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The Morals and Ethics of CRISPR

2083 words (8 pages) Essay in Sciences

08/02/20 Sciences Reference this

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Introduction

You have the perfect child; as perfect as your mind can imagine. Perhaps a little girl, who’s barely over the age of eight, but her teeth are already straight and perfectly white. She’s incredibly smart; receiving nothing but perfect test scores. And let’s not forget how perfectly mature she is, already holding a conversation of that of an adult. She’s obedient and well mannered, with utmost perfect posture. She’s athletic; perfect at everything she sets her mind to. And of course perfectly beautiful, she’s one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen– no imperfections, thick locks of hair that fall over her shoulders, soft skin–! All perfectly healthy (as of now). Your perfect, perfect, perfect child.

Though, she’s also perfectly average; just like everyone else’s perfect child. On that matter, is she even really your child? Surely she is, why wouldn’t she be? She was only genetically engineered to be everything you wanted—The perfect child.

Genetically engineered children may sound like a far away and fictional reality, but with today’s CRISPR technology; they may be closer than we realize.

Background

CRISPR: or fully known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats-Cas9, as put simply by Aparna Vidyasagar, a Live Science Contributor (2018); works with the protein Cas9 which is an “enzyme that acts like a pair of molecular scissors, capable of cutting strands of DNA” (Vidyasagar). As Broad Institute states, the point of CRISPR is to be able to accurately and precisely “target specific stretches of genetic code and to edit DNA at precise locations” (2018). CRISPR was first discovered in archaea, and were to serve as “part of the bacterial immune system, defending against invading viruses” (Broad Institute, 2018). As Broad Institute also states, the point of CRISPR essentially is to “allow scientists to quickly create cell and animal models, which researchers can use to accelerate research into diseases such as cancer and mental illness” (2018).

With technology like this, genes can become permanently modified and diseases can be eradicated. As of now, it has been used to remove a gene in embryos that in known to cause hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, slowing of cancerous cells, and other disease related breakthroughs. However, it has been tested in human embryos, which begs the question of morality and ethics.

As we continue to grow and grow everyday with booming technology, it’s only natural that we want to improve human genetics. To be rid of diseases and shortcomings, to be the perfect being and society– isn’t that what we want? This is a recurring topic that needs to address the morality of unnaturally editing humans. What boundaries do we stop at?

Problem

 Diseases eradicated? Mutations erased? The gene editing technology may sound like a scientific miracle, and to a degree it is. However, the problem is that once we fix health imperfections, who is to stop us from fixing and editing our children to be what we want, rather than what they should be. What needs to be established when working with such sensitive technology are boundaries and the ones that cannot be crossed in gene editing as a society. We must ask ourselves; ‘at what point are we organic or artificial’? If this problem isn’t addressed, we may fall further and further down this slippery slope and into a world that revolves around humans who may not even be defined as humans anymore. Not to mention the huge ethical concerns such as editing of human embryos, designer babies, and as Ethics and Bioethics lecturers Anthony Wrigley and Ainsley Newson point out; the permanent mistakes or side effects that may occur with the new technology (2015).

So we’re not only looking at the morality behind gene editing, but its effects on natural evolution. This has great social significance because it not only affects American society, but the entire human population.

Solution

No matter what regulations and laws may rise in the presence of gene editing, there will be those who ignore these rules and continue offering gene alterations to future parents. It’s understandable to want to have a healthy child with ideal traits, but this brings rise to many debates of designer vs natural babies and the unknown risks behind CRISPR. While I believe it’s important to explore new technology that can benefit the human race, we must understand the dangers. Through the solution I offer; which would be to educate students and young parents on gene editing as you cannot stop technology. Education in schools should incorporate the ideas of biotechnology and its affects on a growing society. It would also be important to keep CRISPR in check, and as it continues to develop; to possibly amend the regulations. If there were perhaps to do incremental check ins on the technology and Science institutions to ensure that the technology and experimentation will not go out of hand.

Put simply, to educate society about not only the pros of CRISPR, but also the many negative consequences that may and will arise; as well as to maintain regulations and gene editing research. While we cannot stop this growing technology, we can take preemptive measures and reduce the amount of risk of human gene editing. 

Counterarguments

 I understand that gene editing and the technology surrounding the applications has an incredible amount of potential. As Genetics Home Reference from U.S. National Library of Medicine (2018) states, when used correctly without any ill intentions, “could spare future generations in a family from having a particular genetic disorder”. (Genetics Home Reference). There are plenty of reasons to want to have perfect children: we want the best for them, which brings up the question—Do we have a responsibility to fix mutations in our future children and generations when it comes to editing human genes? Or can we sit back and just let nature take over? These are often questions of those who favor the use of CRISPR. Jacobsen, the author of “Designer Genes” from magazine Mother Jones, provides a simple and short analogy to the issue that may be helpful in understanding why one would favor gene editing. He writes, “If I see a child about to get hit by a car, passivity is not an option” (46). While the two subjects may not be related; the idea of responsibility comes into play regardless. We have the technology to remove and fix diseases, so we shouldn’t ignore this opportunity, right? Well, that’s the thing. While yes, I agree that we should do what we can to fix genetic defects, we as a society must restrain ourselves because once we cross that line–we can never go back. If we fix disease, then we’ll want to fix attractiveness, athleticism, intelligence–not to mention if everyone is healthy and perfect then there’s an element of overpopulation and the consequences of a disheveled evolution.

Previous Attempts

 While CRISPR is still a new technology, there have already been multiple calls for regulations and even the banning of editing human DNA. Amy Gutmann and Jonathan Moreno from the University of Pennsylvania (2018) for example, believe that regulations currently can be fixed to only accommodate that of gene editing for diseases, and only diseases (Gutmann & Moreno 2018). On the other hand, a UNESCO panel of scientists (2018) would rather have a ban on gene editing, as it “[jeopardizes] the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics” (Amelan, UNESCO).

Conclusion

Does CRISPR provide an immense amount of potential to remove health defects from humans? Yes, but it also brings an immense amount of ethical concerns. Genetics Home Reference once again ask questions we should all consider when it comes to playing God:

Who decides which traits are normal and which constitute a disability or disorder?
Will the high costs of gene therapy make it available only to the wealthy?
Could the widespread use of gene therapy make society less accepting of people who are different?
Should people be allowed to use gene therapy to enhance basic human traits such as height, intelligence, or athletic ability? (U.S. Library of Medicine)

Again, CRISPR is still a new and developing technology, and has yet to reach its full potential. Despite this, it has already made a significant impact on genome research and biomedical research, creating incredible possibilities when it comes to human health. We can all expect in the future that CRISPR can “reduce the global burden of incurable diseases such as genetic disorders, cancer or HIV/AIDS, and potentially benefiting millions of people worldwide” (Kang & Caparas & Soh & Fan 2017). Though, as CRISPR continues to grow, regulations must stay updated in order to keep it safe and efficient. Kang, Caparas, Soh and Fan remind us of the remaining concern: “the risk of improper use, raising ethical concerns that stir up doubt within the society” (2017). The policy decisions from other countries will be accounted for, which will affect the specific ways in which CRISPR/Cas9 will be used.

Hopefully we as a society can begin to prepare for these new technological advancements and pick the right choice for our future children.

References

  • “CRISPR Regulation.” GenomeWeb, 17 Apr. 2018, www.genomeweb.com/scan/crispr-regulation#.W_Jk4-hKhPY.
  • Jacobsen, R. Designer Genes. Mother Jones, set. 2017. v. 42, n. 5, p. 44–48. Disponível em:                                                                                                                                                                                                              <http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=124455997&site=ehost-live>. Acesso em: 23 out. 2018.
  • Kang, X., et al. “Addressing Challenges in the Clinical Applications Associated with CRISPR/Cas9 Technology and Ethical Questions to Prevent Its Misuse.” US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, 8 Nov. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5676596/.
  • “Questions and Answers about CRISPR.” Broad Institute, 4 Aug. 2018, www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/questions-and-answers-about-crispr.
  • “UNESCO Panel of Experts Calls for Ban on ‘Editing’ of Human DNA to Avoid Unethical Tampering with Hereditary Traits.” UNESCO, 22 Mar. 2016, en.unesco.org/news/unesco-panel-experts-calls-ban-editing-human-dna-avoid-unethical-tampering-hereditary-traits.
  • Vidyasagar, A. “What Is CRISPR?” LiveScience, Purch, 20 Apr. 2018                           www.livescience.com/58790-crispr-explained.html.
  • “What Are the Ethical Issues Surrounding Gene Therapy? – Genetics Home Reference – NIH.”  U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/therapy/ethics.
  • Wrigley, A., and Ainsley N. “Genome Editing Poses Ethical Problems That We Cannot Ignore.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 15 Oct. 2018, theconversation.com/genome-editing-poses-ethical-problems-that-we-cannot-ignore-39466.
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