Literature Review: Acceptability of Genetic Engineering

The rapid development of biological science in the twentieth century has opened entirely new opportunities to humankind; one of them is the ability to change or modify the cellular structure of living organisms: plants, animals and human beings. Yet, it has also given rise to many ethical questions which are closely examined by scholars and representatives of mass media. One of the most common claims is that such experiments are entirely impermissible because they constitute an intrusion or even violation of the natures laws, which can eventually lead to irreversible calamity (Gert, 28). The opponents argue that the effects of genetic modification are yet unknown to us. Moreover, they point out that potential risks clearly overweigh imaginary benefits (Gert, 30). Therefore, modern scientists should think twice before trying to “improve” human beings or wildlife.

Undoubtedly, this argument is rather convincing because present-day scholars are hardly aware of all hypothetical consequences of changing the genes of living creatures. However, there is a different view on this question; for instance, Michael Reiss and Roger Straughan maintain that the path to a scientific discovery is always arduous and associated with risks (Reiss & Straughan, 57). In fact, science would have never made any achievements without taking risks. Hence, the most crucial task is to eliminate or minimize them. The authors urge us to look at this issue from this particular angle, saying that a great number of moral controversies can be solved in this way.

This opinion is not shared by everyone, for instance, in his magazine article John Tierney compares genetic engineering to “playing God” (Tierney, unpaged). In this regard, the journalist mentions the study of stem cells, which requires the use of embryos. Despite its hypothetical benefits, it clearly deprives the unborn child of his or her basic right, the freedom of choice. Naturally, the journalist acknowledges the possible dangers but he also says that if such experiments provide cure to a disease like Parkinsons or some others, the patients will not be stopped by moral or legal restrictions (Tierney, unpaged). This standpoint is also quite understandable because under such circumstances almost every individual would think mostly about his or her wellbeing rather than ethical considerations. This partially indicates that in its essence genetic engineering will always find support among the members of the public. Most importantly, the state will not be able to pose any counter-arguments, except prohibition and compulsion. This is why it is crucial to adopt flexible legislation, which should regulate these experiments (Tierney, unpaged).

On the whole, it is rather difficult to reconcile the opposing views as the arguments advanced by each side are rather compelling. The supporters of genetic engineering hope that it can alleviate many problems of the modern community, for instance, hereditary diseases or famine (Reiss & Straughan p 124). The scholars emphasize the belief that scientific progress should not be hindered by legal restrictions. The thing is that in itself, knowledge must not be regarded as a threat to mankind because as it is just a tool that can be used either effectively or ineffectively, justly or unjustly.

Apart from that, there are some situations when genetic intervention is the only way to save a persons life but it is strictly prohibited in many countries. In the book Improving nature?: the science and ethics of genetic engineering Michael Reiss and Ronald Straughan strive to prove that genetic modification is just another step in the development of modern biological science. But, it should be borne in mind that this knowledge can get into the hands of unworthy people, who can utilize it only for commercial or evil purposes.

Overall, it is quite possible for us to say that the study of heredity has always been a subject of heated debate. Undoubtedly, a great number of illnesses are frequently caused by innate deficiencies and sometimes they can be rectified only at the prenatal stage. Some medical workers and healthcare professionals are concerned with the risk that this type of intervention will only worsen the state of the fetus and result in unforeseen complications after the birth (Green, p 1092).

Additionally, some of them set stress on the idea that such experiments can drastically change not only physiology of the individual but his mental and moral qualities as well (Habermas as cited in Courtois p 442). But this opinion is frequently rejected because personality is a social construct that is not passed from generation to generation (Courtois, 445). It is shaped by the agents of socialization such as family, school, peers, or mass media. In the vast majority of cases, it has nothing to do with heredity.

At the present moment, scholars and representatives of mass media are not unanimous in their attitude towards genetic engineering. Clearly, many questions remain unanswered such as the aftermaths of genetic experiments and the impact on the individual and society. Hence, there emerges a necessity to find a plausible solution to this dispute. The risks and benefits of genetic engineering must be objectively evaluated so that the modern community could have a better understanding of this problem.

Works Cited

Courtois S. “Genetic Engineering, Moral Autonomy and Equal Treatment”. The Monist (89), issue 4, pp 442 – 450, 2006.

Gert B. “GENETIC ENGINEERING: Is It Morally Acceptable?” USA Today. (127), 2644, 1999.

Green R. M. Genetic medicine and the conflict of moral principles. Families, Systems, & Health (17), p 1091, 1999.

Reiss M. J. Straughan R. Improving nature?: the science and ethics of genetic engineering. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Tierney. J. “Are Scientists Playing God? It Depends on Your Religion” New York Times, 2007, Web.

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