The fact that genetic engineering claims to cure the ‘vices’ of man for example criminality, poverty, homelessness, mediocrity, and homosexuality among others in a bid to control the evolution of human beings has also been questioned.
In my opinion, trying to control the process of evolution is in fact ‘playing God’.
Some of the concerns of critics about genetic engineering are practical. Is it safe to move genes around from one individual to another? Is it safe to move genes from one species to another? For example, if organs from a pig were genetically altered so that humans could accept them as transplants, would that make that person susceptible to a pig disease? And if that pig disease struck a human containing a pig organ, could that disease then adapt itself to humans in general and thereby become a dangerous new human disease? The actual nuts and bolts of genetic engineering often include many more strands of genetic material than just the attractive characteristic that scientists want to transfer. Different genetic materials are used to combine and reveal changes in genetic structure. What if these elements bring unexpected harm, or if somehow the combination of disparate elements does something somehow dangerous?
As humanity lives through this stunning revolution, the number of details known will increase. Few believe we are anywhere near the peak of the wave of innovations and developments that will occur because of the ability of scientists and industries to use genetic engineering to alter life. Indeed, most scientists consider this to be a scientific revolution that is only just beginning.
One’s general outlook on scientific development can also color one’s view as to whether these developments seem generally positive or negative. Do you see scientific progress as opening new opportunities and possibilities for humans to improve their situation and the world, or do you see it as opening doors to dangers against which we need to be protected? To some degree these different perspectives determine whether one is alarmed and cautious about this new science or excited and enthusiastic about it.
Genetic engineering can be seen as radically new, but to some it is merely a continuation of humanity’s age-old path of scientific development. Some see it as an unprecedented break with age-old methods of human science and industry and fundamentally different; others see it as the next logical step in development and therefore not fundamentally radical at all.
If they wish to find acceptable approaches before changes are thrust upon them rather than being forced to deal with ethical crises after they have arisen, scientists, politicians, and the public at large will have to develop their ethical considerations about genetic engineering as quickly and profoundly as these new discoveries surface and expand.
Even if some genetic engineering innovations turn out to have no concrete and measurable negative consequences, some people of a religious frame of mind might consider the very act of altering DNA to produce a human good to be immoral, obscene, or blasphemous. These concerns are often raised in a religious context, with discussants referring to religious scriptures as the basis for moral discussion. For example, the biblical book of Genesis has a story of God creating humans in God’s image and God creating the other animals and the plants for humanity’s use. Does this imply that only God can be the creator and that humans should leave creation in God’s hands and not attempt to alter life forms? If so, what about the selective breeding that humans have carried out for thousands of years?
One area of concern has less to do with the utilitarian, practical aspects of genetic engineering than with spiritual and religious questions. The problem is summed up in the phrase playing God: by altering the basic building blocks of life — genes — and moving genes from one species to another in a way that would likely never happen in nature, are humans taking on a role that humans have no right to take?
A simple, non–genetic engineering example of this type of issue can be seen in India. Legislators have been concerned about and tried to prevent the use of ultrasound on fetuses to reveal whether they are male or female. This is because some families will abort a female fetus because women have less cultural and economic value in some segments of Indian society. Similar concerns have been expressed in North America. Humans have been concerned about eugenics for a century, with profound differences of opinion over the rights and wrongs of purposely using some measure of “soundness” to decide when to allow a birth and when to abort it. These issues are yet to be resolved, and genetic engineering is likely to keep them alive indefinitely.
Even if genetic science is used only to survey life forms to understand them better — without altering the genetic code at all — does that allow humans to make decisions about life that it is not right for humans to make? Some are concerned about prenatal tests of a fetus’s genes that can reveal various likely or possible future diseases or possible physical and mental problems. If the knowledge is used to prevent the birth of individuals with, for example, autism, has society walked into a region of great ethical significance without giving the ethical debate time to reach a conclusion or resolution? A set of ethical issues entirely different from those already debated at length in the abortion debate is raised by purposeful judging of fetuses on the grounds of their genes.
Some of these concerns, such as that regarding in vitro fertilization, appear to have evaporated as people have accepted novel ideas that are not fundamentally offensive to them. Other debates, such as those surrounding sperm and egg banks, remain unresolved, but the heat has gone out of them. Other concerns, such as surrogate motherhood, have been alleviated by regulations or legislation to control or ban certain practices. Whether this will happen in the realm of genetic engineering remains to be seen. Sometimes scientific innovations create a continuing and escalating series of concerns and crises. Other crises and concerns tend to moderate and mellow over time.
As genetically engineered innovations create more and more crossovers with science, industry, and human life, the debates are likely to intensify in passion and increase in complexity. Some biological ethical issues do appear to deflate over time, however. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s, human reproductive technology was an area of great debate and controversy as new methods were discovered, developed, and perfected. Notions such as artificial insemination and a wide array of fertility treatments — and even surrogate motherhood — were violently divisive less than a generation ago but have found broad acceptance now across much of the world. Although there is still discussion and debate about these topics, much of the passion has evaporated, and many young people of today would not understand the horror with which the first “test tube baby” was greeted by some Americans.