Genetic Engineering: Is it time to fix what God got wrong?

Group 69

The human race has long-sought to improve itself, be this by the implementation of education, or the development of certain technologies. We are now, however, on the precipice of a whole new era of human improvement: genetic engineering. Editing the human genome has been a hotly debated topic for some time; the scientific community drew a line in the sand that no experimentation or research on genetic editing in humans should take place until it is fully and completely understood. This line, however, was recently crossed by a Chinese scientist He Jiankui­[1], acting practically alone with no support from ethics boards or governments. He not only edited a human embryo but had them born by IVF. This has sparked mass outrage and debate across the world; however, at the beginning of this new era we ask: ‘How far should genetic engineering go to achieve desirable traits in humans?’.

Should genetic modification happen in the first place?

Firstly, we should consider whether human genetic modification should take place at all. We can already see that genetic modifying will bring some clear benefits to humans, one clear advantage bein the opportunity to mitigate a vast number of preventable and genetic diseases in unborn children, eliminating a great deal of future suffering. From a utilitarianist point of view this is clearly the correct course of action; however, many people, particularly religious groups, are against modifying the natural human state.

Christians, for example, teach that ‘God made man in his own image’ (Genesis 1:27), and as such many may feel that genetic alterations are at odds with God’s work. From this religious duty ethics perspective, genetic editing would not be a moral practice. Many parts of the world still value religion very highly in their culture, and many practises and opinions are formed based from doctrine. With Christian and Islamic populations alone reaching 4.1 billion people worldwide[2] (more than half of the planet’s 7.5 billion people[3]), would this conflict of utilitarian and religious duty ethics be enough to cause a rift in the populace? And would that, therefore, act against our duty of care? Starting to profane our bodies, which ‘are temples of the Holy Spirit’ (Corinthians 6:19-20) may spark mass outrage, violence and lead into internal or international war. Considering this, do we therefore have a duty of care not to release this upon the masses when it may spark war in our shifting times? Actions reverberate globally, and so care must be taken in considering both the benefits and risks in implementing this technology.

Economics

Looking into the future, we must now consider the potential effects this modification could have on humanity’s productivity and technological advancement. We live in a society dominated by money and economics and so it makes complete sense that genetic enhancements may be tuned to focus on these factors. There is potential to create a far more productive human species by editing genes that may allow us to have less sleep, maintain concentration for longer periods of time, and retain more information. This could greatly benefit humankind as it would allow the rate of scientific development to exponentially increase; furthering the human race to create a ‘super-productive species’. Examples of this idea that productivity benefits the economy can be seen in countries such as China[4], where people working longer hours can increase the nation’s financial power. By bringing together the best of humanity it would be possible to accelerate the growth of the human race towards its full potential. Therefore, from both a utilitarian and deontological ethics perspective, the scientific community has a duty to develop this technology.

However, from a care ethical perspective this type of modification may be a step too far. Are humans simply just machines that can be optimised? The understanding of what this may do to families and the happiness of individuals is of paramount importance shown by how in countries with a poor work and life balance there is a less happy population[5]. There is also an ethical duty side to this economic argument as it is very debatable that editing humans to make money is far from a moral path to take.

Effects on individuals and society

With the eventual advancements of genetic editing it is likely that, given the opportunity, most humans would choose for their children to ‘inherit’ desirable traits such as greater intelligence and physical prowess. This may result in a higher standard of living due to heightened intelligence, greater physical ability and a healthier populace. Human intelligence and physicality, therefore, may be able to contest future developments of workplace robots and allow for job availability to remain more viable into the future. These are positive effects from both a utilitarian and care ethics point of view.

However, we must again consider the implementation of this technology. In today’s society, many people aspire to achieve the ‘ideal’ version of themselves and spend a lot of money, time and resources in order to do so. If we were able to edit aspects by which people are judged presently in society such as height, predispositions to sport, and our appearance, would this cause a loss of individuality due to parents editing their children to be ‘ideal’? Is editing a human’s predispositions and appearance before they are even able to be born moral?[6] If we are to consider this from our present society’s duty ethics as well as from a religious duty perspective, this is morally wrong. Changing a human before they are born may be considered to be murdering the old version of the human to replace it with a more perfect copy of the ‘ideal’ human.

It can also be speculated that the implementation of this technology would most likely only be available to the rich to begin with.[7]This would therefore cause rich children to be born with even more advantages and so perpetuate the ‘rich getting richer’ cycle in our society, as well as creating a new breed of people that may be considered ‘freaks’ or outcasts by the general populace without any choice by them in the matter. Therefore, considering this situation from a care ethics perspective, it is morally wrong.

As outlined in this article, there are many arguments of differing levels for and against the genetic tuning of humans, and so this topic is very divisive, with opinions differing from person to person. We therefore ask you for your own opinion, how far should genetic engineering go to achieve desirable traits in humans?

12 thoughts on “Genetic Engineering: Is it time to fix what God got wrong?

  1. The article is interesting, well written and comprehensive on the socio-economic, socio-religious aspects of genetic modification of the human genome. Furthermore, the discussion about the effects on individual lifestyle and the quality of life is articulated well. It should be appreciated that the article is not biased and puts forward the points for and against very well. The authors should also consider discussing the health factors in a biological aspect as well. For example;
    – When the human gnome is modified to be more productive with less sleep how will this effect the aging proses, short term and long term memory etc.
    – The vast complexity of the human gnome and how when one small part is modified gives rise to unpredictable ripple effects.

  2. I disagree with the idea of genetic engineering . Like mentioned, it would result in only the rich being able to afford. Creating even more of a disadvantage for working class families. Humans need to have flaws for us to have areas to work on, however if people are trying to genetically engineer the perfect race, it may result in less cultural diversity. furthermore, I believe that a child should pick up the traits of their parents, whether it be bad or good. Genetically engineering your child to be ‘perfect’ with high intelligence levels could results in the lack of people doing labouring jobs (plummers etc) which we need as a society.

  3. After reading this article I believe that genetic engineering is wrong. Even though many good points have been made suggesting that people’s work performance may be enhanced so that people will be able to work for longer hours and even make people more intelligent, I just think it is morally wrong that people are willing to modify the genetics of a person to try and make them ‘better’ than they naturally are. People should only be able to do as much as they can without having to be genetically modified.

  4. I would only condone genetic engineering if it was to prevent human suffering, e.g. to stop a person having cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Friedrich’s ataxia, motor neurone disease etc etc.
    Surely an all loving God would wish for this to happen as he created us and our species has evolved in other areas since creation, we have become highly intelligent and have invented so much since creation to enhance our lives, surely this would be a natural step.
    This would result in both economic and human benefit to any country.

    I would be opposed to genetic engineering for the “perfect human”. Who is to say what is “perfection”?
    The human race is so wonderful because of our differences. A successful team works well together because every individual brings their uniqueness with them. How dull if we were all the same!

    To be able to prevent suffering and enhance the human race’s quality of life would be a worthwhile goal.
    It should not be used to create a living robot.

  5. Gene editing for social engineering is clearly unacceptable. There must be a real concern that this may be offered to those willing to pay, by unscrupulous scientists not subject to regulation.
    Gene editing for specific diseases has some merit, but is controversial even in that setting.

  6. Firstly this is not the easiest interface to use as it continually times you out and asks you to verify you aren’t a robot.
    I can understand why parents may want to alleviate or prevent their child from suffering certain illnesses/disabilities.
    Genetic engineering, if used, would need to be very closely monitored and legislated for and would need to be available to all regardless if cost. It should only be used for the babies well being and not for appearance, economical or political gain.
    Unfortunately, history shows, genetic engineering would be abused by unscrupulous powers with hideous results with inhumane and painful experiments.
    Genetic engineering makes a number of assumptions; that a person with an illness or disability has less value, that someone whose physical appearance is different is less important etc.
    As such I can only conclude genetic engineering has more scope to ultimately do more harm than good so should not take place.

  7. Very interesting and well written article.
    I believe that while there are clearly a multitude of benefits to genetic engineering, these benefits come with (arguably greater) risks that may jeopardise the human race as we know it. If such a practice were to go ahead, it would need to be strictly controlled and governed to ensure it does not become uncontrollable. You have given me a lot to think about, great job!

  8. A brilliant article. Have looked at almost all the aspects that came to mind while reading it. Well unbiased opinions on the topic. I do agree that in the current world with so many deceases and illnesses, genetic modification can be a major solution. And and a fast moving world, it will be beneficial to have enhanced genes so that people are able to cope with the fast paced world. Like discussed it does brinf economical, health and social benefits. But as the article says, it does break ethical principles. Although being an atheist, i still believe that somethings are mot meant ro be changed. For a fact, constructions which are made replacing forests, use of fossil fuels instead of walking, fast food instead of natural resources, all these modifications on nature have brought a dark side with it. So the question os, if we go as far as to change the biology of humans what adverse effects will we have to face. Will the pros out weigh the cons and will this be the limit we as humans are not supposed to cross. IN all fairness to He Jiankui­, he did manage cross the line without any consequences but this was just one experiment. If genetic modification is done in a larger scale, could the result still be the same. Is it worth sacrificing whaf makes us human to make a more ideal place? I think the article has successfully voiced both sides of this argument and open our minds to both sides of the genetics development world.

  9. Lovely article, the topic has been addressed very thoroughly with multiple perspectives. Genetic engineering may hold many benefits, but I personally believe what God has designed should be left as it is. Many arguments have been covered here. Today, humans deserve equal and fair rights and I believe that the design of one’s genes before being born may seem unnatural and unfair in comparison to a life that couldn’t have the opportunity to have its genes designed beforehand. This eye-opening article definitely opens a new chapter to think about for humans.

  10. Great article, there are some interesting points raised; as a Biological Engineer, I feel that genetic engineering has brought great benefits in the pharmaceutical industry. The product of certain drug molecules, such as insulin prescribed to diabetic patients, is often made by “cell factories” through genetic engineering (insertion of the insulin gene into bacteria). As a tool, genetic engineering has allowed scientists and engineers to think about global problems outside-the-box. The recent case in China where an embyro was genetically modified to prevent passing on HIV from the parents, is a debatable case, as addressed by this article. On one hand, it renders the child to lead a more healthy and “normal” life, however, there are unknown risks involved in such a procedure due to its novelty and complexity. So while genetic engineering could help prevent diseases, it also has the potential to create side effects that we currently don’t know of.

    Personally, I am against the idea of using genetic engineering to alter physical appearance and intelligence in the race to create “super humans”, but more open to the idea of using it as a therapeutic tool to prevent disease in a carefully-constructed and standardised therapy. To make this possible, governments will have to work with doctors and scientists to create policies which will allow the positive use of genetic engineering of embryos (once unknown risks have been identified and mitigated to a reasonable extent), in addition to creating laws that prevent its use for artificial enhancement.

  11. I do not think faith based human constructs such as God or religion are relevant within to this discussion. The fact is that gene technology has started to be developed and will not stop. The genie is out of the bottle and won’t be going back into it. Mankind will develop this technology for every reason imaginable, good and bad depending upon the perspective of the observer. The only real question worth discussing is whether it can be controlled. Isaac Asimov devised the three Robotic Laws which are purely fictional, so far. The closest thing to a working global technological constraint is the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty from the United Nations and there is an international treaty covering activities in space. Both areas are quite visible and/or detectable but not so gene technology as it could happen in a bunker laboratory in North Korea without any detection for centuries. The true discussion question is are we going to control gene technology development and based upon what principles; moral, financial or developmental?

  12. An interesting article that has a good balanced discussion.

    I’m cautiously for gene editing. There are cases where editing to prevent illness and disease would be acceptable to many. However, editing to increase natural advantages could allow the rich to increase the advantages they already have. Although this may not make the majority unhappy (since they mat just want to become rich themselves) it could make them envious.

Leave a Reply