General Question

MilkyWay's avatar

Do you think that genetic engineering of humans should be allowed?

Asked by MilkyWay (13131 points ) July 11th, 2011

As the question asks.
What is the reason behind your opinion?

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48 Answers

SpatzieLover's avatar

No. I like my human beings like my garden and my food…All Natural!

YoBob's avatar

It’s a rather slippery slope.

Should we be able to make in vitro tweak to correct genetic defects like spina bifida or hemophilia? Why not?

The problem is where to draw the line as to what is classified as a genetic defect. If we can correct a tendency towards low IQ, would that be a genetic defect? Would giving an unborn a genetic tendency towards enhanced physical strength be considered a correction of a genetic deficiency? Eye color….?

marinelife's avatar

It opens up too many questions.

If you “improve” humans, what happens if conflict arises between the “improved” humans and the natural humans?

JLeslie's avatar

Depends how we define it. I am all for people who have significant genetic diseases to be able to select embryos that will not have that gene.

Actually adding genetic material to an embryo makes me nervous, I don’t like that idea.

josie's avatar

If fixing genes winds up being the true cure for some of the crappier genetic diseases like cancer, ALS, MS etc, etc, then I am all for it.

MilkyWay's avatar

I don’t mean genetic engineering to be an option for everyday problems like spots or dandruff etc.
I mean for genetic diseases/serious health conditions.

cockswain's avatar

I’m with @YoBob. Obviously we want to cure/prevent any diseases or illnesses. Many of those can only be tackled at the genetic level. So yes, I’m all for that. Altering and tweaking genes for “improvement” (strength, intelligence, better vision, athleticism), I’m for in theory. but that’s where I’d like to examine each on a case-by-case sort of basis. It’s a really broad subject. But in general I’m pro genetic engineering.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@MilkyWay Who would make the decision of where it starts and stops?

There are people that believe homosexuality is a defect. There are people that think that genius in the form of Asperger’s Syndrome is a defect.

MilkyWay's avatar

@SpatzieLover People who have studied genetics and know what they are doing. Doctors who know what is a disease and what is not. Homosexuality is believed to be a defect, but there are many more things out there such as cancer, albinoism etc that we know for a fact are defects.

YoBob's avatar

@JLeslie makes an interesting distinction about the difference between changing genetic material and being able to select embryos with a preferred genetic makeup. However, the problem of defining what is a genetic defect and what is personal preference can become somewhat blurry.

YoBob's avatar

As a related side note, I had the pleasure of having some friends over this weekend. Among the guests was the family of a sibling of my neighbor who was visiting for the weekend. As they live across the country I rarely see them. They happen to have a daughter who was born with Down’s syndrome.

This girl, now around 7(ish) was, in spite of her genetic condition, quite self assured, very articulate, and a complete pleasure to be around. I am unsure if this is due an extraordinary job of working with this child on the part of her parents, if her syndrome is not as acute as most in spite of the outward obvious physical symptoms, or some combination of both. However, she was in most ways that count as advanced if not more than most I have known in her age group. To have “corrected” her in vitro would, IMHO, have resulted in a net loss to the world. It will be interesting to see how she fares as she grows to adulthood.

JLeslie's avatar

@YoBob I can see it might get blurry, but some are obvious. CF, Down’s Syndrome, huntington’s, we already screen, abort, or don’t transfer those, depending on the situation. As to the girl you met over the weekend, she is probably a high functioning down’s syndrome person. A fairly high percentage of them have digestive disorders and heart abnormalities, need surgeries and specialized care. When I say high percent I do not mean majority, but I think rather often. Children are different because they are dependent just by virtue of being children, but as they become adults, it is more difficult for everyone, the parents are burdened with worrying about them forever usually. That they will be ok when they die, etc. The statistic I have heard is 90% of all down’s syndrome fetuses are aborted. I think that shows a pretty strong consensus that the majority of people prefer not to bring them into the world, even the pro-life group a lot of the time. The argument that nature or God created them (I am not assuming you are saying that) is moot, because we save the ones who would die after birth with surgery.

With all that, diseases like CF really trouble me. The children suffer so, and have much shorter life spans, although I know medicine is improving treatments. This disease would naturally occur much less often if there was no medical intervention, they would never make it to reproductive age. So, we interfere with genetics already, by allowing these “negative” traits to make it to the next generation.

cockswain's avatar

This disease would naturally occur much less often if there was no medical intervention, they would never make it to reproductive age. So, we interfere with genetics already, by allowing these “negative” traits to make it to the next generation

Well that is a very interesting point. Our advances in medical technology have allowed genes that would have been unfit 100 years ago to remain in the pool, even increasing at a greater rate than ever. Genetic screening/manipulation can allow us to control evolution to remove them again. Interesting to think about indeed.

I’m always glad to follow the genetic questions. As long as I’ve been thinking about this stuff, I almost always see a new idea on these threads.

YoBob's avatar

@JLeslie I think we are very much on the same page when it comes to preventing/correcting those that are obvious life threatening conditions. As you point out, we meddle in the “order of nature” after birth so what’s the big deal in nipping those conditions in the bud. I’m all for it.

All I am saying is that drawing the line between defect and preference is deceptively hard. For example, somebody pointed out homosexuality. If we accept the idea that sexual preference is innate (which, BTW, I believe it is), there are those who would argue that because this condition only manifests itself in a small minority of the population it should be considered a genetic defect and would argue that screening for and correcting this condition in vitro is appropriate.

While I am certainly not making the argument that we shouldn’t use our big brains to heal those with abnormalities because God/nature made them that way, meeting and talking with that remarkable young lady this weekend does give me pause when exploring this topic.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain Well, I take that as a real compliment coming from you. :)

JLeslie's avatar

@YoBob I agree. These sorts of ethical questions are very difficult. Not to mention that government and regulation usually lags way behind science. I guess we can argue it should be up to the parents. However, not everything is left up to the parents now (I am talking USA only, I don’t know laws and regs in other countries).

YARNLADY's avatar

I have no objection, provided it is done properly.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Ideally, I have no issue with this. But I don’t trust humans to execute this in a just fashion.

cockswain's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Agreed. There will be some people who will do good with the technology, and those who will use it for ethically questionable or outright unethical personal gain. Like any powerful technology.

AstroChuck's avatar

Absolutely! Just think of all the crazy freaks we could create!

leopardgecko123's avatar

Nope, not at all. God made us the way we are and I think we should keep it that way. It’s like my opinion on products that have to do with man made chemicals and, you know, that stuff. I think we should use natural things, the things God gave us, instead.

Schroedes13's avatar

Even though I am for it, I still believe that there will be individuals and groups that use it for the wrong purposes and distort it.

King_Pariah's avatar

I have no objections to it, just don’t let Russia get their hands on their tech as seen with Putin already setting up baby making camps to rebuild their military to WW2 size to establish military dominance.

Plucky's avatar

No. I believe human beings are not intellectually ready for the responsiblities and consequences that will arise from it.

cockswain's avatar

But consider that these new humans will be so much smarter.

incendiary_dan's avatar

No. Genetic engineering has already turned out to be a horrible idea that’s only made corporations money, allowed them to consolidate wealth, cause mass sickness and damage, strings of suicides in several countries, increased soil loss and desertification…the list goes on. I don’t think it’s reasonably intelligent to trust that the scientists studying genetics know enough to tamper with them. Even after the Human Genome project geneticists are continually surprised. Corporate geneticists thought they could simply swap in genes from one species to another, and found that you can never predict what will happen when you do so. Not to mention that genetic manipulation on the cellular level requires the use of dangerous viruses through dangerous means.

Enough of this hubris. The species on this planet have evolved for a long damn time to fit in our niches comfortably. You want to stop genetic diseases? Stop filling the environment with carcinogens, teratogens, and mutagens.

linguaphile's avatar

Tell me, what is the difference between genetic modification, before birth, or genocide, after birth? It’s supposed to be better and acceptable because the “unwanted” weren’t allowed to reach existence?

Hitler didn’t start with the Jews. He started with disabled babies.

Doctors were instructed to take the disabled babies, kill them, then tell the parents the babies were stillborn. Then he went after the Romas, the nasty, dirty gypsies that nobody liked anyway… You know the rest.

Who was it that said “History repeats itself?” Except this time I think Hitler’s dream just might come true.

LostInParadise's avatar

On this topic, I very much like the article by Michael Sandel, The Case Against Perfection He talks about how tinkering with humans changes our perception of humanity.

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile The difference is there is not a living being already. I mentioned above already in the US 90% of downs syndrome babies are aborted. And, it happens late. It used to be in the late 5th or 6th month, now the diagnoses can be done sooner, not sure how soon, maybe 4th month of pregnancy? Also, I am pretty sure many with down syndrome are infertile, or very very low sperm count, not sure about the women, so nature takes care of that line not continuing. Although, your point does not fall on deaf ears, it is understood we would have to be careful not to be using the technology to create a race of people with all similar traits. But, we are not talking about blue eyes and blond hair here, although probably some people would want that if they could get it. Some redheads are worried the trait will dissappear in the next 40 years.

@cockswain Would it have to be done at the embyonic stage? The genetic engineering?

MilkyWay's avatar

Some very interesting and valid points made. Thank you everyone for answering, it was much appreciated :)

cockswain's avatar

@JLeslie I would guess it would need to be done to either the sperm or egg.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain Oh, the sperm or the egg. Wow, that makes it even easier that I thought if the trouble is on the paternal side.

JLeslie's avatar

Well, no, actually if they are just doctoring up a few sperm, then still we are fertilizing the eggo utside of the woman I guess. So still the same problem of having to retrieve eggs for ICSI.

cockswain's avatar

You know, I’m not an expert in the state of the art. From what I know, one should be able to manipulate either the sperm or egg and fertilize by whatever available means one chooses. But I would guess that fertilizing the egg outside the woman would be easier and more certain to succeed.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain When they do Artficial Insemination they still want the sperm count to be high, like having sex, although the number can be lower and there is a better chance of success with AI. Still, bunches of sperms let loose hunting for the egg(s). With IVF they can take one sperm and put it in an egg.

cockswain's avatar

Right. And you’d want that one sperm to be the one upon which you’ve done all your various manipulation.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain That’s the thing. Fertility treatments suck from the girls chair. Lots of hormones taken, ultrasounds over and over, a very painful egg retrieval or drugged up egg retrieval where they stick a needle through the vaginal wall into the ovary. The man goes into a room looks at dirty magazines and jacks off. Very fucking annoying.

cockswain's avatar

(ahem) Yes, I see. Well, I believe you’ve certainly hit on one of the current limitations of the technology.

linguaphile's avatar

If the goal is eradication of undesirables, then it’s justifiable to do that before they exist?

That is a seriously scary thought. How much have the ‘different and unique’ people contributed positively to our history?

I know it’s a slippery slope, but if Down’s babies become undesirable, then spina bifida, then….... when does it stop? My opinion is- eugenics is eugenics. The only difference is today, we can mask the horror of eugenics by making sure the babies don’t exist.

Maybe Neimoeller’s quote needs to be rewritten.

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile I competely disagree. Not all eugenics is the same in my opinion. When the government starts saying all children must be genetically altered, then I would be on your side. But, a parent who wants to make sure their child does not have CF? Tay Sachs, Sickle Cell, Huntington’s? What parent would not want to prevent that? However, what I will admit to is I worry the engineering would have side effects or consequences we have not yet forseen. I don’t mean from the standpoint of evolution and natural selection and random mutations, I mean if we started doing it today, we don’t know years down the road what might happen to the person.

linguaphile's avatar

I understand and do respect that reasoning, and know parents want to make sure their children don’t suffer from the diseases you listed. I agree that is a horrible thing for children and parents to go through, really. I can’t say what I would do if I was in their shoes, honestly, and have empathy there.
But, I have very little faith in corporates and the powers that be, and sadly, little faith in people thinking things through before jumping on bandwagons. I know that once people become comfortable with one thing, the next is introduced, then the next, and if there’s money to be made off it, and if it can be marketed with fear and social pressures, the corporates will capitalize on it.
That’s what I’m seeing—and in my line of work, I know of many organizations and companies that already are starting to go after conditions that are not traumatic, but contribute to the colorful diversity of what humans are. There is extensive research to identify the genes for everything- dwarfism, blindness, deafness, homosexuality, depression ADHD, bipoloar disorders… you name it. What will they do with that information later?

I know parents don’t want their children to suffer- I get that- but I have gotten the “perfect person’s” point of view for 35 years, usually in an appalled tone: “Of course, why wouldn’t they want to be normal and have all their faculties?” Those people completely fail to understand that what they see as “defects” often contribute richly to someone’s life and makes life a lot more interesting and more varied. I worry about losing that breadth of the human experience in the long run.

And… how many of our richest world contributors had mental illnesses, depression, addictions, dyslexia, blindness… Many of them said themselves that their contributions were deepened and enriched by their “defects.” There IS research going on right now to eradicate all that through genetic modification.

Now, if the government gets into it, I’ll call you up :)

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile I would worry about some of the same things, as did people above. Where I draw my line is probably in a different place than yours, but I worry about things going too far also. We have seen how in China many more boys were born or kept, because families decided it is more desirable. Being a girl is not even a defect.

As far as the powers of marketing, that would worry me too. Merck might try to convince the public your baby should have the IQ boost. I actually would rather the research be for the people, which would mean government, rather than the private sector being able to own genetic codes, which they can now, and the take financial advantage of it. People with no insurance, or insurance that doesn’t cover it, and don’t have much money to spare can’t get breast cancer gene testing because the company that has the patent on thst sequence charges a fortune for the testing. No competition.

I don’t think it would ever get to the point that all babies are altered. It does seem like a woman would have to go through removing eggs, I just don’t see everyone doing it.

linguaphile's avatar

@JLeslie I just learned something today… the Human Genome Project data isn’t available to corporates and pharmaceutical giants, but they are fighting venomously to get access. Interesting… Maybe we should be contacting the HGP and asking them to keep it up- don’t sell out.

JLeslie's avatar

@linguaphile I wonder their thinking behind it? If they are worried about the ethics, or maybe it was a requirement to receive government funds? Just guessing, I have no idea.

cockswain's avatar

My understanding is this is public information. I don’t know what would stop corporations from seeing the genome data. See here.

JLeslie's avatar

@cockswain That’s good. Maybe I don’t really understand the technical differences to owning the specific sequences? This question comes to mind.

cockswain's avatar

I don’t know the law about this, even though I’ve heard bits and pieces here and there over the years. If a company discovers a gene that is the cause of a disease, I don’t know if that gives them exclusive licensing rights for any company that wishes to develop a drug targeting that gene.

For some clear cut abuses of genetic engineering and patenting, check out the wiki page on Monsanto.

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