Unethical and Discriminatory
The Science Behind Genetic Alterations
The science behind genetic alterations is as unethical as it is discriminatory. In the mid 1990s, embryologist Jacques Cohen pioneered a technique known as cytoplasmic transfer in order to transfer eggs from the subjects of failed in vitros to potential fertil donors. This process alarmed bioethicists, as the 17 cytoplasmic babies included extra genetic material known as mitochondrial DNA. Embryologists have reported that these extra bits of material attached to cytoplasm during the transfer to donors may cause pervasive developmental disorders ranging anywhere from mild delays in speech to autism. Creating an individual with multiple mitochondrial genotypes without knowledge of the outcomes is a risk to the health of humanity. Given that the ethics of in vitro fertilization tests, testing for potential health concerns is still questionable, we are certain that cosmetic alterations to the embryo is unethical. One example of a failed cosmetic change to an organism centers around an experiment done on a rhesus monkey. After attempting to make the monkey “glow”, scientists concluded that the ANDi (opposite of DNA) was not suitable for the organism. This rhesus monkey went on to acquire multiple defects throughout his life. These permanent inheritable defects follow the line of Human Germline Genetic Modifications. Because genetic alterations manipulate embryos, they are seen as biological products, giving the FDA power to regulate experimental abilities of labs. The FDA has also supported the unethical argument against genetic alterations by collecting data proving that these alterations reflect the deterioration of genes important to the embryo's growth and development.
The Cost of Perfection
Dr. Jeff Steinberg of Los Angeles in 2009 offered parents the choice of gender, eye color, hair color, and complexion of their unborn baby, for $18,000. Most parents would do anything in their power to make sure their children are successful. So, if a parent could spend a dollar amount to ensure their child has the most favorable traits, many probably would. All parents want their child to be intelligent, athletic, and beautiful. The only thing that prevents a family from doing this would be if they couldn't afford it.
Today in vitro fertilization, the process that allows designer babies to be made, costs $20,000. Then, to screen all of the genes for that embryo is 10,000 dollars. This process can ensure a parent their baby doesn't have a genetic disorder like cycle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis and huntington’s disease. Right now, the technology to control athletic ability, intelligence, and life longevity are still being perfected. But, the genes these qualities are linked with are already being identified. Dr. Jeff Steinberg no longer performs cosmetic alterations at his clinic because of backlash from the genetic community. But, all it takes is one commercially driven company to offer cosmetic alterations. This would make purchasing the perfect baby a business.
There will always be parents that would go above and beyond to make sure their child is the best. In a survey of 999 parents that went to NYU’s Human Genetics Program 13% said they would screen their embryos for intelligence and 10% for athletic ability, if they could. The parents that are already spending 30,000 dollars for in vitro fertilization could afford the extra money to weed out the dub or the less than perfect one.This creates two classes: the ones that can afford perfection and the ones that can’t. This alters the status of human beings so that the rich will always get richer and the poor will always get poorer.
Studies have shown that the desire for gender selection started as a concern with gender-specific genetic disorders. However, with the advancements in technology, questions are being raised about the rights and wrongs of allowing parents to choose the gender of their baby.
Parenting is said to be turning into a consumer experience. Soon-to-be parents do not want an inferior child. Because of this, they are starting with choosing the gender of their child; the gender they believe to be superior. Throughout history, males have been perceived to be the superior sex. This is still shown today in both China and India. Many families abort their daughters in hopes to have a boy on their second, or even third try. However, this has lead to unbalanced sex ratios in both countries. If this process were to become more popular in other countries with the technology to choose the gender of the baby, sex ratios would be unbalanced leading to sexism and social issues across the globe.
This could “tip the scales even further” (Lemonick). Even if families want both genders as children, surveys have shown that many households in the US want a boy as their first-born. This is because of the stereotypes of genders. Boys are known to be more assertive and more dominant than girls; two reasons to want a male as a firstborn. These reasons make it more difficult for society to get rid of gender-role stereotypes.
In addition, parents are picking the gender of their babies using societal stereotypes. Statistics show that women typically want girls in order to relive their childhood days of dressing up dolls, and caring for their toy babies. This stereotypical approach will only be expounded upon if genetic alterations become societally accepted.
Eugenics and Genetic Engineering may seem like new scientific fields, but in reality, have been since the early 20th century according to Michael Sandel. The Nazis gave Eugenics a bad name, using genetic selection and experimental treatments on concentration camp inmates in attempt to make a perfect Aryan race. In this light, it is easier for one to see that trait selection can become racial discrimination. According to Junker-Kenney, not only is this discrimination, but an attempt at dominance. Junker-Kenny also argues that by choosing more popular traits, we go against diversity. Also, by selecting the traits passed down to the future generation, we deny them a part of their racial heritage and identity. Are we ready to let the trends of the present to reject the past and determine the future? Has enough time elapsed since the Holocaust that we can feel justified in classifying certain traits as superior?
Even in the United States, Eugenics played a role early on. According to Michael Sandel, eugenics was endorsed by social reformers such as Theodore Roosevelt. Forced sterilization laws were passed in the early 1920’s and 1930’s. This also discredited eugenics, as those who were considered inferior, such as the mentally handicapped, deaf, and physically impaired were sterilized against their will. In part, this was also a mechanism of racial discrimination and selection, since thousands of African-American and Native-American women were sterilized against their will. Should we risk this type of segregation, discrimination, and selection in the name of science and progress, and in the hopes that our ethics have become stronger and more developed through the years? Or should we learn from our mistakes and stay away from eugenics?
Physical Dangers and Defects
In an article, Pekkanen talks about Barzilai experiment. Barzilai took 213 people between the ages of 95 and 107 (average of 98.5) and asked the question, what made these people live so long? He eventually found that longevity was common in past generations in the families of these people. But, all of the people had one thing in common, they were shorter than average. Barzilai goes on to say how you cannot manipulate one gene without affecting other genes. Another point from this article would be the alteration of the NR2B gene in the embryonic stage of a mouse’s life. This enhances their thinking ability, improving their memory and intelligence. However, scientists also noticed the mice had higher anxiety and more aggressive behavior.
Hailstone writes about the ethics of “Designer Babies” and when it is okay to genetically alter your child before birth. One situation Hailstone writes of is a deaf couple who genetically altered their child, so it too would be deaf. This is a harmful way to abuse the power of genetic alteration.
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