Seize the Power

A part of the human experience is suffering?! That is unintelligent excuses for the lack of a backbone or will to change the ‘human experience’. One of the most profound human desires is to ease the difficulties of life, and replace them with comforts. To claim anything else otherwise is sacrilegious. There are people today who follow this misapplied logic to the grave without ever questioning: “Is there something more we could do?” The most lasting impression that someone can leave on this Earth is the fact that they left knowing they made it a better place than when they inherited it. People are afraid of the unknown and it holds us back from assuming the power of our destiny. As of now, mankind has the knowledge and wherewithal to eradicate genetic disorders (such as epilepsy, blindness, paralysis, and many more), eliminate world hunger, and repair itself when it falls. Genetics and processes involved with that, especially cloning and stem cell research, are the tools necessary to achieve those above mentioned goals. This piece will look at the arguments surrounding these controversial topics in an attempt to enlighten more of a following and enhance the human experience.

The explosive work in genetics has brought for the first time in history a moment when the true book of life and identity are about to be opened. This begins some big ethical issues. Can people be identified solely by the genes they inherited? Or could they be ‘discriminated’ against?

Hypothetically, speaking what would occur in the health care industry: Should a health insurance company be allowed to ‘bias’ against genes? With the passage of the momentous health care bill, it is obvious and clear to the American people [and a majority of the western world] that denying coverage due to preexisting conditions is cruel and inhumane. People do not choose to have childhood leukemia, and after such a traumatic experience; these people find it incredibly difficult to find coverage. The game that these companies play is “insure the healthy [those most unlikely to actually need the medical coverage] and deny the sick [those that need the medical assistance]”.

Now take that modern crime and move it twenty years into the future: should a company should as Blue Cross Blue Shield be allowed to require a genetic read to better understand what their ‘risk’ will be with insure an individual? In twenty years, genetic sequencing will be at a point when it is cheap, reliable, and informing. Human beings will be able to access their likely hood for certain genetic disorders, or other information that was previously kept incredibly private (mostly because of the inability to access it). Scenes from the Sci-Fi drama Gattaca come to mind. A most poignant scene is when two potential lovers offer a hair to the other to sequence to ensure a good genetic disposition. Ridiculous and far-fetched? Maybe, or it could be the not too distant future.

An individual’s DNA is the most private source of identification. No one in the whole world contains the same DNA as another. Now days everyone is petrified of leaking their Social Security Number. Tomorrow’s private information will be your DNA. Unfortunately, this is much more difficult to conceal than a small piece of paper with a ten digit number on it. Any skin/hair/blood/urine sample can yield a DNA sequence. Social Security Numbers are public information, but still no one wants to throw their around. What about a DNA identification system. To hide your identity in the future it could be as difficult as removing all excess hair, dead skin cells, and collected urine. Identity thieves would have it easy; all they would have to do is hang around the restrooms. People would feel utter and total nakedness all the time. But the important case to remember, even though, this reality seems to be frightening and undesirable. Genetics work should not be slowed or stopped because of a fear for the future.

The day of DNA identification is already upon mankind. The PG-10 group is a society of Ivy-league scholars who have given up their genetic sequence in the name of science. With a description of personal traits, flaws, and diseases; the scope of the project is to be a database for research into the genetics of mankind. The thought process is that for acute research to be done a lot of data needs to be available to scientists. This is supposed to be the beginning to a long list of genetic ‘donations’; but could you publish you deepest secrets to the World Wide Web?

Genetics work will lead to customized genetic medicine. Rather than the guess work now performed by doctors and pharmacists, with a simple genetic sequence, a patient could have efficient and simple chemicals to turn off or on a genetic trait. May that trait be for an increased possibility of a heart attack or the SNP for Crone’s disease, it does not matter. Personalized medicine would be such a game-changing discovery that medicine could not be practiced the same way ever again. The doctors in the future will look back and consider our doctors to be barbarians performing medicine nowadays. This is absolutely something that we should be pursuing with all available funds and focusing much of our researching efforts to achieve this end result.

The process of isolating and copying genes into another cell is a relatively simple one. But does that mean that we should do it? Some will claim that genetic engineering is playing God. Others will claim that germ line genetic engineering will rid the world of terrible diseases. We could potentially eradicate horrors such as Down’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s, heart defects, and whole other groups of calamities that have grudge humanity since its inception. These genetic inheritances would go the way of small pox and polio. Two diseases that plagued humankind for two thousand years. But thanks to vaccines these issues are clear out of sight. Some religious fanatics will argue that suffering is part of the human experience. That through these experiences that a growth period occurs. The problem with that logic is that the possibility of death eliminates the ability to have a growth moment. If childhood leukemia makes you a more ‘wholesome’ and ‘Christ-like’ figure; what does it matter if you do not live through it? Being dead does not make you a better person. Genetic Engineering is the next step in evolution. It is one that is directed rather than random. Without fault, people could be more equipped than ever before. With a good set of genes and a can-do attitude, previous limits and perceived barriers will shatter and melt away faster than the polar ice caps.

On the other hand, what if we made a fatal mistake? Mary Shelley’s famous novel Frankenstein warns of the evils of playing God. The doctor tried to create life from the lifeless corpses of those who had already past. But instead he created a monster that did not belong in this world. That monster resented himself and his creator; thus tormenting the latter until death. This is a serious possibility of playing with what makes us human at the most basic biologically level. Our DNA is our own and only thus. Could meddling in these basic laws for life just backfire into the faces of those who defended it?

As for a practical standpoint, the Constitution does not have any mention of genetic right to privacy, or a law outlawing genetic engineering. Who would regulate it? Should it be regulated? Could the Founding Fathers foresee such a future? It could be a relatively sound assumption that the wealthy patrons will be able to afford genetic engineering prior to the less affluent. A rapidly widening gap could arise because the babies born to rich families could equip the child with the best possible genes thus more likely to succeed over the ‘natural’ baby born to a less affluent family. Is that fair?

Or even a more affluent family could afford to grow clones of itself to use as a backup for organ failure. This is dystrophic view brings this piece to the second topic: cloning. The issues at hand are gene cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning through the use of embryonic stem cells. But first, a brief history of the most significant cloning experiment yet.

The first living creature cloned was called Dolly. After 273 failures, scientists in Scotland used an adult somatic cell coupled with nuclear transfer to create an exact copy of another sheep. Impressive, but little did these scientists know the ethical mush-pot that they were diving into.

Gene cloning seems to be a dividing point for many people. It can lead to transgenic crops, GMOs, and other significant outcomes. Some perceive these outcomes as positive while others view this as adversely negative. Could biotech cure hunger in the third world? Or will curing it just unleash an unbalance of wealth? On one side would be those with access to advanced ‘better’ crops and the other side would be those left with only mortal ‘natural’ seeds.

The actual process is nothing extremely complex; mankind has the technology and resources to achieve this now. And quietly it did. Like a shadow in the night, Genetically Modified Organisms spread throughout the American foodstuff. It is barely traceable because it is so entangled into our food supply. Cows are cloned for having superior milk-producing qualities. Strawberries are infused with fish DNA that makes them defensible against frost. Corn produces its own pesticide; thus eliminates the necessity of using toxic poisons on the field. Huge strides are being made in era of transgenic cloning. There is a potential, as mentioned earlier, to spread these transgenic crops to poor African villages. That is where it is needed most. Substance farming juiced up on more efficient crops could alleviate much of the global hunger and poverty. Whole societies could be instantaneously pulled out of the ‘dark ages’, and a radical transformation of the political scene would ensue.
On the other hand, there are unforeseen consequences that travel along this line. Corporations now patent their respective inventions, and thus is would be limited to those who could afford it. Mansato is a company that combined the BT gene (from a mold that kills insects) and corn, now regulates that ingeniously tool with an iron fist. Organic farmers are unhappy because the BT was one of the few natural pesticides that they would use, and because of the natural process of tolerance and resistance; the BT gene will become eventually obsolete. Although it appears Monsanto developed this game-changing tool to help us out; a closer look reveals that it is more a monopolistic attack on organic farmers. They are absorbing all the revenues in an unnaturally short manner.

In Europe, all GMOs are banned. It is interesting that the public outcry that arose in Europe, did not even whisper here in America. The Europeans have a point: no long term testing has been conducted on GMOs. Consumers have no idea if these can be linked to higher levels of cancer or even obesity. GMOs could be wrecking the natural order that exists in our bodies. Should fear of the unknown hold us back from experimenting? But why would one continent ban something that the other enjoys/suffers?

Personally, I agree with Norma Borlaug’s intentions. To avoid breeding for desirable crop traits is foolishness. The biggest proponents of this whole slow organic food movement have never experience real hunger. That’s fine if they are willing to pay more, eat less, for more ‘wholesome’ food. But do not make the rest of the world die of starvation because you desire to be organic. Selective breeding has been done for thousands of years; that is why we have enormous fruits and vegetables today. Gene cloning in agriculture is just the next generation. It could be the biggest sword on the war of hunger. This splicing should not be limitless, however. I do not support cross-species gene transfer. The first process is just perfecting the natural process of Darwinian evolution. But cross-species gene transfer jumps into a whole new level that I cannot support. If it would not ever occur naturally, it’s probably not good for the body.

Most societies agree that reproductive cloning of humans is wrong. No one wants to see world where we could clone individuals. Scenes from the 2005 sci-fi action film The Island, come to mind. A colony exists for the sole purpose of growing organs for their sponsor. New levels of segregation and inequality arise. With this type of cloning, it is relatively simple to have a powerful standpoint against it.

Not to be confused with the above mentioned cloning, Therapeutic cloning through the use of stem cells could be one of the most important discoveries of mankind. The potential to regrow severed nerve cells in a paralyzed man’s neck or the ability to give the blind a new set of cones and rods to define their world in a whole new way, stem cells could revolutionize medicine and our lives. The potential here is limitless. But, there is some sacrifice to be made in the science of the matter.
To clarify, the most potent type of stem cell can be found in the blastocyst of a young embryo. These cells are considered totipotent or pluripotent. That means that they are unspecialized and will be able to be manipulated to any type of cell. The obvious problem with this issue is that a potential for human life is destroyed. The controversy exists in where the moment of life begins. Many Christian organizations believe that the life begins at the moment of conception. The instant that the sperm joins with an egg (thus creating a completely unique set of DNA) that a person is born. Others contend that life does not exist in a cluster of cells. Once the fetus has a nervous system, or a heartbeat, then it is a human being. This is tough; it is difficult to decide on where protection for life should fall. Proponents of stem cell research argue that without being in vitrolized these blastocyst could not maturate, thus it should not be given the same rights as a blastocyst in womb. The cells are already being treated unnaturally. Pro-lifers believe that this is mass genocide. They claim to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. The issue is so hot that the federal government has decreed many a time that it will not touch it. No federal funding will be given to embryonic stem cell research. This in effect has completely shut down the industry because no private sector can afford the expanse that the federal government can. Because of this, we are falling behind places like Singapore and China that do not have such stringent funding laws. Even in Europe, where the Catholic Church still holds supreme of many countries, embryonic stem cell research is taking off. America will be left in the dust, if it is not already. Reconcile the differences and move on to move important tasks. How can a doctor tell a recently paralyzed man that he will never walk again, even though the technology to help him is just around the corner? On the other hand, how would that man feel to know that 100,000 babies died to give him that chance?

“Just because we can, does that mean we should?” is a common question when discussing the boundaries of scientific knowledge. At brief look at history will show that traditionalists and doomsayers are typically proven wrong. Technology and knowledge will progress no matter what. It is inevitable. It is the destiny. Genetic and cloning will be upon whether we like it or not. Transgenic crops will end world hunger, customized genetic medicine can save lives, and stem cell research will eradicate previous horrible diseases. It is only a matter of time until our children are decanted out of bottles with the perfect genetic makeup. Is this a problem? I think not, but only the future will tell. If I am wrong and this ‘playing God’ does lead to a slippery slope, then it is time to put on the skis and start sliding.