Should Genetically Modifying Technology be Incorporated into Human Life?

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If we have the technology, should we use it?

I will be exploring both the benefits and risks of implemented such technology into society and coming up with a plausible response incorporating universal perspectives and the essential bioethical principles

Ashlyn Richards

 


Background of Genetic Modifying Technology 

  • Scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University and colleagues in California, China, and Korea were the first to edit genes of human embryos
  • In July 2017 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended the first genetically engineered treatment for patients with leukemia
    • It works by genetically altering a patient’s own cells to fight cancer, transforming them into what scientists call a “living drug”, which causes the immune system to shut down the disease 

CRISPR-CAS9

-Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

CRISPR-CAS9 are DNA sequences (genes) that target abnormal genes and infect viral DNA. Difficulties exist with this technique with the vector that carries and releases the gene. The vector has to be very specific, unrecognizable by the immune system, and be purified in large quantities and high concentrations so that it can be produced on a large scale. The actual “CRISPR” allows the bacteria to remember the virus and if the same type of viruses attack again, the bacteria produces RNA segments from CRISPR to target the virus, then the CAS9 potion cuts the DNA apart to disable the virus. The main three purposes are to increase normal functions, correct deficiencies, and to inhibit deleterious activities. The ideal targets for CRISPR-CAS9 is hematopoietic cells due to high potential for longevity and capacity. As of now, the diseases that are targeted are single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis, hemophilia, and sickle cell disease but there is promise for more complex diseases such as caner, heart disease, mental illness, and HIV, etc.

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Watch this Ted Talk to learn about how CRISPR can help edit DNA!


GENE DRIVES

– genetic engineering of DNA done to a population that is spread through passing down of alleles through generations –

Gene Drives differ from the classic Mendelian Genetics where you would assume that the traits possessed by an offspring are half from mom and half from dad and therefore, it is more likely the trait will be passed down through gene drives. However, there are some limitations of this technology in that the species has to sexual reproducing and would help if there was a fast reproductive cycle. Additionally, in order to employ such technology, you have to go through a complicated process of figuring out what genes controlled what, how to implement the technology, then go through the process of using CRISPR

An example of gene drive as it relates to medical issues is currently study being conducted with mosquitos and malaria. The malaria disease is killing around 1,000 kids per day and in order to combat this disease, pesticides and other chemicals have been spread but it has resulted in depletion of other plant and animals species. If an anti-malaria gene drive was injected into mosquitos, that could help protect other species while also stopping the spread of malaria. Since the spread rate is so high with gene drives, if one mosquito was injected with the gene drive, the gene would spread to all mosquitos in the entire world in just one year.


PROS

CONS

1. This technology offers the potential to cure some diseases or disorders and prevent diseases in people whose genes predisposed them to medical conditions 1. As it relates to the use CRISPR, it is possible there could be unwanted side effects on other genes apart from the targeted genes
2. Can keep children from carrying “unfavorable” genetic diseases that are passed down through parents

2. With Gene drives, there are multiple risks that include: accidentally release of certain gene drives that could lead to horrible effects due to the high spread rate, the possibility of interbreeding with species that are not meant to be included in the study, and the “simplicity” of the technology, meaning that it could fall into the wrong hands of someone who is not interested in using the technology for a positive. 

3. Can stop/eliminate effects of deadly diseases like malaria (as seen with proposal of anti-malaria genes injected into mosquitos). The high spread rate with Gene Drives allows us to impact a whole species in a very short span of time 3. Genetically modifying DNA is against the natural or super natural order. Whether or not you believe in a higher power, each human is carefully created with a unique personality and DNA, so is it smart to go against that power if we possess the technology to do so?
4 People who have inherited genetic factors that have impacted their physical, mental, and or emotional state are often seen as outcasts to society. By disabling this “source of discrimination”, we may be able to get rid of one inequality to society and create more unity among everyone  4. The technology is dehumanizing because it will create “nonhuman”, alienated creatures
5. Protects loved ones from losing a close family member due to genetic problems 5. People could suffer from obsolescence 
6. Can eliminate possibility of a baby being born with a genetic disorder, which could cause strain or pain on them/their family  6. This technology is a version of eugenics and evokes memories of the historic eugenics movement of the earlier part of the twentieth century in America and Nazi Germany
   
   
   

APPLYING THE PRINCIPLES

Autonomy: As it relates to the ability for someone to give their opinion on whether or not to use this DNA editing technology. When discussing with a patient of their treatment options with this technology, all the benefits and risks need to be disclosed to the patients. The opinion to either accept or reject the technology should be entirely up to the patient if they are of sounds mind and are able to make a decision on their best interest without outside influence. If all info is disclosed to the patient, and the patient is able to make a decision in their best interest, then the principle of autonomy is being upheld.

Beneficence: The most important question: does the doctor implementing such DNA altering technology to change a current mental illness have the patients best interest in mind? The doctor or physician operating on the patients need to make sure to be offering all information regarding the technology, good or bad, to make sure they are operating in the patients best interest and not just in the benefit of the technology research. It is possible that some people could be interested in seeing the technology flourish instead of making sure its in the patients best interest. 

Non MaleficenceDoes the genetically modifying technology put the patient in harm’s way? Are there possible side effects that could cause additional problems? The technology, before being offered to all public personnel, should be evaluated to make sure no patients are being put in harms way. The number one priority should be their safety and then if the technology can be decided to have the correct safety precautions, the patients should be allowed to choose whether or not to use the technology.

Justice: How does this advanced technology get distributed? Since this is quite an advanced piece of technology, that means it is quite expensive, so the possibility of the distribution of this technology could be heavily impacted by wealth is a problem. Therefore, the allocation of this technology will be unequal and the theory of justice is not supported.

Call To Action

In order to understand this issue and propose a sustainable response, it is critical to first acknowledge the topic and second to spread awareness. Genetically Modifying Technology IS here, and it is already being used to edit human embryos and change DNA. While there are some medical benefits, the impact of such technology on the unity and creation of all humans is at risk. The differences between humans is what makes everyone unique, and if we try to change that through human technology, the outcome is so unknown and could be catastrophic. I address this response that is backed by the bioethical principles that are at risk with the use of DNA editing technology. The principles of beneficence, non maleficence, and justice are not able to be 100% upheld if continuing with genetic modifying technology. There have been examples of fatal side effects and altering of other genes besides the ones causing the mutations, and scientist just don’t have the advancements in technology yet to ensure the safety of everyone. Additionally, since this technology is so scare and advanced, the inequality that will almost certainly occur in dramatic proportions, due to wealth inequality, could lead to even bigger problems. Lastly, although this is such a controversy topic especially when discussing the creation of all humans, using such technology to essentially rid all humans of negative medical conditions would be going against human nature and a higher power. I welcome all students to become fully aware of this very pressing issue that could change the way our world works if we aren’t careful and don’t spread awareness regarding this topic.

 

I welcome any feedback in the comment section about this topic or how to further your knowledge on this controversial subject!

Works Cited

1 Comments

1 comment

  1. Hi Ashlyn,

    I really enjoyed your topic and hearing your opinion on the use of genetically modifying technologies. I noticed that you don’t believe these technologies should be used at all, but don’t you think they can be used for the better? For example, if one has a dangerous and life-altering hereditary disease in their genetic makeup, can’t we use CRISPR to benefit the individual and future generations?

    Overall, great work, and I hope to hear your answers to these questions.

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