Genetic Engineering: Dangers and Opportunities
As of today, the practice of genetic engineering continues to remain highly controversial. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that there are a number of the clearly defined ethical undertones to the very idea of inducing ‘beneficial’ genetic mutations to a living organism.
After all, this idea presupposes the eventual possibility for people to realize themselves being the masters of their own biological destiny, in the evolutionary sense of this word.
Nevertheless, even though the practice in question indeed appears utterly debatable, the very objective laws of history/evolution leave only a few doubts that, as time goes on, more and more people will perceive it as being thoroughly appropriate. This paper will explore the validity of the above-stated at length.
Genetic Engineering Pros and Cons
In general, genetic engineering can be defined as: “An artificial modification of the genetic code of an organism. It changes the physical nature of the being in question radically, often in ways that would never occur in nature” (Cyriac 65).
Thus, it is most properly discussed as an umbrella term for the biotech practices that aim to alter the molecular basis of the DNA strand for a variety of different purposes, mostly concerned with allowing people to be able to enhance their lives.
As of now, we can identify three major directions, in which the ongoing progress in the field of the genetic engineering technologies (GET) has attained an exponential momentum: a) Deciphering the structure of the human genome, b) Transferring genes from the representatives of one species to another, c) Cloning. Even though GET became available since not long ago, these technologies proved thoroughly capable of benefiting humanity in a variety of different ways.
Among the most notable of them can be well mentioned:
a) Making possible the production of genetically modified foods. As Coker noted: “In the United States and elsewhere, more than 90% of soybeans, cotton, corn, and certain other crops are already genetically engineered” (24). The reason behind the growing popularity of this type of food is quite apparent – the application of getting increases the efficiency of agriculture rather drastically, which in turn contributes to solving the problem of ‘world’s hunger.’
b) Establishing the objective preconditions for the creation of drugs that could be used for treating diseases that are now being assumed incurable, such as AIDS and cancer. This, of course, presupposes that, as a result of GET being increasingly used by pharmacologists, the lifespan of an average individual should be substantially extended. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated, in regards to the effects of such a widely used genetically modified drug as insulin, prescribed to those who suffer from diabetes.
c) Providing people with the opportunity to have their children (or pets) being ‘genetically tailored,’ in accordance with what happened to be the concerned individual’s personal wishes, in this respect. What it means is that, due to the rise of getting, the concept of eugenics became thoroughly sound once again: “Besides ensuring that our children are born without genetic defects, we will soon be able to give them genetic enhancements: they will become taller, stronger, smarter” (Anderson 23). Consequently, this will allow the biological betterment of human societies.
Nevertheless, even though there are many reasons to consider genetic engineering utterly beneficial to the well-being of humanity, some people cannot help deeming it utterly ‘wicked’ – this especially appears to be the case among religious citizens.
The reason for this is quite apparent – one’s ability to meddle with the structure of DNA, which in turn results in the emergence of the ‘tailored’ life-forms, implies that the individual in question is nothing short of God.
In the eyes of a religious individual, however, this idea appears clearly sacrilegious: “Humans must show respect for God’s dominion through attentive obedience to the immanent laws of creation” (Clague 140). There are also a number of secular (non-religious) objections to genetic engineering.
The most commonly heard one is concerned with the fact that the effects of the consumption of genetically modified foods on humans have not been thoroughly researched. This, of course, establishes a hypothetical possibility for those individuals who consume these foods to end up suffering from a number of yet unexplored side effects.
It is also often mentioned that, because GET provides married couples with the hypothetical possibility to conceive and to give birth to ‘ideal’ babies, it may eventually result in the emergence of the previously unheard forms of social discrimination against people, whose genome happened to be unmodified.
Moreover, there is a growing concern about the fact that being artificially created, the genetically altered forms of life may bring much disbalance to the surrounding natural environment, which is supposed to evolve in accordance with the Darwinian laws of natural selection.
Out of these objections, however, only the second one can be defined as being more or less plausible. After all, the availability of getting is indeed a comparatively recent phenomenon, which in turn implies that there may be some unforeseen aspects to it.
The rest of them, however, do not appear to hold much water – this especially happened to be the case with the religious one. The reason for this is that the process of just about any organism coming to life, which religion refers to as the ‘miracle of creation,’ biologists have long ago learned to perceive as nothing but the consequence of the essentially ‘blind’ flow of molecular reactions in the concerned DNA.
As Chapman pointed out: “What causes the differentiation in the genetic code? The mechanism for this – the genetic software, if you will – comes through the epigenetic markers that surround the genome” (170). In other words, the ‘miracle of creation’ is ultimately about the chain of self-inducing genetic mutations, which presupposes that there is nothing intelligent or consciously purposeful to it in the first place.
Genetic engineering, on the other hand, makes possible the thoroughly rational manipulation with the structure of DNA – hence, allowing biologists to not only remain in full control of the process of a particular genetic mutation taking place but also to define its course.
It is understood, of course, that the practice in question does undermine the epistemological integrity of the world’s monotheistic religions, but this state of affairs has been predetermined by the laws of history and not by the practice’s ‘wickedness.’
Apparently, the fact that many people continue to refer to genetic engineering with suspicion, reflected by their irrational fear of genetically modified foods, once again proves the validity of the specifically evolutionary paradigm of life.
The reason for this is that, as we are well aware of, throughout the course of history, the implementation of technological innovations always been met with much resistance. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that due to being ‘hairless apes’, people are naturally predisposed to cling to specifically those behavioral patterns, on their part, which proved ‘luck-inducing’ in the past.
Nevertheless, as time goes on, their ‘fear of the new’ grows progressively weakened – the direct consequence of people’s endowment with intellect. We can speculate that before deciding to become ‘stock herders,’ ‘hunter-gatherers’ used to experience a great deal of emotional discomfort, as well – yet, there was simply no way to avoid the mentioned transformation, on their part.
The reason for this is that it was dialectically predetermined. In the mentioned earlier article, Coker states: “Eventually, humans took more control of animals and plants through agriculture, and then civilization took off. Today, we can hardly imagine how harsh the pre-agricultural existence must have been” (27).
The same line of reasoning will apply when it comes to assessing what would be people’s attitudes towards genetic engineering in the future. In all probability, our descendants will look down on us in the same manner that we look down on the members of some primeval indigenous tribe, who were never able to evolve beyond the Stone Age. After all, in the future, leaving the formation of one’s genome up to a chance will be considered barbaric.
Nevertheless, it is not only the laws of historical progress that presuppose the full legitimation of genetic engineering but the evolutionary ones, as well – something the exposes the sheer erroneousness of the claim that the concerned practice is ‘unnatural.’
In this respect, one may well mention the most important principle of evolution – the likelihood for a particular quantitative process to attain a new qualitative subtlety, positively relates to how long it remained active.
This principle, of course, suggests that for as long as the representatives of a particular species continue to expand the boundaries of their environmental niche (as it happened to be the case with humans), they will be experiencing the so-called ‘evolutionary jumps.’
The emergence of getting suggests that we, as humans, are about to experience such a ‘jump’ – after having undergone the GET-induced transformation, we will instantly attain the status of ‘trans-humans’ (or ‘demi-gods’). As Bostrom pointed out: “Human nature is a work-in-progress…
Current humanity need not be the endpoint of evolution… (through) Technology and other rational means we shall eventually manage to become posthuman beings with vastly greater capacities than present human beings have” (493).
Thus, even though the practice of genetic engineering continues to spark controversies, it is highly unlikely that this will also be ceased in 10-20 years from now – those proven much too slow, taking full advantage of genetic engineering, will simply be no longer around to debate its usefulness.
The earlier provided line of argumentation, in defense of the idea that genetic engineering indeed represents the way of the future, appears fully consistent with the paper’s initial thesis. Thus, it will be fully appropriate to conclude this paper by reinstating that the sooner people grow thoroughly comfortable with getting, the better.
In this respect, it will prove rather helpful for them to become aware that the emergence of genetic engineering is yet another indication that humanity remains on the pass of progress, and there is indeed nothing ‘unnatural’ about the practice in question. This paper is expected to come as an asset within the context of just about anyone gaining such awareness.
Anderson, Clifton. “Genetic Engineering: Dangers and Opportunities.” The Futurist 34.2 (2000): 20-22. Print.
Bostrom, Nick. “Human Genetic Enhancements: A Transhumanist Perspective.” Journal of Value Inquiry 37.4 (2003): 493-506. Print.
Chapman, Davd. “Beyond Genetic Determinism.” Ethics & Medicine 29.3 (2013): 167-171. Print.
Clague, Julie. “Some Christian Responses to the Genetic Revolution.” Ethics & Medicine 19.3 (2003): 135-142. Print.
Coker, Jeffrey. “Crossing the Species Boundary: Genetic Engineering as Conscious Evolution.” Futurist 46.1 (2012): 23-27. Print.
Cyriac, Kar. “Biotech Research: Moral Permissibility vs. Technical Feasibility.” IIMB Management Review 16.2 (2004): 64-68. Print.
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