Life-changing Decisions

This is an essay I wrote for Social Studies 11 on a topic (question) of our choice. My question was: To what extent is humanity going to place demands on this Genetic Engineering technology? I chose this topic because I wanted to know more about it and understand something that could be very real within the next few years, something I might have to face with my own children. I have discussed both sides to the argument but I also have given my personal opinion. We all have our own opinions, so all I ask is you respect mine. I know it’s a hot topic

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Life – Changing decisions over Genetic Engineering

 By Lauren E. Blakemore

The impending future is something many look forward to: being older, more responsibility, families, relationships, and adventures. Technology, along with science is making what used to seem impossible much more possible. When the topic of Genetic Engineering is brought up however, the potential is clouded with much more of a skeptical view than others. Some see less disease and more healthy citizens, while others however, have vast concerns over where each step will lead.  To what extent is humanity going to place demands on this Genetic Engineering technology, and will the positive outcomes outweigh the negative or are we doomed for a slippery slope of division and uniformity. Will we one day sit at a computer with our partner and pick from lists to “create” our “Perfect Child.”

“As genetics allows us to turn the tide on human disease, it’s also granting the power to engineer desirable traits into humans.”(Nature News, 1) A young postdoctoral scientist named Luhan Yang, a Harvard recruit from Beijing was quoted for saying, “Such a technology could be used to rid families of scourges like cystic fibrosis. It might also be possible to install genes that offer lifelong protection against infection, Alzheimer’s, and, maybe the effects of aging. Such history-making medical advances could be as important to this century as vaccines were to the last.” (Regalado, Antonio. 2) “What you are talking about is a major issue for all humanity,” says Merle Berger, one of the founders of Boston IVF, “It would be the biggest thing that ever happened in our field.” Berger predicts that repairing genes involved in serious inherited diseases will win wide public acceptance but says the idea of using the technology beyond that would cause a public uproar because “everyone would want the perfect child” and people might pick and choose their ideal physical attributes and eventually intelligence. “These are things we talk about all the time,” he says. “But we have never had the opportunity to do it.”(Regalado, Antonio. 3) However, “The European Union’s convention on human rights and biomedicine says tampering with the gene pool would be a crime against “human dignity” and human rights.” (Regalado, Antonio. 4) So what is going to happen?  When it comes to how these doctors and scientist are managing to do this, “ antiaging specialist David Sinclair,” says “they would extract immature egg cells that could be coaxed to grow and divide in the laboratory. “Yang would use CRISPR in these cells to correct the DNA of the BRCA1 gene. They would try to create a viable egg without the genetic error that caused the woman’s cancer.” Feng did say though that the “efficiency with which CRISPR can delete or disable a gene in a zygote is about 40 percent, whereas making specific edits, or swapping DNA letters, works less frequently—more like 20 percent of the time. Like a person, a monkey has two copies of most genes, one from each parent. Sometimes both copies get edited, but sometimes just one does, or neither. Only about half the embryos will lead to live births, and of those that do, many could contain a mixture of cells with edited DNA and without. If you add up the odds, you find you’d need to edit 20 embryos to get a live monkey with the version you want.”(Regalado, Antonio 5) There are many positives and negatives and some are still determining which route humanity should take.

Genetic engineering is an incredible tool for curing disease and unwanted disabilities. The definition is, “deliberate modification of the characteristics of an organism by manipulating its genetic material.” (Dictionary, 6) In the United States, 1 in 33 babies every year is born with a birth defect that they will carry all their lives. That’s every  4 ½ minutes, in the United States.  “That means nearly 120,000 babies are affected by birth defects each year.” (Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, NCBDDD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7) “Depending on the severity of the defect and what body part is affected, the expected lifespan of a person with a birth defect may or may not be affected.” (Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, NCBDDD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8) “Babies who have birth defects often need special care and interventions to survive and to thrive developmentally.” (Division of Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, NCBDDD, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9) Therefore, should we not want to do everything within our power, to help prevent disease and disabilities like this. Stephen Hawking said “ with Genetic Engineering, we will be able to increase the complexity of our DNA and improve the human race. But it will be a slow process, because one will have to wait affect of changes to the genetic code[sic].”(“Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering.” Conserve Energy Future, 10) With genetic engineering advances, the human race could potentially be able to live longer, prevent diseases, and tackle illness. “Many diseases, such as Huntington’s disease, ALS , and cystic fibrosis are caused by a defective gene. The hope is that soon, through genetic engineering, a cure can be found for these diseases by either inserting a corrected gene, modifying the defective gene, or even performing genetic surgery. Eventually the hope is to completely eliminate certain genetic diseases as well as treat non-genetic diseases with an appropriate gene therapy.” (“Benefits of Human Genetic Engineering.” 11) Pros will include reducing the risk of children being born with genetic disorders or people inheriting medical conditions, better chances children will succeed in life, more understanding of genetics, increasing our lifespan, giving children genes that their parents may not carry and preventing future generations from getting certain characteristics or diseases. (Hanson, Jack. Designer Babies Pros and Cons,12 )

However, there are disadvantages to this technology. “In the 1970s, genetic engineering feats started to come rapid-fire. Scientists were swapping genes between cells, making synthetic copies of genes that could function in living creatures and learning to cut and paste genes using chemical scissors called restriction enzymes. In 1971, “Scientists successfully transferred genetic information from one animal cell to another, correcting a genetic deficiency.” In 1975, “At a conference at Asilomar in California, scientists for the first time developed rules restricting investigations in the nascent field of genetic engineering.” In 1978, “The world’s first test-tube baby is born in England.” In 1993 “Scientists for the first time clone human embryos, raising a host of ethical questions.” In 1997, Biologists isolate human embryonic stem cells, which have the potential to become nerves, blood or any other tissue.” In 2001, “Two projects report deciphering the genetic blueprints of humans; although scientists had expected to find 100,000 genes, the efforts turn up only about one-third that many.” In 2007, “Biologists turn human skin cells into stem cells, without embryos.” (News, science. 13) These are some of the things the last decades have brought us, but as with the growth of population, technology is moving quickly. With all these changes we start considering where things are going. “The colloquial term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics”

Embryo screening involves a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Embryos are created by in-vitro fertilization and grown to the eight-cell stage, at which point one or two cells are removed. Scientists then examine the DNA of these cells for defects, and only normal embryos are replaced in the womb.” (Hanson, Jack. Designer Babies Pros and Cons. 14) “According WSJ.com, ‘Kari Stefansson, chief executive of deCode, points out that such a test (Testing children for genetic problems) will only provide a certain level of probability that a child will have blond hair or green eyes, not an absolute guarantee. He says: “I vehemently oppose the use of these discoveries for tailor-making children.” In the long run, he adds, such a practice would “decrease human diversity, and that’s dangerous.” (Journey of Life. 15) We have to consider what we would be willing to risk to change. Eye colour and hair colour are simplistic ideas. But what about changing body type and creativity levels or even intelligence. “Most definitions of intelligence include the ability to learn from experiences and adapt to changing environments studies have not conclusively identified any genes that underlie differences in intelligence. It is likely that a large number of genes are involved, each of which makes only a small contribution to a person’s intelligence. Factors related to a child’s home environment and parenting, education and availability of learning resources, and nutrition, among others, all contribute to intelligence. A person’s environment and genes influence each other, and it can be challenging to tease apart the effects of the environment from those of genetics.”(Genetics Home Reference. 16)

“Having a child that is ready to learn, at the top of his game, creative and fault-free is now considered to be the norm, and getting to that place can be anxiety producing for both children and their parents. The mum who feels the need to compare and brag about her child is usually insecure and is looking for validation.” (Childcare and Parenting RSS. 17) “The increasing power and accessibility of genetic technology may one day give parents the option of modifying their unborn children, in order to spare offspring from disease or, conceivably, make them tall, well muscled, intelligent or otherwise blessed with desirable traits.”(Parry, Wynne. “Designing Life: Should Babies Be Genetically Engineered?” 18)“An in vitro fertility procedure costs about $20,000 in the United States. Add genetic testing and egg donation or a surrogate mother, and the price soars toward $100,000.”(Regalado, Antonio. “We Uncovered the Plan to Engineer the Human Species. 19) “To remove your harmful DNA, scientists need a third parent.  The recipe for a genetically disease free bub calls not only for your egg mixed with his sperm, but an additional donated egg thrown into the mixing bowl [sic]. More scientifically, whatever bad DNA you and your partner have gets removed and replaced (using the donated egg) with healthy DNA.  And bang, fresh out of the oven, your baby won’t have your or his hereditary diseases.” (Vince, Avi. “Genetically modifying babies. 20) Consequences can include the termination of embryos, create societal inconsistency amongst offspring, damage the gene pool as we know it, children will no longer have  choices over who they are, there are more than one use for those genes, the scientists and doctors are not perfect and they don’t understand everything, there could be a loss to individuality creating monotony, only the affluent could afford it, and other innocents in the family could be affected. So do we weigh the risks or are we just looking at the positives.

As for my own view, I would state that Genetic Engineering, although it has potential to benefit the human race, runs a greater risk of tampering with something we do not understand and potential for harming the human race significantly in the future. The consequences that could come and how governments would use this technology are frightening. Each step is a slippery slope, and although scientists can say we would limit this to just destroying diseases and helping people live better. They can not guarantee the technology will not be used in more harmful ways. We confuse diseases as death sentences, when really they are treatable.  Ruth Zive, a special-needs advocate whose daughter, Julia has down syndrome, explains that it has the potential to be a gift, and children don’t suffer necessarily. “Expect ambitious enthusiasm for life,” and that  “Your child may be very talented.” She also says,  “Your child may be very healthy and hearty. A diagnosis of Down syndrome can involve health risks, no doubt. Julia (her daughter) has hypothyroidism (upsets the  balance of chemical reactions in your body, if untreated hypothyroidism can cause obesity, joint pain, infertility and heart disease), for instance. But she has been remarkably healthy. As are most of the kids with Down syndrome that I know. She has never had an ear infection, by the way.  Your child may also be very smart. Julia is not at grade level academically. But, she is extremely clever. She loves math, her sense of direction is impeccable, she is very computer and social media savvy.” Ruth also said,  “I dream of a world that embraces difference. Our celebration of people like Julia is one small step in that direction.”(Ruth Zive 21) Susan Wendell says, “If disabled people were truly heard, an explosion of knowledge of the human body and psyche would take place.”(Susan Wendell 22) The extent that this technology is going to pour into our systems, is determined by us and us alone. If we constantly feel the need to compare and be better, society will go the path of modifying their children to fit the norm, but if we embrace each other and our differences, insecurities will fade to the shadows and we will no longer be destroying gifts but embracing them. “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” (Audre Lorde, 23)

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I have not included links to my works cited, but if you wish to see them please private message me.