It all started back in 1953 with two men by the names of James D. Watson and Francis Crick when they discovered the double-helical structure of DNA. Little did they know they we reopening the door to the creation of a perfect world. In 1986, the Human Genome Project, led up by the National Institution of Health (NIH), took a giant leap through this door.
They began the long process of mapping out the entire genetic makeup of the human body. The main purpose of the HP was originally for the use of preventing inherent diseases. However, as studies continue to progress, increased opportunities arise for genetically altering the unborn. You are now able to choose the sex of you child before they are born with great accuracy. Whatis on the horizon now, is the possibility of designing your child to be 'perfect'; . Over the years, there has been heated, ethical controversy on each of these issues, especially designer babies.
How far will we let biotechnological discovery take us? What will come of the world if designer babies become standard procedure? The earliest and maybe simplest use of genetic manipulation was in the selection of the sex of an unborn child. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF - A procedure in which a woman's eggs are removed from her body, fertilized outside using sperm from her husband or another donor, and then transferred back to her body. ) was originally limited to couples that were infertile. Even the use of IVF for the infertile was unheard of at one point.
'But growing demand makes it socially acceptable, and now anybody who's infertile demands IVF,' ; says Lee Silver, a Princeton University biologist. Several years ago, fertility clinics announced the new possibility of sex selection. It was obviously an exciting breakthrough, but when these clinics were inquired about their results, they only had about a 50 percent success rate. 'Its affluent clients could have achieved exactly the same outcome by leaving a note for the tooth fairy, requesting a girl or a boy'; (Riddell).
In the same way, there were many who were opposed to the idea at first especially with the results they were getting, but over time the procedures have been almost perfected and it has become socially acceptable. (Lemonick) Many issues have arisen from the possibilities sex selection will provide. In cultures where males are valued more than girls, such as China and India, assured sex selection could really throw off an already out of balance society. In the United States it may not be as likely for there to be a favored sex, generally speaking. In our case, it is more of a weighted opinion on what order you should have your kids, what sex should come first.
Statistics show that the ideal family has a male as the firstborn. Males tend to be more assertive and more dominant than females, as do firstborns. If you put all this together, it seems as though we are headed towards an even more male-dominated world. This is obviously a huge issue not only for the feminist and gender-role stereotypes, but also for the more general idea of a balance of nature. Will females eventually fade out of existence? That is obviously farfetched, but definitely not impossible. (Lemonick) At this point, the majority still agrees that the provisions of genetic engineering should be limited to the correction of inherent diseases.
There are two primary ways that genetics can be used to treat diseases. The first is gene therapy, in which one or more genes are injected into the patient to replace those that are absent or not working properly. This approach has been used to treat a broad range of disorders such as heart disease, many forms of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, AIDS, and many more. The second way to employ genes to treat diseases is known as small-molecule therapy. In this approach, the patient is given a small molecule (drug) to modify the function of one or more genes in the body. When the pioneers of gene therapy first requested government approval for their experiments in 1987, they vowed they would never alter the patients' germ line (eggs or sperm).
(Begley) Dr. W. French Anderson, who had had a broad background in the study of gene therapy mainly from the University of Southern California, did a lot of work with gene therapy. He had a desire to use gene therapy to cure a fetus of an inherited disease even before it was born. The only problem was the potential of the introduced genes slipping into the patient's egg (or sperm) cells too therefore carrying those changes onto the patient's children to the nth generation. This not only would go against the promise the pioneers had made, but also, as biophysicist Gregory Stock said, 'life would enter a new phase, one which we seize control of our own evolution.' ; There was obviously great hesitation as to whether or not gene therapy should be used in a way that could be detrimental to our evolution, but with the confined use towards inherent, fatal diseases there was more acceptance.
'What I worry about,' ; says Mario Cap ecchi, a geneticist from the University of Utah, 'is that if we start messing around with[eggs and sperm], at some point -- since this is a human enterprise -- we " re going to make a mistake. You want a way to undo that mistake'; (Begley). Procedures have been taken in order to reduce the extremity of genetic tampering, to limit it to a single generation if need be. The principle of informed consent (the belief that no one's genes, not even an embryo's, should be altered without his or her permission) played an important role in the development of these procedures.
The first proposal was by John Campbell, a UCLA geneticist. He said that a certain drug taken voluntarily by the patient would pair up with the introduced gene acting as anon-off switch. There is also, in the working, the possibility of making the introduced gene self-destruct when it begins to interact with cells that will become eggs or sperm. This way, the genetic tampering will only affect one generation and will not be passed on to the children. These precautions are necessary in the case that the procedures backfire. If we were to manipulate a patient's genes in order to eliminate a case of mental illness and it resulted in limiting the patients creativity, we now have ways of choosing whether or not to pass that on to future generations.
It isn't quite as big of an issue with tampering with the genetics of endless generations as far as inherent diseases are concerned; the problem of an affected evolution lies more in the realm of designer babies. (Begley) The NIH has been hard at work with the Human Genome Project. By 2003 they will have decoded 3 billion letters that spell out our 70, 000 or so genes (Begley). The research and discoveries of genetic engineering have come so far so fast that most experts don't know what to do with the possibilities before them. In a world where only a few years ago it was unheard of for even an infertile couple to enter a clinic to experience IVF just so they could simply have a child, in the near future couples will be going to the same clinics to design their perfect child. They will be able to 'pick from a list of options the way car buyers order air conditioning and chrome allot wheels'; (Lemonick).
What has been an important factor in the hesitancy of making this happen is the ethical issue of only the rich being able to create a perfect society, then the poor will be even more outcast. Allow a sudden we will have complete control over every characteristic of our children. If we want them to be tall, smart, attractive, and have an intriguing personality, it will be possible. There will be no more children struck with handicaps. Again, it still is in the future and not many people support the idea, but there are always those that have the money and power and would do it, just because they could. Silver proposes that society will split into the 'gen-rich'; and the 'gen-poor,' ; those with and those without a designer genome (Lemonick).
This has already been proposed in the 1997 Sci-Fi film 'Gattaca.' ; In this film only the rich, elite class can afford designer babies, and those that can't afford them are left behind. The 'gen-rich'; class builds a city in space that only admits 'perfect'; people. All the way from Watson and Crick in 1953 to the very near future, the advances and discoveries of science have taken us from a very controlled and uninformed society to a futuristic Sci-Fi dominance where we control our evolution. Will the hesitation caused by ethical views be able to hold back a chaotic future? Biotechnological advances have taken us from the question of, 'Where do we begin?' ; to the ever haunting question,' Do we know where to stop?' ; Beardsley, Tim.
'Profile: gene doctor; W. French Anderson pioneers gene therapy.' ; Scientific American August 1990: 263. Online. InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP. 19 Feb.
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Lemonick, Michael D. 'Designer Babies: Parents can now pick a kid's sex and screen for genetic illness. Will they someday select for brains and beauty too?' ; Time 11 Jan. 1999: 153. Online. InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP.
1 Feb. 2000. Riddell, Mary. 'We have seen the future: genetically perfect children.
What we need to see next are laws and regulations to ensure that time never arrives.' ; New Statesman 21 Feb. 1997: 126. Online. InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP. 8 Feb. 2000.
Unknown. 'Designer babies, anyone?' ; National Catholic Reporter 22 Oct. 1999: 36. Online. InfoTrac Expanded Academic ASAP.
8 Feb. 2000.