In Defense of Imperfection…

I don’t think that I have ever been posed with harder questions in my eighteen years of life than those that were posed in this essay. Thinking about the very origin of my being and whether it is right to alter it is not something that I regularly ponder, nor have I ever come up with a definite answer.
The reason perhaps that I am finding the questions of genetic engineering, cloning, and stem cells so hard to answer is because I lay in the middle of two ideologies. On one hand, I consider myself religious and respect the teachings of the church. On the other hand, I am fascinated with science and medicine.
When I hear of genetic engineering and genetically modified organisms, the ‘science’ part of me gets really excited. I think it’s fascinating! The fact that we can now access the very code of our being and favorably change that is beyond my imagination. I hope to work in healthcare one day, and support the advancement of medicine and the discoveries that could lead to an ultimately healthier nation- one rid of diseases that are coded in our DNA, making the body more durable.
That excitement and fascination can only last so long, however. I have to say that deep down, underneath it all, I feel that there is something very wrong with tampering with our genes. It’s not right, nor is it natural. All I can think about is the scene in Gattaca, where the couple goes to the doctor to ‘order’ their baby. They pick the hair color, eye color, aptitudes and skills of the genetically enhanced baby, knowing everything in advance about their perfect child. EVERYTHING is wrong with this picture. I realize that this is Hollywood’s way of portraying a future with genetically children, but why couldn’t it turn out this way? I do not mean to sound alarmist in saying that this is easily how things could happen, I am simply pointing out that humans have always been desperate in gaining an advantage over others. Being genetically enhanced would be the ultimate way of having an advantage over the other human beings of this world. I am only speaking about the superficial aspects of stirring up the gene pool in our children: picking their eye color, making their muscles stronger and their brains smarter. If this were possible and a commonly used practice, what would happen to those who did not believe in genetically modifying their children? How would they feel knowing that they would be putting their child at an automatic disadvantage by refusing to do something they did not believe in? Is it fair that people could be born into this world in poor circumstances, only to be genetically inferior as well? To any sort of modification in that area, my opinion on whether we should mess with it is a loud and resounding NO.
When is comes to the topic of eradicating diseases by use of genetics, my answer is a bit stickier. Perhaps it is because the worst that I have suffered in my life was having the flu, but I also think it should not be done. I realize that my answer would probably change if someone I was close to or even I had some kind of disease that could be cured eventually by genomics. All I have to go off of at this point is my core beliefs; I cannot speak on this issue by experience.
Lee Silver states that it is impossible to’ reject genetic influences in a person’s essence when we accept the rights of parents to benefit their children in every other way.’ My reply to this is that ‘every other way’ in which parents influence their children is reversible. Every medication they are on, every influence, everything that the parent does to shape the identities of their children isn’t set in stone. Ultimately, that child will grow, become an adult, and morph into his or her own person. Genetically predetermining who your child should be is not up to you. The beauty of raising a child is seeing the person they will become. You do the best raising the child that you are given. Imperfections and all. Raising the child is up to the parent, and creating the child is up to God.
I also suppose that I am a purist of nature. I don’t like the idea of something natural being changed into something that it originally was not, whether it is a genetically modified baby, or a genetically modified ear of corn. It just doesn’t feel right. I know that is a weak argument, and I am aware that I eat these GMO’s (without my knowing). I just don’t feel that Mother Nature is a crazy bitch trying to kill us. I believe that humans were not put on this earth to ‘triumph’ over nature; we were meant to live in sync with it. What is nature if it is not natural?
Stem cell research is an even harder question to answer. I never really had an opinion on the topic, until last year we watched Mark Beuttler's testimony in his American Dream speech. We watched it again in this class, and I can't ignore the passionate point that Mark made: How is a group of cells, that has no thoughts or feelings, take precedent over his own life? How can a tiny blastocyst, not visible to the human eye, be favored over his dying friend?
Ultimately, I feel that if stem cell research were a reality, I would not like the fact that people were harvesting embryos just to get what they want out of them. I feel that procreation of life is a beautiful and sacred thing and do not like it being done inside of a Petri dish. An embryo is an embryo inside a womb, outside a womb, and in a Petri dish. I am not going to go so far as to say that stem cell research kills children, and I am not going to go stand on the corner to fight against it, but my gut tells me that something about this is not right.
That being said, I also do not like the fact that thousands upon thousands of human embryos are sitting in a freezer somewhere. I don’t like that they were created in the first place, and I especially do not like that the extras are burned in furnaces. If that is the case, then yes, I would rather see those embryos go to some purpose, and be of some use. For them to have been created for something, not just to be completely disposed of.
My feelings are blurry on stem cell research because my heart tells me that it is wrong, yet I couldn’t be the one to tell some one suffering of a disease that could be cured from this type of research that their cure is immoral. The scientific part of me wants these kinds of breakthroughs to happen, yet the spiritual part of me does not like the way in which the cure is brought about. I wish that adult stem cells had the same results as embryonic stem cells, but that simply is not so. I guess if an answer had to be given, I would very, very hesitantly give stem cell research a weak thumbs up, because of the potential good it could do people. Unlike genetic engineering, we would be simply be using our abilities to cure injuries and heal, and would be altering life itself.
I apologize if my arguments aren’t very thorough and the logic seems faulty. I walk a thin line with these issues. I feel like I am a part of two worlds, science and religion, that clash constantly. It is hard to make them reunite on issues such as these. Overall, I would say my point of view matches the following: The “power should be seized” in certain instances, but in most cases should be left alone.