On Why Genetic Engineering is Bad

February 24, 2008 by  

EDITORIAL: Look to the Zombie Movies!
by Asia Dorsey
Asia-web.jpg     Genetic engineering: the vision of the 21st Century. I can see how any forward thinking individual could view this as the new wave of the future, but I urge precaution and patience and debate before we move so quickly on a whim and find ourselves unable to navigate our way back to what we wish could be a “simpler time.”

    My position is: yes, genetic engineering has the potential to create wonders, but time and discretion are needed before public passion takes the reins of an animal over which it has no control. The general public should be warned and wary of a future where children are designed piece by piece like machines and packaged to order. Lawmakers should enact legislation that seeks to remedy the passions of overzealous scientists who wish to push the ethical envelope, and the scientists themselves should work at predicting the “unforeseen” consequences of tampering with nature.

    Giving parents the means of hand-picking the characteristics of their offspring could eventually lead to a ‘superior’ breed of children, not based on races or ethnicity, but on their socioeconomic status. It is the upper class that would have the economic means to access such technologies, not the common, everyday couple. Not only would the children with greater wealth have better education, health-care, and other advantages that currently come with money, they could be modified to be healthier, smarter, and better looking than your natural unmodified child.

For those who would call this an extreme case scenario, consider this: rich parents are, right now, able to go to other countries and choose the sex of their child. Right now it’s just the gender, so what could that hurt? Well, as small genetic modifications become more and more commonplace, procedures that yesterday would have seemed extreme become  gradually more socially acceptable. And when they are, what’s to stop parents from then choosing the height, eye color, and hearing ability of their child?

    Lawmakers need to enact laws that regulate, define, and defend ethical genetic engineering.  How do you define what is, and what isn’t ethical? Genetic engineering can be used to cure all types of ailments, but who’s to say being too short isn’t a legitimate ailment? Lawmakers need to create guidelines for what can and what cannot be genetically altered, and for what purposes. For instance, on May 1st, 2003 a deaf couple decided they wanted to have a deaf child who would share the same experience they went through. By choosing donors with that genetic trait, they managed to effectively have a deaf child. Do you see this as ethical? They did. Lawmakers need to put procedures such as this under strict scrutiny.

    I understand the need for science to be able make advances; however, there are limits. Society says it doesn’t want human cloning. However, society allowed scientists to clone cells, then tadpoles, then a succession of animals that eventually led to mammals. Dolly, a sheep, was the  first mammal to be cloned in 1997, and a few years later they were cloning pigs to use their organs in human bodies. As scientists push the limitations of their technology and of what is socially acceptable, the question posed is, when it will stop?  How far before they go too far? It is the lawmakers who have the final say so, and I believe they should define what the ethical lines are, and punish those who cross them.

    Lastly, this is what I call the "zombie movie effect". Of all the zombie movies I have seen, I have come to the conclusion that is never about the zombie or the gore. Zombie movies are a testament to human frailties.  It is almost formulaic. Some scientist somewhere creates a vaccine or medicine, in essence by “playing God,” by tampering with genetics. Something then goes wrong, it is released without proper testing, and days or years later there is an epidemic. Soon few people survive to tell the story and, in some ways, if the movie happens to have a good ending, the human race starts all over.

    The moral is, mess with things you have no business in, and you will be punished. I admit, this is very drastic, but a legitimate comparison all the same. My point is, we cannot predict the unforeseen consequences of our actions, no matter our initial intent.  In I Am Legend it was curing cancer, in Resident Evil, it was a military experiment, in our reality it is feeding starving nations. How do we know creating plants that reach maturity in half the normal time are, in the long run, safe to ingest? How do we know that hybrid plants, such as the corn being tested at Iowa State University right now won’t produce new allergies? Also, I know it might seem benevolent of Americans to send aid in the form of genetically modified crops to impoverished countries, but consider this: how many of you would buy a loaf of bread labeled “now made with genetically modified oats!?” Is it really so unselfish to give food that is not good enough for our own consumption to others as charity? Right now, many Americans are enraged at the prospect of cloned meat being sold in the market, and going unlabeled as such. Yet, it is perfectly fine for other people to eat it as long as it’s not our families.

I have tabulated the results, and this is my conclusion. Unabridged genetic engineering will result in the decline of human civilization. And yes, I mean it. This is the biggest threat to our future right now. To avoid this,   the general public should be warned and wary of designer children, lawmakers should enact legislation that checks the passions of overzealous scientists, and society should seek to find out the social and economic ramifications of playing God.