Liberal Eugenics: Medicine or Discrimination?

Abstract

You may wonder how this issue could be relevant to you - would you accept being discriminated against because of your birth? Would you agree to divide the human race through its greatest achievement, science?

Despite the huge war waged on racism in America’s social rights revolution of the 1900s, discrimination could still be a problem in the future. Countries are doing virtually nothing to stop this problem and although there are organisations that have spoken against it, genetic discrimination is a real possibility in the future.



The possibility of geneism taking racism’s place in society is unacceptable. Already, insurance companies are discriminating genetically in their life insurance policies. In a recent survey* published in the British Medical Journal, ‘thirteen per cent of study respondents from subgroups who represented no adverse actuarial risk on genetic grounds reported that their treatment by insurers seemed to represent unjustified genetic discrimination’.

To come to my conclusion, I reviewed the current situation in terms of genetics and what it can do to alter humanity by looking into medical procedures such as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD), and also investigated what many different people have projected as visions (scientifically predicted) of the future. I have found that science holds the power to massively alter mankind through already regularly used procedures. Genetically-engineered humans could soon be produced if ethical boundaries were removed. This has huge implications for a future world and as such, the issue should be raised and be made common knowledge. This could encourage governments to introduce laws against geneism and tighten the regulations concerning genetic discrimination.

Introduction

This essay shall address some of the issues involved with modern genetics, the treatments that are currently used, what can be achieved today medically, the future of genetics and the ethical issues surrounding it. I shall explain many of the issues in modern genetic procedures such as PGD and Genetic Engineering. I will also look into what extent PGD and IVF can be used in conjunction with genetic engineering and cloning to influence and change how a child will be born, what illnesses they could suffer from, their appearance (to a genetic extent), how intelligent they are, their athletic ability and even their gender. But is this ethical? Could this create a division in society? And should people with "lower quality" genes be discriminated against?

PGD (Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis)

In modern medicine there are many applications for genetics and the treatments that have been discovered due to the research that has taken place. A controversial medical practice is that of PGD - this is in short due to ethical opposition to the manipulation and disposal of blastocysts.

PGD is currently used to help detect a range of genetic diseases in a child in the foetus stage of development before it is even born. This is often used by parents who carry either a recessive or dominant allele of a gene such as the CFTR gene, which causes Cystic Fibrosis a crippling condition, which, due to the absence of working channels through which chloride ions cause osmosis, increases the viscosity of the mucus so it is difficult to be moved by the cilia in the respiratory system.
PGD can detect whether or not a child has one or two of these recessive alleles. To do this, eggs are removed from the mother and fertilised using IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation). These eggs are then collected and allowed to grow for (in some cases) 2-3 days until they contain around eight cells (also known as blastomeres) or (in other cases) until they become a blastocyst and contain 100-150 blastomeres. Some of these cells are then removed for testing. A healthy blastocyst is then implanted into the mother’s uterus while other unhealthy samples are allowed to perish and are destroyed because of the detection of a genetic defect or illness.

A blastomere is removed from a 3 day old Blastocyst to be tested.
A diagram demonstrating PGD.
This is a highly controversial practice as there are many ethical questions raised about the process. One major issue is with the ‘sanctity of life’ as when one blastocyst is left to perish or destroyed depending on a set person’s spritual, cultural or religious beliefs on when life begins, this could be considered murder. Many people and religious groups believe life begins at contraception, in which case PGD would be considered a crime and the scientists condemned as murderers and prosecuted. Many religions condemn PGD as scientists are taking and giving life therefore ‘playing God’ and interfering with the Almighty. There have been many protests against PGD yet it remains legal in most countries. I, personally having researched many points of view on the subject, believe that PGD should be continued, as I have no moral objections to the destruction of unused blastocysts and the possible opportunities of wiping out genetic diseases in bloodlines outweighs the moral problems.

There are, however, forecasted problems with PGD as some medical professionals are proposing to use it to determine a child’s specific characteristics upon birth such as their hair colour, eye colour and height. It is proposed that PGD could even be used to select blastocysts with genes that herald intelligence or creativity. Blastocysts could be specially chosen for their stem cells of their bone marrow for use in curing a sibling. This, however, is highly comparable to selective breeding and brings forth even more ethical issues especially that of playing God. Many people would argue that scientists do not have the right to manipulate life in this way and that it goes against nature. Other opinions take the stand of supporting selective breeding to create a new advanced human race free from disease and more intelligent than before, however this has brought forth arguments reminding us of the Nazi's selective breeding to create the "Aryan Race," which led to the discrimination against anyone who did not fit into the Aryan stereotype.

Personally I believe that PGD should only be used to prevent genetic illness and not to selectively breed humans, I find PGD a practice full of potential for doing good but only if it sticks to being used to cure and prevent illnesses rather that create the ‘perfect’ human or your ‘ideal’ child. If private doctors abused the use of PGD, a basis for the start in geneism could be created.

Genetic Engineering

Genetic Engineering is an interesting subject that promises great things but could also bring genetic discrimination into the modern world.

Genetic engineering is a process by which an organism’s genetic code is altered artificially. For example it could be used to cure a sufferer of Cystic Fibrosis. This is done by first isolating a set gene such as that of a healthy CFTR gene and separating it from the rest of the genetic code, a plasmid is also separated from a pathogen. The healthy gene is then inserted into the plasmid, which in turn is inserted into a pathogen. A sufferer then inhales the pathogen, which should target the faulty CFTR gene and should (in principle) be replaced by the healthy gene thus curing the sufferer.

However, genetic engineering is not currently widely successful in treating genetic conditions such as Cystic Fibrosis. Nevertheless, genetic engineering has been successfully used to give plants certain characteristics and most beneficially it is used to create human insulin for diabetes sufferers.


For the example of the production of Human Insulin:
1. The gene used to produce insulin is cut out of a human cell’s DNA using enzymes.
2. A plasmid is removed from a Bacterium and a section of the plasmid cut out using enzymes.
3. The gene responsible for the production of human insulin is inserted into the plasmid taking the place of the removed section and the plasmid placed into a Bacterium.
4. The Bacterium divides and produced human insulin that is used to treat sufferers of Diabetes.

There is also a process called Transgenic Genetic Engineering where genes from different species are combined for example † “a plant-animal-human transgenic combination would be one in which the DNA of mouse and human tumour fragments is inserted into tobacco DNA. The harvested plants contain a potential vaccine against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”

Although genetic engineering can be used for many beneficial purposes it too has come under attack from people spouting ethical and moral views against it. Many religions are against genetic engineering because of their view of scientists playing God and that life should not be altered. Many people are unsure of the potential side-effects of genetic engineering and the level of control scientists could have over life, some fear that scientist will be able to use IVF to obtain a fertilised egg and then genetically alter it to create a ‘super human’. In the future, genetic engineering could be used by parents wanting a child, is it ethical that people could walk into a clinic and order a child with specific characteristics, scientists could give a child set genes to allow it to excel over other humans.

Personally I believe that Genetic Engineering should be restricted so that it can only be used to help cure illnesses and produce medicine such as insulin and not be able to alter human evolution. It is my view that genetic engineering should not become commercialised so that parents can design their child, as this could progress in the future to a stage where all children are being created artificially and any children that were naturally conceived would be aborted or shunned from society thus bringing geneism into society and when used with PGD destroying all chance of an equal society, reminiscent of the film GATTACA.

Cloning

Although a human has never been cloned many scientists have cloned various different types of animal the most famous of these being Dolly the sheep in 1996 at the Roslin Institute. Cloning holds great promises for medicine but is highly thought of as ‘wrong’ and has many ethical issues attached to it.


The process of cloning Dolly the Sheep.

To clone an organism scientists take the DNA from an adult cell in the organism to be cloned and implant it into an egg which first has it’s genetic information removed through enucleation, this egg is then given an electrical pulse to stimulate the cell division. When the egg has reached the stage of a Blastocyst it is implanted into a surrogate mother, when the mother gives birth the cloning process is complete and an organism with the exact genetic code of the organism from which the cells were removed has been created.

The cloning of humans is a subject that has come under much debate in recent years; scientists all over the world discuss whether it should be done or whether it is truly ethical. Although cloning holds great potential for infertile couples and even for the military in creating a perfect soldier many people oppose the idea. Professor Ian Wilmut, head of the Roslin Institute argues that the many failures in the cloning of animals should serve as a warning to those wishing to harm humans. Dolly was only successfully cloned after ‡ ‘277 previous attempts’ the rest of the attampts resulted in either unsucessful implantations or pre-mature birth, however what worries many scientists is the deformities and disorders that the dead clones suffered. Professor Ian Wilmut argues that these deformities and disorders would also happen to human clones and he believes that this is highly unethical, his views are supported by world-renowned fertility expert Proffesor Robert Winston who argues that human cloning is acceptable for research in medicine but not to clone a full human in line with Wilmut’s views.

Personally I do not agree with the idea of cloning a complete human, the process that we would have to go through to achieve a successful birth would be difficult and filled with failures and unnecessary human death. However I do agree with cloning for research purposes and advances in medicine, this must be heavily regulated. If we scientists managed to engineer a ‘perfect’ human they could use cloning to reproduce their resulsts across thousands of children, this would separate socitety as these ‘perfect’ humans would far outperform ‘normal’ humans thus creating genetic divide.

Genetic Discrimination in Popular Media (Gattaca)

The potential problems of genetic discrimination have been highlighted in the biopunk visionary movie ‘Gattaca’. § The film portrays a dystopian future where geneism is common place and society has become unofficialy appartied by genes. Society is seperated into two classes, that of ‘valids’ – humans born through IVF, PGD and genetic engineering and that of ‘invalids’ or ‘faith-births’ – Humans born naturally, their fate ‘entrusted to God’.

The film is about an ‘invalid’ who possesses the intelligence and willpower required to be a successful navigator in the ‘Gattaca Corporation’ but is however unable to enter it’s employ due to his ‘invalid’ status and genetic defects. This is a core example of geneism in society and examples of this are seen when someone applies for life insurance today and is turned down due to having a genetic imperfection; although this example may seem small, it is only the beginning of a far greater problem that could affect society.

There could be some advantages to geneism such as the eradication of multiple diseases in the Human population, this however would only work if it was applied to all levels of society. For example, if the government funded a service in the NHS so all children could be genetically engineered we could advance the human race for a good purpose.

Evaluation of Sources

Throughout this essay I have referenced and taken information from multiple sources, I must now justify my use of them and their validity and reliability as a source of information.

The ‘British Medical Journal’ is a highly reliable source and is a well respected scientific published, it is supported by many prominent scientists and contains valid evidence concerning my points and thus I can use it for strong evidence.

‘Action Bioscience’ is also a reliable source as it is ‘an educational resource of the American Institute of Biological Sciences’ and is thus highly unlikely to contain false information, it also specialises on the area of science that this essay looks into. ‘www.sciencemag.org’ is affiliated with the ‘Advancing Science Serving Society’ and is supported by many other scientific sites, this makes it’s information reliable.

The article itself has been cited by several others, this backs up its reliability and validity. I have also referenced ‘The Human Body Book An Illustrated Guide to its Structure, Function and Disorders’ is written by Steve Parker who has written over 200 books and is a respected scientist, the book has received contributions in terms of information from valid scientists such as Professor Robert Winston and thus contains reliable information.

Conclusion

Taking into account all the issues I have raised in this look into the possibility of Genetic Discrimination and Geneism becoming commonplace in society I must draw several conclusions.

Firstly, considering the implications of IVF, PGD and Genetic Engineering Humans in the future may be engineered to specific requirements as determined by their parents. Although I personally object to this there will be many who would gladly pay for the service, which brings me on to my second conclusion; A gap between the richer aspects of society and the poor will grow due to the rich being able to afford this treatment and the poor having to rely on ‘Natural-Births’. This would cause a substantial difference between the two ranks of society - the upper society could for example evolve through unnatural selection whilst the poor are left behind relying on nature. Finally, this could lead to an ignition of geneism in the upper society who would distance themselves from lower society in an abrupt acceptance of genetic discrimination. Any of these eventualities could happen independent of one-another; I have just linked them together in this conclusion for ease of understanding.

However, this process could be stopped by many ethical barriers that must first be traversed to allow for the practice of these procedures; I personally believe that the public will not allow genetic discrimination to take place or accept geneism into our society. Although there are many procedures that could lead to genetic discrimination I believe that doctors will refuse to discriminate and create divides in society, this will help stop this developing problem. It is my opinions that no form of genetic discrimination is acceptable and strict laws should be introduced to reduce its spread. The results quoted in the abstract of this essay suggest otherwise. Perhaps our society becoming a dystopia of geneism isn’t so unlikely?

End Notes

Text

* http://www.bmj.com/content/317/7173/1632.1.full Accessed 19/04/11

† http://www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/glenn.html © 2004, American Institute of Biological Sciences. Accessed 16/03/11

‡ http://www.sciencemag.org/content/275/5305/1415.1.summary

§ ‘Gattaca’ © Colombia Pictures 1997 Accessed 14/04/11

Images

1 http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2007/07/tell-your-senat/ Accessed 17/03/11

2 http://www.hgalert.org/topics/hge/ Accessed 17/03/11

3 http://www.obgyn.net/Frontiers_In_Reproductive_Medicine/images/PGD.gif Accessed 31/03/11

4 http://www.choosebabygender.net/images/pgd_diagram_2.gif Accessed 31/03/11

5 http://costreams.com/Biology/Genetic%20Engineering.gif Accessed 02/04/11

Reference

‘The Human Body Book An Illustrated Guide to its Structure, Function and Disorders’ By Steve Parker, Foreword by Professor Robert Winston. Consultants: Dr Sue Davidson and Dr Penny Preston. Published by Dorling Kindersley Limited © 2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited. ISBN 978-1-8561-3007-3 Accessed 16/03/11

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