“And it is that ‘Mystery of Mysteries’ that forces us to decide our Morality”

4 universal bases make up every living thing inhabiting the planet. Yet, every species has a unique genetic code, separating each organism infinitely from the next. We are entering an age of bioethics. Change is inevitable, and the perpetually swinging pendulum will continue to move back and forth between scientific discovery and the morality of religion. In a world of starvation, a world of medical advancement, in a world encompassed by the duality of man – how do you choose sides. Among the most controversial of these generation changing factors of course involves ourselves, and the ability to perhaps modify life forms in order to be more “fit” in an unsatisfied world. From the power to save the third world with genetically modified organisms, to cloning, to stem cell research, there is only one question: how far is too far. And thus it becomes a war, to “regress from man to beast” in order to maintain morals, or to “seize the power” simply because we have the technology to do so. There is no sliding scale of life, there is no line to draw, but when it comes to altering a genome, there is a HUGE difference between the human race, and the rest of the “non-human” animals.

The beginning debate surrounds the ability to alter a genome. The genome of anything, a plant, a crop, an animal, a human. Researchers strive to have people upload their DNA sequences for testing. Perhaps, “if we know the genome of corn, why not the genome of your mother.” This stance on the issue is frightening, for what about privacy issues? In an age of identity theft, would having your genetic code available to the world be more of a hindrance than a help to the scientific world? But I do not believe identity theft is the issue, I believe more so that it is the human mentality to live life to the fullest, and that truly, ignorance in this case may be eternal bliss. I would not want to know what genetic diseases I may pass on to my children, or for that matter, what genetic diseases may be my ultimate demise. On the other hand, specialized medicine is running fast up the hill of treatment. What if our genome could provide personal care, care that would be perfect on the individual level – with no complications. But then our lives would turn from fun to prevention – we would try to protect ourselves from every vulnerable part of our genome. I give credit to the P10 who are so involved and willing to offer up their entire life to science. And yes, it is their life, because in my eyes, life is a mystery, and knowing their code has ultimately solved the entire puzzle of their person, and ruined their mystery in life. The purpose of life is to expect the unexpected. My grandma was diagnosed with breast cancer two days ago. I would not have wanted to know that any sooner than I had to. Not in the sense of prevention, but in the image of avoiding stress and depression. Its not a matter of “we can do it,” it’s a matter of “do I want to know.”

With the genome underway, the step above is genetic modification. From Mansanto’s corn, to Hawaii’s papaya, a “fishberry,” and tough wheat, genetic engineering is becoming a norm in our American society. Genetically modified foods are the “cure” to starvation and famine in third world countries. Genetic Modification has been applied to plants, transformed into bacteria, and reshaped the crop industry indefinitely. In an America where genetically modified foods are being rejected by those who can afford the “organic” substitutes, the other side of the equation is not at all examined. Genetically modified foods that are engineered to withstand disease and environmental hardship are ultimately more of a help than a hindrance. Of the “two evils” that many people bring up, the fact that these new hardy crops can withstand viruses and unnatural conditions outweighs the consequences of perhaps significantly influencing the evolution of a worm. In third world countries, I believe that genetically modified crops will play a leading role on the world stage of overcoming poverty and starvation. In addition, and more importantly, the satisfaction and sense of pride that these people get from having the ability to actually feed their families brings the utmost joy and feeling of success – satisfying the physiological needs of the human body as well as fueling a positive mentality and ego that is a part of human nature just as much as anything else.

So what are the cons to genetically modified organisms? With the introduction of organisms modified to resist pests for example, the growing fear that all the pests will become pesticide resistant is a true reality. To be specific, BT was a pesticide used to protect corn from caterpillars. Organic food supporters believe that the insertion of the BT gene (or similar genetic alterations) will eventually create resistant bugs. However, this is not sufficient enough evident to completely prove that its harmful, for “safe zones” have been created on order to monitor the gene flow of resistant bugs AND normal bugs. This ensures that a resistant bug will not eventually triumph. Yet, there is one thing that I believe should be taken into more consideration: all GMO’s should be directly labeled. But in another light, even organic foods are now being contaminated. It seems as though only something as commonly dangerous as a peanut gene would be extremely dangerous, but as for something that severe, the FDA would halt its production and shut it down before its detrimental effects took their toll. As for corporations owning these genes that they “coin” as “Property of M-A-N-S-A-N-T-O,” I am angry at the fact that life forms can now be owned. Could something in us be potentially “owned” then? I am not saying it is like “a slave is property,” but these genes are supposed to help mankind, not drive the 2% of agricultural America that stimulates our entire country into poverty by subsidizing and punishing those who have accidental contamination - Patents should be short, because you can’t put a tag on life.

And so my Borlaug influenced opinion comes through: GM foods are more of a help than a problem. In my eyes, they are helping more people than they are hurting. In completely agreement with legendary and heroic Norman Borlaug, “don’t give false impressions that we can consistently and cheaply mass produce organics.” For helping third world countries yield as much crop as they can with the smallest amount of land is perhaps the first step towards stimulating their economy and rise to becoming a nation of power. And if all it takes is a genetically modified sweet potato, I am greatly disappointed in those who wish to keep it from them. As for GreenPeace, it is too extreme for reality, like PETA. These GMO’s have years of research, propelled and supported by amazing technology, there is no problem. In addition, as for the diversity of life, of all these problems, it is the least of my worries. Watching polar bears go extinct is sad…but corn…not so much.
But, a Genetically modified organism is not just a culture growing on a dish, its not necessarily a plant, it may also be a living, breathing, animal – or, even a human. In 1996, with over two hundred trials, Dolly the sheep was a global breakthrough in cloning technology. Named after her “place of origin,” Dolly catalyzed the cloning movement – she illustrated that cloning a functioning life form was indeed, very possible. Since 1996, cloning has taken a different approach as well – therapeutic cloning. While using your own DNA, they believe giving these cells to damaged parts of the body, such as a liver or heart, will help them grow into healthy new organs. They hope to treat areas affected by cancer, and areas that have been damaged in severe accidents, but on the backburner of our minds we remember: they want to use stem cells.

Cloning has been the basis of horror movies, books, and a source of fear in the scientific world forever. Are we ready to clone a human? Look how many tries it took to “successfully” clone Dolly. Could we handle the creation of a new being, exactly like me? Would it be born with my present time mind? Would it have genetic problems because my DNA is not brand new anymore? Would a clone have a soul? Cloning has so many issues, but among the most controversial, is stem cell research.

I am straightforward with my opinions, I know what I believe in, and I usually truly do weigh out all sides of the equation unless I undoubtedly know that something is true, like 2+2=4, or that the sky is blue and the like. I am Catholic, and have been brought up to think that from the moment of conception, a cell is a brain is a fetus is a child is a human. But, the technologies and medical advancements brought by stem cell research is undoubtedly the most significant achievement of not only my lifetime, but ever. The repairing of a spine, no biological rejection, the regeneration of damaged systems! I cannot fathom the possibilities that have become a reality in our world. But then I take a step back.

I think a lot, about stuff that puzzles me. And with internal moral debates, I argue with myself: Devil’s advocate vs. the opposing voice. I have undoubtedly come to the conclusion that stem cell research is an amazing technology that I would like to see used in the near future to help the world. BUT, by means of using embryonic stem cells to pursuit, I do not agree with it. Back to the strongholds of my faith, I do not approve of using embryos for anything. I see no validity in saying “but they were to be burned anyways – they were left-overs of invitro fertilization.” I have a big place for guilt, and if I took any part in helping suck the DNA out of a blastocyst rather than put it to rest, I could not live with myself. In the end, as much as I hate to use such an extreme, killing a human is murder, and even though it is a “POTENTIAL” human, I still feel uncomfortable with the situation.

Each fertilized zygote has a unique code, a unique potential being, an authentic individual. Science now is to the point that Invitro does not leave so many “extras” anymore. The harvest process is much more precise and accurate, and pretty soon, there will be NO left-over embryos. Even if we allowed for the use of the already frozen embryos, where do we draw the line? How do we set standards for forbidding people from giving embryos for research? We can’t. It would be an undercover black market. On the other hand, does this embryo have a soul? How is it different from one day, to nine months? Even babies who are born are still scientifically called fetuses until about 1 year and 4 months old. So, if we can harvest at five days, or abort at 5 months, why is that different from 15 months, even if it is “out of the womb?” I want to completely fund in any way I can, or propel and advertise in any way, funding for stem cell research that calls for adult cells, or “working backwards” and turning older stem cells to their most primordial phase. I want to see what we can do with animal stem cells, I want to see what we could to with umbilical cord blood, I want to see experimentation done in helping to grow organs, and spines – but I don’t want to use embryos, its just against what I stand for. For we would be taking a life to save a life – ultimately taking the only thing that is keeping an embryo a “potential” human (the layer around the cells) and using it to our advantage because they cannot do anything about it.

As for using these embryos to study the eradication of genetic disorders: NO. Why is that person any less than me? There is no sliding scale of life. No matter what the opponents say: suffering is what makes us human. For with that suffering comes the triumph of that suffering. Suffering brings family together, makes humans strong, forces you to set your priorities straight – all of the above. These are all of the emotional factors that set us apart from every other species on the planet, and therefore, it IS what makes us human. There is no scientific reason for crying, so why do we experience sadness? – because we are human, and our superior emotions can handle it. Call it cliché, but God gave us these problems and hardships to bring us together – and some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers, whether it be to get a bicycle, or to relieve your unborn child of Down Syndrome. Parents should not be able to choose, this would be selfish.

I like to walk the middle ground, but my gut feeling and true ideals this time reside with the extremes. I qualify everyone’s opinion in some way, but as for me, its personal, and I could never approve of using embryonic stem cells – for anything.

And so I begin to conclude. I am for genetically modified foods. They would help so many third world countries rise from the upheaval of starvation and poverty. I think there is a promising future in stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, but I don’t believe it should involve embryos. With that, the slippery slope begins to allow its first slide of humanity: changing the human genome to make it “more fit” would defy human dignity. The bigger picture for me is the stress that the human mind would take – how could we handle clones, does a blastocyst have a soul, should I put my Down Syndrome kid up for adoption or kill it? We shouldn’t have to make these decisions, but we do – and that’s what makes us human.

I believe with all this research and ability to change the human race, we are trying to reach immortality – we are playing God. So maybe we should just agree to disagree, as usual. We do not know what we would choose unless we were put in the situation.

Ultimately, ALL suffering is what makes us human, and that’s because the ability to suffer and overcome suffering is a human trait. The human race continues to defy natural selection with medicine, why would we want to strive for immortality and overpopulation even more? And so we continue to look for answers, we “seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact—that mystery of mysteries—the first appearance of new beings on this earth” (Darwin) and where it came from. But science has not proven this answer, and religion has not either, and thus, we have the forever standing moral debate over human life – for we do not know the COMPLETE origin of our species. And for many reasons, I hope we never do.