. Not only is it ethical, but it is also cost-friendly! The removal of genetic diseases would help families all over the world save hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on healthcare to treat the disease. This is not unlike the eradication of diseases like polio through vaccination. Genetic diseases, like Trisomy 21, could become a thing of the past. Thus, with germline gene therapy, not only is the chances of survival in infants greatly increased, but it would also help families cut down on healthcare costs and make the full eradication of genetic diseases possible!
The Anti-Germline-Gene-Therapy Argument
Germline gene therapy should not even be a concern of the scientific and medical community. Germline gene therapy is both unpredictable and unethical. There is no guarantee that other genetic mutations will not be induced onto the sex cells that were not present previously. It is especially crucial that we take this into account as well because germline gene therapy targets sex cells, the carriers of genetic information to the next generation, and beyond. In addition, further exploration of this technology would open doors to genetically modifying children for traits unrelated to their health. If this technology is to be adopted by unlawful, private businesses, parents could be given the choice to select physical characteristics. This is uncannily similar to the ideals of eugenics, the very theory behind Hitler’s quest to slaughter all that didn’t fit his idea of a “perfect human”. The popularization of this technology to select for characteristics could also make society unaccepting of people who don’t fit the standard, such as people with a disability. In addition, if this method of gene therapy were incorporated into the medical treatments offered at hospitals, only those with health insurance would have steady access to the therapy. Parents who do not have the means to take up health insurance would not get access to this same treatment, which would lead to furthering the disproportion of the unhealthy who are rich versus the unhealthy who are poor. Furthermore, germline gene therapy would introduce more steps, and thus more chances to tamper with, and mess up, the genetics of an individual, and their future bloodline. Thus, germline gene therapy is both heedless and unethical.
Where do you stand? In the face of this ethical controversy, which side would you choose?