Human Genetic Enhancement
Instructions: It is critical for this paper that your arguments is based on an Ethical Moral Principle outlined in chapter 1 of the attached text book.
Additionally, There are two components; First, an Annotated Bibliography and Second, the Final Paper
Bioethics today is primarily focused on humans and the topics that emerge in conducting clinical and biomedical research, healthcare, and the policies and regulations that govern nursing, medicine, allied health, and all related biomedical science. It comprises of three major disciplines: medical, animal and environmental ethics. The topic of this paper, human genetic enhancement, falls under medical ethics. Although closely related to genetic therapy, genetic enhancement differs via its goals to increase, augmentation, enhancement or magnification of one trait or capability in an organism. The main argument supporting human genetic enhancement is based on the interactionist view of nature. There are however some inherent problems posed by this opinion, dealing with the magnitude of genetic enhancement threat to humanity, fairness, conflicts with recipient’s autonomy, and risk. Proponents of human genetic enhancement also cite moderate enhancements as a suitable means of enhancements, as opposed to radical enhancements. This paper, however, finds that little distinction can be made between moderate and radical enhancement in real-world application since little can be done to monitor, manage and control the progress of human genetic engineering once commenced.
Keywords: human genetic enhancements, bioethics,
Legitimacy of Human Genetic Enhancement
Bioethics: An Introduction
The etymology of the word bioethics places its roots in two Greek words: bios meaning “life” and ethikos meaning “displaying moral character.” Bioethics is keenly aware of the manner in which the environment and climate shape health. It is primarily focused today on humans and the topics that emerge in conducting clinical and biomedical research, healthcare, and the policies and regulations that govern nursing, medicine, allied health, and all related biomedical sciences. There I a very close relationship between bioethics and medical ethics, a factor that has driven some to refer to it as biomedical ethics (Glannon, 2005, p. 2). There are some subject matter and particular questions that Bioethics as a field has developed towards the end of the 20th Century. Topics that comprise this subject matter include: rationing and allocation of scarce medical resources; abortion; health care access and reform; contraception; psychosurgery and engineering the human brain; cloning; code of ethics for health care professionals; genetic engineering and enhancement; patient’s rights and informed consent; patenting genes and organisms; clinical trials; markets for human tissues and organs; animal experimentation; physician-assisted suicide; reproductive technologies and in vitro fertilization; defining death; and, stem-cell research and therapies (Caplan & Arp, 2013).
Bioethics in itself is however still a theater of dispute, a controversy. The central dispute involves the character and content of both morality and bioethics. This conflict creates a puzzle concerning how to characterize adequately the nature of the normative questions posed to bioethicists, as well as the answers they give (Engelhardt, 2012, p. 2). The question revolves around which ethics and what kinds of norms should frame such issues. Furthermore, what norms should guide the answers? In case the norms in question are moral norms, this causes a proliferation of problems. Whose morality should guide the posting of questions and the seeking of answers? In this case, therefore, bioethics rather than being considered a field which engages a multiplicity of disciplines, should be regarded as some areas from different disciplines that have successfully merged into a number service package.
Bioethics falls under the discipline of applied ethics, one of the three disciplines of ethics, of which metaethics and normative ethics are the other two. Bioethics may be considered to comprise of three main sub-disciplines: animal ethics, medical ethics, and environmental ethics. They may be distinct branches with a focus on different areas, but they have a significant overlap of critical theories and conceptions, particular issues as well as prominent lines of argumentation. The field that shall be of focus in this paper is that of medical ethics. Medical ethics can be regarded as the oldest sub-discipline of bioethics.
Human Genetic Enhancement
The particular topic that shall form the focus of this paper concerns human genetic enhancement. I saw this as a relevant discussion topic since scientific technology about this phenomenon have now developed, and human genetic engineering is now closer to reality than ever before. Furthermore, this is also a topic that has permeated mass media, from comic books to television shows, whereby human genetic engineering features as a major theme. Genetic engineering gives one the chance to alter metabolism, physical appearance, and even enhance physical capabilities and mental faculties such as intelligence and memory.
Human gene therapy is a practice that is already widely applied and has proven to be of some benefit when it comes to treatment of various ailments. These illnesses include cancer, Leber’s congenital amaurosis, adenosine deaminase-deficient severe combined immunodeficiency, and others (Porter, Levine, Kalos, Bagg, & June, 2011; Simonelli, et al., 2010). Gene therapy however only alters the individual organism’s genome. Hence, any effects are restrained to said, individual. The goal of human genetic modification, or germ-line gene therapy is the engineering of the person’s organism’s germ cells, which comprise of egg cells or sperm cells, in a manner that the individual’s offspring inherits the modification. This therapy apparently holds the potential for numerous benefits, such as the prevention of inheritance of some genetically based diseases, or possibly wiping out of some diseases from the gene pool. There are various success stories abound involving germ-line gene therapy dealing with plants, bacteria, and multiple animal species (Akhtar, et al., 2011). There is, however, a worldwide ban on genetic engineering carried out on humans and other ape species. A primary reason for this was articulated by members of a working group for the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000. They concluded that it is currently not possible to conduct safe and responsible inheritable genetic modification (IGM). For safety standards to be met by IGM technologies, they have to prove that procedures used do not result in unacceptable short/long-term consequences either for the treated person or succeeding generations of offspring (Frankel & Chapman, 2000, p. 23). It must further be shown through multigenerational data that the improvement of modification of a precisely determined trait is effective and durable and does not hamper with the functioning of other genes.
Currently, safe and stable conditions akin to those mentioned above have not even been satisfactorily met in animal-line genetic engineering (Stein, et al., 2010). It is, therefore, no wonder that reservations exist about such genetic engineering for humans. There are however a large number of philosophers and scientists who believe that genetic engineering should be carried out on humans, citing numerous benefits such as the elimination of various genetic illnesses, for example, Huntington’s Chorea. Regardless of ideology, most people will agree that (1) eradicating disease (2) doing away with unnecessary suffering, and (3) extending human life are all beneficial things that ought to be pursued. However, what about the use of genetic engineering to make a person faster, taller, smarter, or stronger? With regards to this paper, it is necessary to draw out the difference between gene therapy and enhancement. While the former aims to prevent or treat a disorder, disease or disability in an organism, the latter places its goal on the increase, augmentation, enhancement or magnification of some trait or capability in an organism. With the thesis statement of “There is no legitimate place for human genetic enhancement”, this paper shall explore the two sides of the human genetic enhancement argument and propose reasons to support the thesis statement
Case for Human Genetic Enhancement
In arguing for human genetic enhancement, it should be considered as a category, and thus, morally indistinguishable from environmental enhancements, for example. Not all genetic enhancements should be endorsed. Hence, there is a distinction between moderate and radical enhancements. To exemplify this distinction, moderate enhancements may include extending a person’s lifespan by a few years or boosting one’s IQ by a small number of points. Radical enhancements, on the other hand, will consist of improvements of abilities and attributes to levels that greatly surpass what is currently possible for human beings. Such radical enhancements may include millennial lifespans or 50-fold enhancements of normal human intelligence.
The argument for genetic enhancement is based on an interactionist view on how humans are made. This view is both opposed to the environmental determinism that holds that we are made by our diets, educations, cultures, and a host of other environmental factors, and to the genetic determinism, which holds that human beings are shaped almost entirely by genes. The interactionist view asserts that human beings result from a complex interaction of thousands of genes and uncountable environmental influences. Therefore, genes alone cannot make a human being and neither can environments. Therefore, identifying oneself with one’s genetic material is as ludicrous as literally identifying oneself with one’s school’s educational philosophy.
The main argument for human genetic enhancement lies in the moral difference between moderate and radical enhancements, which are comparable to the effect of the sun on the body; while moderate amounts of sunshine supply the body with vitamin D, too much sun increases the risk of skin cancer. Radical enhancement comprises enhancement of a level incompatible with values associated with being human. These values that are associated with humanity are mainly sophisticated and mostly implicitly known. An attempt to make these values more explicit will be met with great difficulty and will yield incomplete results. A sketch example of a cluster of human values may be found in the privileged access humans have to other human’s achievements, which will give them a special reason to care about such accomplishments. For example, people will take greater pleasure in Usain Bolts’s covering 100 meters in 9.58 seconds than they would in a 10-year old Nissan Sunny covering the same distance faster. This is because natural selection has supplied us with insight into the failure, endeavors, and triumphs or other human beings. These psychological commonalities are part of what make humanity a single biological species. The manner of access that people have to nonhuman achievements is quite different. For example, humans are only partially impressed by the exploits of an ant that carries a leaf, something we could easily do with a single finger. We have to take into account facts regarding the relative sizes of ant and leaf to be duly impressed, which could potentially be the same attitude adopted by radically genetically enhanced posthumans, who, to appreciate Bolt’s achievement, would have to take into account the athletic limitations of humans.
It can, therefore, be said that moderate enhancements do not pose a threat to these values as the humanity of the people involved will still be explicitly clear. With radical enhancement, however, there is more moral vexation. This is because, on one hand, dramatic benefits such as greater life span extensions may be experienced while on the other hand, we will become more disconnected from our human values. Therefore, this claim, while postulating that protection of human values justifies rejection of some of the more dramatic capacity enhancements, holds that moderate enhancements should be embraced as fully compatible with human values (Caplan & Arp, 2013, p. 455).
Potential Problems of the Interactionist View
- The first problem has to do with the magnitude of genetic enhancements which are viewed to be of greater importance than environmental enhancements. This can be seen whereby even though environmental modifications, such as improvements to education and diet, have been shown to influence factors such as human intelligence, there are limits to how much such factors can be boosted. Hence, there is limit to how much one’s diet or schooling can have on their intelligence. Genetic enhancement, on the other hand, has potential for surpassing such limits and enhancing traits to level before unwitnessed in human beings.
- The second problem concerns the threat to humanity. Environmental modifications may have weird and quite appalling effects on humans, but they will still be recognizably human. An example can be given of Eric Sprague, a.k.a. The Lizardman, who has sharpened his teeth, had subdermal implants, tattooed his entire body with green scales and split his tongue (Smith, 2015). Despite these modifications, he is still human. Sprague himself alludes to this when referring to the term “human being” when he said that his transformation project aimed to “show you that you could separate yourself from resembling the other things that get the term but still have the term applied to you” (Smith, 2015). Genetic enhancements may push us beyond the genetic boundaries of the human species and transform our descendants into a new post-human species.
- The third problem concerns fairness. If genetic engineering follows the trend set by other emerging technologies, then it is likely to be a very expensive process when initially introduced. Therefore, it will only be available to the wealthiest among us, giving them the added advantage of supplementing their existing environmental benefits with genetic ones.
- The fourth problem concerns conflict with recipients’ autonomy, which arises because it has been shown that the best time to carry out genetic enhancement is when an organism is at the very beginning of its life. This means that the ideal opportunity for genetic improvement occurs before there has been any chance to consult the recipient of the enhancement.
- The fifth problem concerns risk. Genetic enhancements intercede in processes foundational in human development; hence alterations may come at a significant risk to the organism.
Case against Human Genetic Enhancement
In addition to the above list of problems associated with the interactionist view, there are a number of reasons as to why there is no place for human genetic enhancement. The main reason has to do with the slippery slope. The earlier argument supporting human genetic enhancement explained why it is possible to accept genetic improvement provided brakes will be applied on the decline. However, realistically speaking, there will be little way of monitoring the dynamics of genetic enhancement once allowed. Even if certain jurisdictions formulated laws such as anti-cloning statutes, most genetic or eugenic projects could easily be segmented into fractions until combined in a series of bio-assembly lines located in non-conforming states.
Furthermore, once a genetically modified humans created, it will be subject to the same rules and laws governing humans, meaning it cannot be shunned, persecuted or disallowed any more than a naturally born infant with birth defects can be outlawed. Another issue in human genetic enhancement comes about in eugenics. Eugenics offers the very real possibility of genocide, particularly infanticide, as those children not born with the desired traits will be killed or discarded. Another inherent problem in eugenics is the amount of bias. This is exemplified by the eugenics campaign propagated by institutions such as the Carnegie Institution, Harriman fortune and the Rockefeller Foundation (Black, 2012). They postulated a form of bizarre Social Lamarckianism, whereby for instance, poverty was an inherited trait or that one was not born into criminality, but that criminality was born into them; a born criminal. Thereby, by simply eliminating the people associated with these traits, they could eliminate any number of social ills. Eugenicists used number of means to achieve their goals including marriage nullification and prohibition; confinement or detention camps; and, forced surgical sterilization (Black, 2012, p. 39). These were however Plan B components, with the primary plan comprising of eugenicide, which would be carried out through the lethal chamber, or publicly, locally operated gas chambers (Arnold, 2010, p. 49).
Eugenics was declared a crime against humanity after World War II and is demise was seen as imminent. However, the principles behind eugenics have reared their head, this time in the form of engineered genetic superiority. This form of transhumanism is actively advocated for by some philosophers, thinkers, and scientists who postulate that the transhumanist future will comprise of two sub-species of the human race: natural and the gen-rich, whereby the genetically enrichened humans will eventually dominate the planet (Silver, 1997, p. Epilogue).
In conclusion, therefore, it is quite clear that there is no legitimate place for human genetic enhancement. This is because it cannot be currently proved that such modifications do not result in unacceptable short/long-term consequences either for the treated person or succeeding generations of offspring. Furthermore, there is a slippery slope in allowing for moderate enhancements, as proposed by various authors, as there will be no feasible way of monitoring and controlling what will take place within the field of human genetic engineering and enhancement.
Akhtar, N., Akram, M., Asif, H. M., Usmanghani, K., Shah, S. A., Rao, S. A., . . . Ahmad, K. (2011). Gene therapy: A review article. Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 5(10), 1812-1817. Retrieved from http://www.academicjournals.org/journal/JMPR/article-full-text-pdf/EC6474219239
Arnold, D. S. (2010). Imind: The Art of Change and Self-therapy. Bloomington, Indiana: AuthorHouse.
Black, E. (2012). War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to (2 ed.). Washington D.C.: Dialog Press.
Caplan, A. L., & Arp, R. (Eds.). (2013). Contemporary Debates in Bioethics. John Wiley & Sons.
Engelhardt, H. T. (2012). Bioethics Critically Considered: Having Second Thoughts. New York: Springer.
Frankel, M. S., & Chapman, A. R. (2000). Human inheritable genetic modifications: assessing scientific, ethical, religious, and policy issues. American Association for the Advancement of Science. Retrieved from http://www.aaas.org/sites/default/files/migrate/uploads/germline.pdf
Glannon, W. (2005). Biomedical Ethics. Oxford: OxfordUniversity Press.
Porter, D. L., Levine, B. L., Kalos, M., Bagg, A., & June, C. H. (2011). Chimeric antigen receptor-modified T celsin chronic lymphoid leukemia. New England Journal of Medicine, 365(8), 725-733. Retrieved from http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1103849
Silver, L. (1997). Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave new world. New York: Harper Perennial.
Simonelli, F., Magulire, A. M., Testa, F., Pierce, E. A., Mingozzi, F., Bennicelli, J. L., . . . Sun, J. (2010). Gene therapy for Leber’s congenital amaurosis is safe and effective through 1.5 years after vector administration. Molecular Therapy, 18(3), 643-650. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/mt/journal/v18/n3/full/mt2009277a.html
Smith, A. (2015, March 10). Biohackers and body modification. Retrieved from ABC.net.au: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/biohackers-and-body-modification/6295194
Stein, S., Ott, M. G., Schultze-Strasser, S., Jauch, A., Burwinkel, B., Kinner, A., . . . Koehl, U. (2010). Genomic instability and myelodysplasia with monosomy 7 consequent to EVI1 activation after gene therapy for chronic granulomatous disease. Nature Medicine, 16(2), 198-204. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Alwin_Kraemer2/publication/41123812_Stein_S_Ott_MG_Schultze-Strasser_S_Jauch_A_Burwinkel_B_Kinner_A_et_al_Genomic_instability_and_myelodysplasia_with_monosomy_7_consequent_to_EVI1_activation_after_gene_therapy_for_chro