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Ethical Issues On Germline Gene Therapy Health Essay

Throughout this report, the idea of the scientific research which is carried out by the scientists - germline gene therapy is clearly presented. This report actually focuses on the negative effects of germline gene therapy to human beings for now and in the future and it should be banned. Germline gene therapy is actually unethical to be carried out since embryos and gametes which will become life are experimented and may encounter death at any moment. It is also very immoral for the gametes donors to sell their gametes as property. Since God is the one who determine our characteristics, it is immoral to actually change the faith by choosing the desired appearance of the babies. It is also claimed that germline gene therapy will cause financial problems to the community. Germline gene therapy will only burden the people as they are not able to pay the huge expenses of the entire treatment. The gap between the poor and the rich will also be bigger as the poor pay the money while the rich earn money. It will not improve humans’ abilities to do work but causes them to suffer from the debt. There are many people who claim that germline gene therapy have the potential to cure diseases. However, it carries risks to humans. It will only lead to the creation of new diseases which are harder to be controlled. The human gene pool also weakens as people are having the same type of DNA sequences. Therefore, germline gene therapy should be banned as the negative effects overweight the positive effects.

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Introduction

“We believe that germline manipulations, for their abilities to change whole generation, not just individuals, go far beyond the boundaries of human scientific and ethical understanding and too dangerous for human civilization to pursue.” – Robert Musil

(The Ethnics of Genetic Engineering, 2005, p.41)

It is no doubt that nowadays humans are threaten by various kind of life-threatening inherited diseases, there have been an increasing number of people who become the victims of such diseases like Duchenne muscular dystrophy, haemophilia, colour blindness and Down syndrome ( Silverman, 2010). According to Matthews, there are more or less three to four percent out of four millions babies who are born with genetic diseases and this condition is getting worse (2008). As a result, most of the victims of inherited diseases suffer and some of them may even face death. b

In order to prevent this situation from getting worse, germline gene therapy is introduced. Germline gene therapy is a scientific process which involves the changing of genetic materials in gametes before and after the fertilization (Rothchild, Martin & Lubrano, (n.d.)). This enables the scientists to carry out researches to cure these diseases and also allows the parents to choose their offspring’s characteristics such as gender, hair colours, eyes colours and more. Vargo states that in 1990, germline gene therapy is introduced in United States of America which they perform the techniques of germline gene therapy on a four-year-old girl, named Ashanti DeSilva who is born with inherited diseases and since then, this scientific therapy is spread all around the world (2000). However, there are many people who claim that germline gene therapy is actually immoral as they tested on the embryo which can eventually ecome a life. (Mange, 1980, p.565)

Although the research on germline gene therapy have shown that it can actually improve the human’s life by cutting down the percentage of having inherited diseases on an embryo, there are still people who ask the question that should germline gene therapy be banned?

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If we take a closer look on this matter, we can see that germline gene therapy should be banned as it causes risks to human, the cost of the germline research is expensive and it is actually immoral since gametes and pre-embryos are used in experiment.

Throughout this report, evidences that prove germline gene therapy should be banned will be shown. These research outcomes are narrowed down to the United States of America since this country is the country which introduced germline gene therapy first and the experiments are mostly carried out by the scientists in America compared to the rest of the countries in this world.

Figure 1.0.1: Ashanti Desilva who had undergone germline gene therapy when she was four years old

Figure 1.0.2: Ashanti Desilva who had undergone germline gene therapy successfully and grew up as a teenager

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Ethical issues on germline gene therapy

Recently, many debates about the ethical problems of germline gene therapy have been carried out and this issue eventually becomes one of the burning issues that gains concern from the society. There are many people who think that germline gene therapy should be banned as it is immoral. Rothchild , Martin and Lubrano state that germline gene therapy is a scientific therapy which changes the genetic information of an individual by substituting another gene to a sperm or ovum before fertilization takes place or to a pre-embryo (n.d.). The scientists are dealing with all the gametes and pre-embryos but they cannot guarantee that the outcomes are always positive and success. The gametes or pre-embryos may encounter death if the alteration of genes happens to be incorrect. Is it if germline gene therapy have a potential to find cures for diseases, everything will be legal and correct including the murdering of pre-embryos which eventually can become a human? Is it right to murder a life just to carry out the research which the results are uncertain?

“Those who believe the early embryo to be the bearer of considerable intrinsic moral worth or even that it is "like" a human person in a morally-relevant sense will conclude that embryo experimentation is to be rejected and germ-line therapy as well.”

(Mauron, (n.d))

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2.1 Pre-embryos and gametes encounter death

Germline gene therapy involves the changing of genes on gametes before fertilization and on pre-embryos. Before germline gene therapy can be carried out, the embryos and gametes are analysed. After that, the genes for a particular character are removed from the cells by electrophoresis. During this process, the DNA in the cells is cut out and the unwanted genes will be taken out. This DNA is then inserted with other genes (Henry, (n.d.)). However, there is no one can guarantee that the alteration of genes will be success as it is associated by risk that the early embryos or gametes may die because they may not accept the altered genes since the DNA structure is changed and mutation may occur.

According to Sade and Khushf, those scientists who are carrying out the research on germline gene therapy often obtain embryos from the donors and destroy them when research which dealing with genes is carried out and there are also some people who think that it is not a problem to destruct a pre-embryo (1998, p.4). Besides that, there are also many cases at which germline gene therapy causes death but these accidents are covered and are not exposed to the society. (Satchidanandam, 2009)

Since germline gene therapy cannot promise a positive result from the research, the pre-embryo may die due to mutation of genes as there is always a probability of failure. This is very immoral as they are not giving any chances to reach this world and they do not have to rights to choose.

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Diagram 2.1.1: The process of germline gene therapy which involved many raw materials and scientific techniques

FIgure 2.1.3: Embryonic cells which are also used in germline gene therapy

Figure 2.1.2: Gametes, Sperm cells and ova which are used in germline gene therapy

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2.2 Paying gametes donors to get gametes for research purpose is unethical

It is a common knowledge that germline gene therapy also involves gametes before fertilization occurs. Gametes are ova or sperms. To get these gametes for research purposes, the scientists buy the gametes from gametes donors. With the presence of gametes only the research can be carried out by altering the genes in the gamete cells. After changing the genes in the gametes, the gametes are allowed to undergo fertilization and the result is observed.

As stated in The President’s council on Bioethics, the government pays approximately $60 to $70 to the sperm donors in 2000 (2004, p.1). Today, there are still many people who donate gametes. One of the major reasons they donate gametes is due to the financial problems faced by them. (Steinbock, 2004, p.258) Once the donors accept the money, they are actually selling the gametes.

All these are against religious beliefs as gametes are something given by God so that next generation can be produced but not to earn money. Reproductive cells are vehicles to reproduce so we must appreciate but not to take them as property to sell. If germline gene therapy is not banned, more and more people who are facing financial problems will misuse their gametes to earn money which is immoral.

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Parents are allowed to choose for their babies

Germline gene therapy also enables the parents to select the gender and the characteristics of their babies such as hair colours, eyes colours and so on. As germline gene therapy changes the genes of babies by substituting the genes of chromosomes, the gender selection can be made by changing the genes in X or Y chromosomes. The alleles for hair colours or eyes colours can also be changed using this method.

According to Andreas in New Straits Times, God is the only one who can determine the gender and characteristics of offspring (2006). All religions believe that God is the creator of every living thing in the world with variation. If we are able to choose the characteristics of babies, there will be no more variation and it is just like we are not following the God’s wish. In other words, we are ‘playing God” (Bose, (n.d)) .

God gives us everything and we should appreciate with what God gives us and accept it but not to change it by ourselves. Therefore, it is immoral and unethical to carry out germline gene therapy because it allows people to choose for their offspring which is against the fact that God creates everything in the world.

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Financial issue of germline gene therapy

The cost for germline gene therapy to be carried out is not the new issue which is now being discussed by people on the earth. There are many people who claim that this research is expensive as it uses much money in the entire process. Money is used to obtain gametes for research purpose and to buy new apparatus for the experiment. The process of fertilization through the In-Vitro fertilization is also a hard method and it consumes money and time too. Is it correct to spend a huge amount of money on something which is in uncertainties? It is actually a waste as the money can be used in many other ways.

The procedure of germline gene therapy will probably remain inefficient, expensive, slow, wasteful of embryos and risky.

(Nielsen, 1997, p. 130)

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3.1 Society has to bear the financial burden

It is a common knowledge that before germline gene therapy can be carried out, the researchers have to get gametes so that the entire research can be carried on. The only way to get these gametes is from gametes donors and they have to pay for the gametes. Besides that, the experiment also involves all the advanced apparatus such as stereo-microscope, micro-needles, micro-injection and others (Claczko, 2004). All these use money.

According to Bushelle et al., germline gene therapy is very expensive and it will eventually gain priority from the people since it is cost effective enough (2003). The technique to carry out the research is time consuming and it cost a lot since the apparatus is in high technology and the materials used are hard to get. Besides that, Marden and Nelkin also state that it causes an eleven-year-old boy to pay U.S. $ 150,000 per year to carry out gene therapy so that his height can be increased (2000). Therefore, it is shown that germline gene therapy is actually expensive and it will cause the society to bear the financial burden.

Since germline gene therapy is costly, the people will become the victim of financial problems. As a result, the safety of the society or a country will be affected as there will be more crime conducted by the people to escape from the problems. More and more people will be suffering.

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3.2 Germline gene therapy increases the gap between the poor and the rich

To carry out germline gene therapy, many companies and sponsorship have sponsored on the research. As we know, germline gene therapy enables the people to choose the gender and characteristics of their offspring by deleting out the faulty DNA. Consequently, more and more people will involve themselves in this therapy especially those who may want a baby girl but they keep on getting baby boy. As for the companies and sponsorships, they will earn as much money as they wish. This eventually causes the rich become richer and richer. On the other hand, as for the people in the society, they spend more and more money to carry out the therapy. This causes the gap between the poor and the rich becomes bigger.

Bose illustrates that only the rich people will afford to pay for the germline gene therapy and this will cause the rich become richer and poor become poorer (n.d.). Also, Marden and Nelkin say that the companies in America have earned approximately $ 9.1 billion in biotechnology field in 1997 and they predict that the gene therapy sales will reach $ 3.5 billion in 2005 (2000). Thus, the rich who represent the companies and sponsorships will be richer and richer and the poor representing the consumers in the society will end up becoming poorer.

Since germline therapy will cause imbalance in society status among the people, therefore it should be banned to prevent wealth and social discrimination from happening.

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Germline gene therapy improves humans’ abilities

Despite all the negative effects of germline gene therapy, there are still people who believe that it can improve humans’ ability in daily life as it cancels out the genes which are deflected. This is because when the wrong or deflected genes are taken out, the cells are only left with the good genes and the characteristics or ability level of people will be determined by these genes and thus increases the outcome quality from them.

Nielsen states that germline gene therapy can improve humans’ ability by increasing their intelligence level and characteristics such as physical appearance and gender and this causes 44% of people in America to support germline gene therapy in 1987 (1997). By doing so, the quality of human life will be improved and people can achieve higher and better achievement in all fields such as sciences and astronomy. More things can be discovered and this can bring convenient to us.

However, instead of increasing humans’ intelligence level and characteristics, germline gene therapy will actually cause mental retardation as there are cases where animals encounter disorders (Nielsen, 1997). Therefore it is shown that the therapy always carries risks for humans and it should be banned to prevent more and more people from suffering.

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4.0 Germline gene therapy causes risks in humans’ life

Besides the moral consideration and financial issues, the issue of germline gene therapy will bring risks to human’s life is also pointed out and it gains concern from the society. Many people claim that germline gene therapy will lead to many health risks which will cause death among the people. In the process of germline therapy, scientists change the structure of the genes so that the DNA which will cause disorders can be eliminated from the cells (Henry, n.d). However, there will be cases where mutation occurs because of the alteration of genes is incorrect. Nobody can make sure that the substitution of DNA is always correct without any risks. It is just like gamble which has probability of half for it to be correct for any changes they make.

“The risks of germline gene therapy are magnified since the procedure is irreversible, and mistakes will be propagated to future generations.”

(Nielsen, 1997, p. 127)

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4.1 Germline gene therapy creates new diseases

Germline gene therapy is just like somatic gene therapy which changes the genetic material of a cell. The only difference is that germline gene therapy carries out the experiment on germ cells but for somatic gene therapy, it involves somatic cells except gametes (Bose, n.d.). Germline gene therapy alters the genes in cells. However, the changes made will not be always correct. It may cause gene mutation which will lead to genetic disorders and diseases. According to Green et al., variation happens among the chromosomes due to crossing over between chromatids which changes the genetic information, independent assortment of chromosomes during mitotic division in the cells and also random fertilization of gametes (1997). Even though the wrong gene is substituted with a new gene, mutation may also occur during these processes where fertilization takes place. As a result, a totally new disease which is much harder to control may produce.

Fagan in McGill Law Journal 2000 states that germline gene therapy will disturb the original species with genetic disorders and these disorders will create new genetic diseases and lead to the suffering of humans (2000, p. 470). Even if the diseases are cured, there are still possibilities that there are pathogens or viruses which are immuned to these diseases and eventually develop another disease which cannot be cured and causes death among the people. Dr Nabel in McGill Law Journal also claims that germline gene therapy will bring risks of getting the same disease again life since the risks of the therapy are life-long (2000, p. 471).

Therefore, to prevent more severe diseases or disorders from infecting humans in the future, germline gene therapy should be banned. This is because it will develop more and more dangers to people in this world which the negative impacts of these disorders are still in unknown.

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4.2 Human gene pool is weaken

When DNAs in the form o f genes in chromosomes are changed, new genotype of genes will be formed and the old one will become weaker and weaker and eventually disappear from the genome dictionary in the future. As we know, humans appear many years ago. From the first day that humans exist in this world, the genes also exist. So, with the thousands of years of balanced evolution of genes, human gene pool is formed (Nielsen, 2000, p.127). If the changing of genes is still going on, the only thing that will happen is the human gene pool obtained from the genetic variation will be destroyed.

As stated by Marden and Nelkin, the genes in human gene pool will become imbalance by substituting the wrong gene with a correct one (2000, p. 470). If alteration of genes is allowed, the risk of human gene pool being destroyed and weaken would happen. As germline gene therapy has the potential to cure diseases, the DNA is altered to eliminate the faulty one. If everyone in this world undergo germline gene therapy, their genes are changed and the genotype of everyone will be exactly the same. There will be no more variation between each individual.

Moreover, the future generation will not be able to study about the variation of genes in human and the achievement in science field will be going backwards as they are not exposed to this kind of knowledge. Hence, germline gene therapy should be banned to avoid this disaster from happening to everyone on earth.

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Germline gene therapy cures diseases

Many scientists think that germline gene therapy can improve lives as it can stop the life-threatening diseases from continue develop and harm human (Nielsen, 1997). By carrying out the therapy, the mutated DNA which can cause disorder in human can be taken out and this improves the lives and enables the people to live normally and healthy. However, the research on germline gene therapy does not really give positive results. The saying which says that it can prevent diseases from transmitted genetically is not proved. Yet, there are many negative impacts such as mutation of genes which causes death.

According to Bushelle et al., the only way to prevent genetic diseases may be the germline gene therapy (2003). However, it only carries the probability that it may stop the diseases but not for sure. We cannot assume that it will always succeed. It may or may not prevent diseases from spreading.

Therefore, it is shown that germline gene therapy is not 100 percent can prevent the diseases from continue transmitting but only have potential to do so. It does not really improve the human’s life but causes the people to suffer because of gene mutation as a risk of undergoing germline gene therapy.

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5.0 Conclusion

In conclusion, germline gene therapy affects our life in many ways. It causes risks for humans by disturbing human gene pool and producing new diseases. Besides that, the financial problems of the community will also arise from this gene therapy causes the people’s burden to be heavier especially the poor one. It is also unethical to experiment on human life as they are all creation of God.

People have a thinking of killing humans is wrong as people have their rights to protect themselves. However, no one is going to stand up for the embryos and gametes. They are life. If embryos and gametes are life, then why germline gene therapy should not be banned as embryos and gametes are used?

If germline gene therapy is not banned, more and more people will be suffering not only because of the illness but the financial burdens. As a result the quality of humans’ life is affecting but not improving and our earth will become a place of cruelness. No one is going to care for the other people again and people are all cold-blooded.

Hence, since the disadvantages of germline gene therapy outweigh the advantages of it, germline gene therapy should certainly be banned to prevent disasters from happening.

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6.0 Recommendation

Germline gene therapy can potentially cure genetic disorders. However, no one can guarantee that the outcome will always be positive. Since there are two different points of view from the community regarding germline gene therapy, it is recommended that the process should be improved to minimize the negative impacts on humans.

It can actually cause risks to humans. It may create new diseases which are way out of control as these diseases are immune to the medicines or treatments which are carried out by the scientists. The humans’ gene pool may be weakened since everyone is having the same DNA sequences after the alteration of gene.

Some recommendations are stated below:

Qualify the alteration of genes

Since the altered gene may be the faulty one and can cause the production of new diseases, the quality of method used in substitution of genes should be improved.

Research on the cures for the diseases which are new and can cause harm to humans

New diseases may be formed as a result of new DNA sequences. Cures must be found to prevent these diseases from spreading.

Carry out the treatments only for those who really need

To prevent the failure of germline treatment from haunting the people, treatments should only be done to those who really need such as couples with infertility or parents with genetic disorders.

Germline gene therapy is also immoral. This is because to carry out germline gene therapy, embryos or gametes must be sacrificed. The scarification of embryos and gametes is unethical since they can eventually become life. The selling of gametes from gametes donors is also unethical as they take gametes as a way to earn. Therefore, improvements that can be done by:

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Reduce the use of gametes and embryos

This can be done by reducing the use of gametes and embryos for the research purpose. Steps and decisions should be taken seriously and carefully before taking any action to prevent wastage.

It is also shown that germline gene therapy can cause financial problems. It will cause the financial burden of people to be heavier and the social gap in the society will become bigger. This report recommends that:

Reduce the expenses of research

The funds which are used in germline gene therapy is reduced and used in other fields by choosing cheaper techniques and raw materials.

Reduce the cost of germline treatment for those who need

Those who really need the help of germline gene therapy as they are facing health problems should only spend lesser amount of money on the treatment to reach their dreams.

Demand taxes from companies

Taxes are required from the companies which sell the germline therapy products to support the further research on the treatment.

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