TEXT OF ESSAY

What is genetic engineering? What is the premise of changing lives before birth? The exploration of such venues of science are entirely for the benefit of those whose lives stand to change from them. But change is bound by ethical constraints—and ethical is subjective. The benefits of controversies like genetically modified foods and genetic engineering should be explored as long as they are medically valuable. Beyond that, such advances in science are representative of humanity’s ability to perpetrate unspeakable transgressions. Cloning and stem cell research are an entirely different matter altogether, and deserve equal amounts of examination under the lens of medical ethics. Depending on how we as a generation decide, our children will either live in a world without cancer and multiple sclerosis, or a world like that of Gattaca, when one’s future and livelihood are determined by one’s genetic makeup to the exclusion of all else.

Humans have a predilection for exploration and advancement. The development of humanity’s scientific prowess reflects this. Genetic engineering is but one of the venues that science has chosen to act upon, but it is also one of the venues that we as humans must be careful about exploring. As humans, we are inherently competitive. We want to be the best we can be. We must, however, be cautious with the actions we take. We must be thorough, but we cannot allow the scientific and rational aspect of our excursions to eclipse the ethical. We must take this as far as we can go medically. Beyond that, it is both unethical and dangerous to pursue genetic engineering as a course of research. The ability to weed out certain aspects of a human being is tempting, to be sure, but it can take the human race to dangerous places. Though it may be acceptable to eliminate the dangers of debilitating medical conditions in children, it goes beyond our power and our scope as human beings when we tamper with a person’s being for aesthetic reasons. No human is born perfect, nor would any child want to grow up knowing they were bred for perfection. Similarly, genetic screening ought to be tightly constrained to medical aspects only, lest we risk losing ourselves in this forest of scientific possibilities that have yet to be cemented. It is only human to feel temptation, and temptation is brought on by information. Knowing that one's child will not be as strong as his friend is only a temptation to make him as strong. These shortcomings may exist, but knowledge of their nature breeds temptation, and temptation engenders change. It is a step on a dangerous path: a path which could end in a world like that of the film Gattaca. This knowledge could enhance our understanding of the genetic code, but also of its applications, and with that could come an even wider world of scientific capabilities, some of which could be too volatile for us to safely approach. If humans were to be able to know about our children before they are born, it is only natural that we would want to change some aspect of them, and whether it be for aesthetics or some other reason, it could lead to a degeneration of our humanity.

Just as genetic modification can be used to tamper with people, it is even now being used to tamper with food. Crops and farms provide ideal experimentation grounds for drug companies looking to test their latest pesticide, or tinker with the genes of a particular crop so that it produces its own. While I think this may be scientifically dangerous, it is ethically safe. There exists no risk of moral degeneration as there does with human genetic screening and modification. Beyond that, this practise actually helps farmers add to their yield, increasing farm output and strengthening the farming industry. It is a vital resource in the agricultural field, and has doubled the yield of farms across the country. The counter argument exists that we are flushing the farms of America with tainted, unhealthy crops that are by-products of big business. That we are pushing small-time farmers out of work, even that we are tampering with the conditions that nature and nature’s God set for us. I find these arguments to be specious. We may be breaking the bounds that God has set for us, but I think no one will argue with me when I say that it is beneficial to grow more food for our soup kitchens, or grow stronger corn so that our farmers are not plagued by years of weak harvests spurred by hordes of insects. This technology is as of yet imperfect, but it has the potential to yield great results in the future.

Cloning, on the other end of the spectrum, ought to be restricted. While medical procedures my make it acceptable for scientists to clone organs, it would be both unethical and show a dangerous lack of restraint to allow scientists to clone entire organisms for the simple process of helping a commercial industry indulge in unsafe and immoral business practices. A cloned organ is just that: an organ, a chunk of meat that will lay there on a petri dish until it is inserted into someone else. It is only a practical matter to implant it into someone who needs it. An organism, on the other hand, is a living being that can think, that can breathe, that can feel pain, and it would be both cruel and inhumane to clone another being for the purpose of harvesting their organs. It is unthinkable to turn a human into a farm for organs, however rare organs may be. The cloned humans will still be humans, capable of conscious thought, feeling, and emotion. It would be a disservice to the human species, and the first step onto a very dangerous path. Similarly, it is cruel and unusual to clone cows just so the beef industry can feed its coffers, or pigs just so that the pork industry may grow that much fatter. In addition, though cloning animals for commercial gain offers a tantalizing advantage to the pesky logistical problem of livestock farming, the technology is nowhere near advanced enough to guarantee that the cloned animals would be perfectly healthy or safe to eat. This has been proven by Dolly, the first cloned mammal, who lived shy of ten years. The probability of genetically cloned animals being healthy enough to serve the purpose for which they were “born” is highly unlikely. It is here that we come to the other side of the argument: that of Professor Lee Silver and others who support pure, unbridled potential. Why not seize the power? Because it would be cruel and highly unethical. Just because the capability exists for us to exercise our abilities and flex our scientific muscle, it does not mean that doing so is appropriate.

The issue of embryonic stem cells, on the other hand, is one that holds a lot of potential for the human race to advance. While I believe that it may be going too far to allow a parent to pick out the exact colour of junior’s eyes, it is definitely not an unspeakable transgression to allow research which would prevent junior from having to live life with a debilitating condition such as multiple sclerosis or muscular dystrophy. Like a lot of very religiously moral people, I do believe that an embryo is a life, that it is a budding human. I also recognize, however, that not every embryo will be born, and the ones that are not turning into the next generation should be used to research lifesaving cures. Some may consider it, however I believe that it is worth sacrificing this life in pursuit of a goal comparable to curing cancer. After all, if we do not find something worth sacrificing for, how are we to learn the price of what we are sacrificing? The common sentiment is that an embryo is a life, and that it should have all the rights that a full-fledged human has. Ideologically, this is a perfectly defendable standpoint. However, to consider the matter from a more practical point of view, what is the probability that this embryo will grow into a human? It is surely worth it for a random, nondescript embryo, fertilized though it may be, to be used so that we are one step closer to curing cancer? Yes, that embryo will never grow into a boy or girl and get to see the sunshine and hear the birds singing, but would that happen either way? What precisely would the chance be that this cellular lump would grow into a real child? How likely is it that an embryo such as this, alive though it may be, will become a fully developed human? It has the potential, to be sure, but what is the practical chance? This question is not purely ideological, after all. The simple fact that embryonic stem cell research can happen means that there must be a more practical component to the argument. It is to this facet of the gem that we now turn to in order to determine whether it would be right to allow this type of procedure. Many people have said that life beings at conception, and I agree. The embryos being used are alive, and they very certainly do have the potential to become humans. I believe that life is intrinsically sacred. Many will say that it is hypocritical of me to feel comfortable with letting a life go in this form, and to some degree, I can understand their point of view. I have the benefit, however, of a balanced insight. I consider not only the ideological factors of a life, but also the practical applications of what excess embryos that will only be burned could be used for. There exists a very hazy line between what is right and what is wrong. I believe that though some may consider embryonic stem cell research a crime, it is a worthy sacrifice, and one step closer to medical breakthroughs on the same scale as the eradication of smallpox.

As a species, we are continuously evolving. However, as a people, we are at the pinnacle of our greatness. This is not because there exist ethical dilemmas in our society, but because we can process these dilemmas. We can distinguish the difference between cloning a liver so a car accident victim can live, and copying a person so their meat can be harvested to keep another alive. We can understand the difference between tampering with plants’ genes to feed hundreds of the hungry poor, and tampering with our children’s genes just so they can look oh-so adorable with our blue eyes and blond hair. We understand the difference between eliminating the chance that a child will die within his first five years of life because of childhood leukaemia, and breeding him so that we don’t have to be faced with the disappointments of his failures fifteen years from now. It is not without caution, however, that we access these abilities, for we cannot allow them to override what makes us human. We cannot allow that which we rule now to rule us fifty years from now. Technology offers us many venues of advancement. Hundreds of thousands of routes exist whose scientific effects have yet to be discovered. We should take care not to lose ourselves within them.