Human Innovation: Are We Ready for It?

In our efforts to figure out this tumultuous conundrum of life and what role we are to play in it, many ethical and moral debates arise as we, the human species, try to find our place amongst all other creatures and beings. For centuries, we have used our ability to think, reason, and create solutions to problems in a way which improves our current situation. Whether it is something as trivial as using our problem solving skills to resolve a dispute or reaching into the depths of our brains to find answers to medical anomalies, humans are capable of much more than other species. Does this extra potential cripple us or does it continue to move us further ahead of those we share our planet with? Do we in turn create more problems or do we find solutions to the problems which are currently before us? Are we doing the right thing to help fellow man or are we stepping into unknown boundaries which we are meant to stay away from? All of these questions must be addressed as we continue to develop more technologies and methods for our every day lives and medical procedures. For with this ability to discover and create openings into new fields of science comes great responsibility. We have to be able to deal with the repercussions of our work. Once we take the first step into that black abyss of the unknown, there is no going back and we must be able to cope with the outcomes of our efforts.

As our technologies continue to improve, we have developed the ability to map our genome. But, with that discovery, we are now posed with the question of whether or not we, as well as others, should be able to view our genetic code. Many benefits can come from such an ability: we will be able to see what type of genetic disorders we carry and what we are capable of passing to our offspring, we will have the capability to foresee what other types of diseases we may be presented with later in our lives. This is a technology which can truly expose us in the most vulnerable way—it is our entire existence printed out on a piece of paper. If we are able to see such information, who else should have the ability to view it; our doctors, employers, health insurers, the government? If the decision was left to me, I would say that this should be regarded as highly confidential information and could only be viewed between a doctor and their patient. If such information were put into a public database, people in high positions could use our own genetic information against us by discrimination based off of our genetic makeup—a factor that we have no control over. This would be a “Gataca-esque” world, one where people would be chosen based off of what they were genetically coded for rather than what they have achieved through hard work and dedication.

Even more, this could possibly result in a world where parents could go to doctors and ask them to manipulate their children’s DNA before they are actually born so that they are a “perfect” version, at least in a physical sense, of their self. This would be a world of “designer babies,” where genetic manipulation becomes the norm, where we step in and play a role which we have never before assumed, a God-like role, a role which no human should be cast in. If we come to the point where we begin to change something which has never been altered from an outside source, who knows what kind of implications this could have. Will we be changing our offspring on a fundamental level which could possibly ruin their true self, their true person? What will this do on a mental level? In my opinion, it’s too hard to tell and I don’t want to find out. This is stepping into an area which we don’t belong.

Perhaps this genetics puzzle isn’t such a bad thing. What about customized genetic medicines which help us to live longer and healthier lives? Wouldn’t this bring us that much closer to finding the fountain of eternal life? Maybe it would. However, I for one would not want to live forever. I feel that one reaches a point in their life where they are ready to leave this earth behind, for some something greater, and others, rotting in the ground. Whatever your stance however, people eventually reach a point to where they no longer fear death, but rather, they embrace it. Yes, this medicine could supposedly wipe out all sorts of genetic diseases and take steps to prevent the onset of disease from the clues which our genetic code gave us; however, I for one do not want to know what disease I likely contract or what will most likely kill me. In my opinion, that would take the thrill of life away—I would no longer have anything to live for. I don’t want to have my inevitable end looming in the back of my mind at all times; at that point, life becomes rather pointless. We are put on this earth to endure, experience, thrive; but, it would all seem meaningless if we just thought of what kind of gruesome end we would most likely meet with a 99.9% guarantee.

One could also argue that such medicines would eliminate unnecessary human suffering. But, is suffering such a bad thing? Does nothing good come from our overcoming the suffering that we endure? I think not. The ability to defeat the temporary discomfort which we are presented with is an incredible thing. It makes us grow closer to the ones we love, it enables us to discover things about ourselves and others that we never knew before, it creates everlasting bonds between loved ones which would otherwise be nonexistent. Suffering is part of the human condition. It helps us to grow as individuals. Without suffering, we would never learn how to depend on others to help us in times of need—this, however, is a key part to living life. We are not invincible and we can’t do it all on our own. It is extremely important to use the fellowship that we create to push us through times of despair so that we can reach something better in the end. It may seem like a long, dark tunnel, but we will eventually find the light.

Stepping further into that God-like role is our newfound ability to clone. We have now developed the technologies to clone DNA, plants, and animals. It just seems that it will be a matter of time before the first human is cloned. But, is this cloning ethical? Is it healthy? Well, it depends. Gene cloning can be very helpful in a lab setting where a scientist is trying to clone a gene of interest so that it can be inserted into another organism. Whatever the end goal is, scientists find this ability very useful as they are able to have seemingly limitless amounts of genes to manipulate and experiment with enabling them contribute even more to our already quickly growing scientific knowledge. Let’s take the current example of cloning genes and inserting them into food. Recently, modern science has developed technologies which enable genes from other organisms, such as frogs that live in cold environments, into fruits so that they can endure the cold winters. Is food like this safe? Can eating something which has been tampered with and is not close to its natural form safe? It’s hard to say. The FDA says that enough research has been conducted to ensure the safety of these food products. Despite this fact, however, there is still quite a scare. Europeans are quite scared of this genetically modified food. In Europe, food must be labeled if it has been genetically modified or cloned. It should be the same here in the US. People should have the choice of what type of food they put in their body. If someone wants to ensure that they consume nothing but natural food, they should be able to have that piece of mind. Instead, it is a mystery to us as to whether or not our food has been tampered with. What if our milk or beef has come from a cloned cow? Personally, I don’t want to drink that milk or even consume meat from that cow—it seems unsanitary.

One can argue that food products which have been genetically modified or cloned can help solve the issue of world hunger. This may be true as this modern technology can help plants to grow in environments where they have never been able to before. It can help millions of starving people. Perhaps it is an elitist opinion of mine because I have never experienced hunger, but I would prefer those people to eat natural food as well. However, it is ultimately up to the individual as to what they consume—whether it is natural food or food which has been modified in some way.

This cloning argument will eventually be able to be applied to humans as well. Will we use our advanced methods in science to clone mankind? I hope not. It is not our place to tamper with something such as a human life. If we do this, I see it as ultimately creating people who aren’t meant to be here. They will have feelings just the same as we do, but how do you tell someone that they were made in an experimental procedure rather than from the love that two people shared? It’s a hard situation and, in my opinion, one which we shouldn’t put ourselves in. The ability to create life isn’t something that can be taken lightly—this is a huge responsibility. Ultimately, the cloning of a human life has little purpose. What is the point of cloning another human being? Is it just to say that, “yes, we are capable of doing this?” This is wrong. Just because we have the capability to do something doesn’t mean that we should. I have the ability to cheat on a test, but I know deep down that it is an immoral thing to do and threatens my personal integrity—something I don’t want to sacrifice. Reproductive cloning is wrong and there is no reason for it to be done.

Therapeutic cloning is also a huge debate. When this phrase is coined, stem cell research immediately comes to mind. Although such research can produce positive results, in my mind, it is never justifiable when one is working with embryonic stem cells. I firmly believe that at the moment on conception, life is sacred. It is not alright to take frozen embryos which will never be used and conduct research on them—that destroys a life. Because of this fact, this is one reason why I am opposed to in vitro fertilization; it creates life which never has the opportunity to develop into a complete person. The way I see it, if a couple is unable to have children of their own, it is a sign from God that he has a different plan for them, perhaps to give a home to a child who doesn’t have one. I think it is unjust to create life and let it sit in a freezer for years on end until it is destroyed because we no longer want it—it is selfish. The only time that research on stem cells is justifiable, in my mind, is when they are taken from adults. When adult stem cells are extracted and researched, they are taken with the full knowledge of the person and at no cost to their life or the life of someone else. It is ethically and morally acceptable. Research on adult stem cells has just as much potential to save lives as embryonic stem cells do, therefore, they should be used. Save a life and let what is sacred remain that way. It is self-centered to take a life to use for our own gain.

All in all, this is a heavy subject with many sides to consider. Many people will be offended along the way as opinions are stated and research is conducted. It is our responsibility to make sure we can cope with the technologies that we create. As we continue to progress further into this realm of genetic manipulation and as our DNA slowly moves from a place of mystery to a place of common knowledge, we are faced with many ethical and moral dilemmas. Are we ready for what we have set ourselves up for? I am hopeful that we are, for we continue to move quickly down the path of progress. Hopefully we will progress all for the better, doing as little damage as possible along the way.