Genetic engineering has been one of the most controversial ethical issues since 1997, when Dolly the first successfully cloned sheep was presented. Dolly has redefined the meaning of "identical twin"; not only does she look exactly like her mother, she also has the same genetic make up. This experiment was not only impossible but unthinkable, yet, Dr. Ian Wilmut revealed Dolly on February 23, 1997, at seven months old (Travis 1). On the surface genetic engineering may appear to be the solution to all of society's ills and the world's problems. In all actuality it may have tremendous and unknown side effects.
The issues that surround genetic engineering undoubtedly make it immoral and ethically wrong. Genetic Engineering as defined by Susan A. Hagedorn, is the manipulation of an organism's genetic endowment by introducing or eliminating genes through modern molecular biology techniques. A broad definition of genetic engineering also includes selective breeding and other means of artificial selection ("Genetic Engineering" 1). After hearing of the "creation" of Dolly, Americans soon learned the harsh fact surrounding her creation. Dr.
Wilmut's success was preceded by 276 failures. This success rate is nowhere near clinically acceptable. To begin the development of the eggs, technicians shocked the eggs with electric pulses; twenty-nine of the 277 eggs began to divide. The eggs, were then implanted into adult female sheep; thirteen of which became pregnant, and only the one of 277 eggs was born - Dolly (Wilmut 1). Long-term prospects of mammal cloning remain in question. Cloning is not clinically acceptable for experimentation on humans.
In the months following the news of Dolly, President Clinton requested, "a thorough review of the legal and ethical issues associated with the use of this technology... with recommendations on possible federal actions to prevent its abuse" (She rmer 1). The answer is clear -- there is no safe place to draw the line on when genetic engineering is acceptable and when it is not. Governments cannot claim that the uses of mammal cloning are strictly limited to curing disease, because then the question arises as to what is a genetic disease.
For example, some may feel comfortable defining a mutation in the cystic fibrosis gene as causing disease if it leads to chronic respiratory infections from birth to death at the age of twenty-five. However, a different mutation in the same gene might cause little or no problem. Is this also cystic fibrosis? Other unknown aspects of an individual's genetic make-up and environmental factors also influence the outcome. Soon-to-be parents are advised that their child has an extra chromosome that will not cause Down syndrome, but may possibly be linked to other undesirable traits such as severe acne and aggressive behavior. Given these circumstances, the parents of a would- be infant may selfishly choose to abort the child. Many Americans today would feel the abortion of that child would be wrong, yet, in a genetically altered society the egg would be thrown away, implying that it was not normal or was not what the parents wanted.
To simply remove the gene that causes increased aggression and reprogram it to be very passive and optimistic is a possibility for parents through genetic engineering. The parents agree that their child will be tall, peaking somewhere between five feet eight and five feet eleven female if female and near six feet three inches if male, because dad wants an NFL quarterback and mom wants a super model. Both mom and dad have decided that the child should be smart, to take out the obesity gene, the gene that controls the risk of alcoholism, and the one that increases the risk of the child getting lung cancer, and lastly the gene that is prone to hereditary heart failure. It is at this point where you find parents searching for their children in catalogs, altering the child so much they now have a child who looks nothing like either of them. The issue of sex selection within the United States would not have immediate effects, but in the long run we could become like China and India, aborting one sex in order to control the population of male / female ratios within the society (Hughes 11). By condoning genetic manipulation or cloning, the world would see one its most important values disappear.
Genetic engineering will destroy individualism and become more of a fashion statement, much like what is seen in New York fashion shows. From one summer to the next, the fashions change as will the use of genetic engineering. Blonde hair and green eyes will only last as a trend for so long, thus creating a desire for a child in the current trend. Individualism would be destroyed. A bigger cultural concern about genetic engineering is that people will begin to see genetics as more central and influential in life than they should. Many opponents of genetic engineering and the investigation that has gone into it are concerned that the growing knowledge of genetics will lead to discrimination and the problem that may be raised with confidentiality.
It is a well known fact that employers are already attempting to discover the genetic risk of their employees and deny or limit employment or health care on the basis of that risk profile. Keeping genetic information confidential from insurers and other non-medical personnel in the health care system is trickier, since the records will show any special screening or treatment that genetic risks call for. This could strengthen the powers of insurers in enabling them to exclude any person from obtaining coverage based on their genetic makeup (Hughes 10). Currently there are medical procedures within this country that most insurance companies will not cover, but wealthy people who fall stricken with these diseases are able to pay for treatment. Does genetic manipulation hold the same fate? The answer to this is yes: people will find themselves broadening the economic gap between the rich and the poor, and become genetically divided society, the rich being genetically superior and the middle and lower classes being genetically inferior (Hughes 11-12).
Privacy and confidentiality may also be threatened if a family member gets a genetic test and the results imply that untested relatives also have the disease, have an increased risk of having it, or even being a carrier. Some family members may not wish to submit themselves to these physical discomforts.