Genetic Engineering in Medicine
How it works
Every person is born with flaws, whether it be on a small or large scale. If there were a way to fix these imperfections before birth, how would this affect the human race? To some people, it may seem almost foreign and unrealistic to think about a world where a parent can “design” their future child. However, in a few decades, it won’t be so strange to hear that people are genetically modifying their children. Bioethicist Ronald Green of Dartmouth College in New Hampshire states, “It is unavoidably in our future, and I believe that it will become one of the central foci of our social debates later in this century and in the century beyond” (Ball). The phrase “designer babies” is used to describe parents’ use of reproductive and genetic technologies to have a child with qualities of the parents’ choosing (Torrez). This term is very vague, as genetic engineering can range from simply altering genes to prevent disease, or the more controversial scale of genetic modi?cations aimed at providing enhanced traits and abilities. The effect that this can have on society is really huge. The term “in vitro fertilization” has been around since 1970, when the first child was born with modified genes in England. “In vitro fertilization (IVF) is a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child” (“In Vitro Fertilization (IVF)”). The beginning of designer babies research stemmed from in vitro fertilization, leading to the first designer baby in the United States in 2000 (Torrez). As time goes on, scientists understanding of designer babies are continually improving. The debates of how far designer babies should go are also increasing as it becomes more realistic. As with almost every topic of technology, there are pros and cons to “designer babies.” There are multiple reasons why one would choose to genetically engineer their child rather than being content with what nature provides them. The major reason (and least controversial reason) would be simply to prevent genetic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, down syndrome, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and many others (BR in Biomedical, Genetics). Genetically engineering a baby can allow parents to ensure their child has a healthy life ahead of them. It can also allow parents to reduce the risk of inherited medical conditions such as anemia, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and much more (BR in Biomedical, Genetics). This may also help increase the life expectancy of the child, by as much as 30 years. “By editing out an unborn baby’s defective genes and only retaining the healthy genes, the baby will grow up healthier” (BR in Biomedical, Genetics). These genetic modifications may also have the potential to prevent the next generation of the family from getting these diseases as well. This technological possibility is very exciting for many people to hear, as every parent’s biggest wish is for their child to be healthy and disease free. A possible disease-free world sounds wonderful, right? But, designer babies can also be taken too far. In a society that’s very strict on morals and principals and that’s very well opinionated, many objections have been made. Many opposers of the subject believe that these genetic modifications may create health risks to the genetically modified babies. With every piece of new technological advancement comes the risk of malfunction. Just as a computer or car may malfunction, genetic engineering has the chance to malfunction as well. Since genetically creating a child is a fairly new process in society, we are unaware of what health risks could come with it (Perovski). That being said, altering a child’s chromosomes and genes can increase the chance of genetic mutations along with many other possible complications. These complications may result in premature aging, reproductive disorders, immune imbalance, gastrointestinal problems, organ damage, and cancer (Perovski). There are many unnoticed issues that have occured with designer babies, which is why doctors are unable to predict the outcome most of the time because of this being such a new technology. “What can potentially happen is when the genes are being modified, other traits, such as different personality traits, can be affected” (Perovski). In extreme cases, if the process is not done correctly, the embryo may unintentionally be terminated (Ghose). Many critics are worried that affecting the genes of a child will come with multiple unknown, and unpredictable, side effects. Consequences may come from messing with nature, and doctors must consider this before bringing this fairly new technology to light. Another question that critics may ask is how genetically modifying their child would affect the family dynamic. This is something that has been a main concern among the community, as family dynamic has been something that is highly valued among many people. Critics may say that a parent will not love their child as much because they created the child based on their likes, wants, and wishes, rather than the child being a natural born gift from God (Ghose). Parents who genetically modify their children to their wishes may be disappointed if their child does not exactly turn out to their satisfaction, or what they theoretically paid for. ‘One of my concerns is if we let parents think they are actually choosing and controlling [their child’s outcome], then we set up all that dynamic of potentially tyrannical expectations over what the child will do or be’ (Ghose). Many parents already have high expectations for their children, and adding an expensive procedure on top of this, they will undoubtedly want the child to have the life they envisioned for them. This could create tension in any family, and the child may feel as though they are not wanted or loved for not meeting their parents expectations. It may decrease the child’s self-esteem and cause mental health issues from the pressure the parents may put on them, causing the child to feel as though they are “not enough” for their parents. Many opposers of designer babies believe that bringing this technology to light may lead to an expanding social gap and increase human inequality. Since the idea of designer babies is so new, it is very likely that most insurance plans will not cover this procedure. The rich will be able to genetically modify their children to have an advantage over society, while the poor will not be able to afford this procedure causing their children to remain on the bottom of the social scale (Catalano). Those who will not be able to afford this will suffer from the lack of opportunity and through poverty. Some may also fear that this could turn into a possible genocide such as the Holocaust, as people may be labeled as the “ideal” and “nonideal” humans (Silverman). “This type of ‘Master Race’ thinking fueled Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement in the early 20th century” (Frost). History has a possibility of repeating itself through designer babies. The “ideal” humans may take over and potentially feel the need to exterminate the “nonideal” humans as a way to perfect the society. Although this may seem unrealistic, if this technology goes too far it is possible for an event like this to occur in the future. A major topic of debate regarding designer babies is the belief that modifying genes are contrary to God’s will. The vast majority of the world is religious, believing that God creates each child individually and naturally. Genetically modifying genes would, therefore, mean scientists are taking the role of God, which is highly unethical to most individuals. Many individuals fear that by playing God, our world could turn disastrous- maybe even what Aldous Huxley predicted in his dystopian novel Brave New World, published in 1932. Although this novel was written nearly 100 years ago, the message behind it is becoming more and more relevant with today’s technology in Designer Babies (Ball). Huxley predicted a sinister, loveless, and quite disturbing future world resulting from genetic engineering. If this technology goes too far, the authors predicted world may become a reality. Although there are many positives that may potentially come from genetic engineering, there will always be an underlying fear that it may turn out as Huxley predicted in his novel, Brave New World. The focus of concern about Designer Babies is truly how far the human race will take this technology. Many people are thrilled to know that there is a possibility of eliminating genetic disease and cancer from the majority of humans. However, it is quite frightening to think about what will happen if humans go beyond that sole use of genetic engineering.
How it works