Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Are We Too Advanced For Our Own Good?

Advanced reproductive technologies allow parents and doctors to screen embryos for genetic disorders and select healthy embryos. ‘Designer babies’ is a term used by journalists to describe the use of genetic technologies to modify embryos and choose desirable or cosmetic characteristics. In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) technique involves the fertilization of the egg by the sperm in test tubes, outside the mother's body. This allows doctors to screen the embryos. Genetic screening has made it possible to eliminate genes associated with several genetic defects and terminal illnesses.

The Oxford English Dictionary has defined designer babies as “a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics."

It is actually quite an interesting topic, and has many controversies whether this form of technology is accepted in today’s society, or not.

Objections to the idea of ‘designer babies’ include the termination of embryos and how many disapprove of methods such as these under moral and religious grounds. For example, a group who believes in pro-life would not approve of the termination of preborn embryos. Also, the social standards go much further. It can be projected that we will breed a race of ‘super humans’ who look down on those humans without genetic enhancements. Assuming genetic enhancement becomes readily available it will presumably be costly. In this instance only the wealthy would be protected from inherited diseases and disabilities, and the discrimination against those with disabilities would greatly rise. Lastly, humans have never experienced the effects of genetic structure alteration. The results could have dire consequences and possibly damage the gene pool.

The clip from the movie shown above is a great example of just how much control we could have when genetic modification is used. The couple is not as interested as the doctor is regarding the protection of their child from just about everything they can. Genetic modification can be used to alter anything from gender to disease, and eventually appearance, personality, and even IQ. The genetic modification of humans can pose an ethical debate about the rights of the baby. One side of this issue is that the fetus should be free to not be genetically modified. Once the genetic modification of the fetus takes place then the baby is changed forever, there is no chance that the genetic modification completed prior to birth could ever be reversed. The opposing view to this is that the parents are the ones with the rights to their unborn child.

It is really amazing what our world has come to, and what we are able to do and what we will be able to do in the near future. Although all of this has also brought upon many ethical and religious concerns for many people, but especially us Catholic’s.

Regarding genetic modification, it has recently become possible to let embryos grow outside of the human body for up to seven days, by which time, only the most vigorous survive. This reduces the number of embryos implanted and increases the number of successful implantations, while also reducing the number of multiple pregnancies. Most embryos, conceived in in-vitro fertilization clinics eventually die. If they are not implanted, they are either "donated" for research, in which case they are killed, or they are kept in cold storage in very low temperatures after which most are disposed of, or eventually die.

Not infrequently, early in pregnancy, some of these embryos are killed by injection of potassium chloride into the embryo's heart. This procedure is called "fetal reduction”. A human being comes into existence at the moment of fertilization of an oocyte (ovum) by a sperm. The Catholic Church teaches that a human being must be respected-as a person-from the very first instant of his existence as a human being, and therefore, from that same moment, his rights as a person must be recognized among which in the first place, is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life. In-vitro fertilization violates the rights of the child: it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personality. The Church teaches that medical research must refrain from operations on live embryos, unless there is moral certainty of not causing harm to the life or integrity of the unborn child and mother, and on condition that the parents have given free and informed consent to the procedure.

There are many negative concerns, although genetic modification in my opinion can be used for a positive effect on our society today. Genetic screening can reduce the baby's chances of being born with several serious diseases like Down syndrome, Famial hypercholesterolemia, and rare blood disorders such as Diamond Blackfan Anaemia.

An example of a positive result from genetic modification is Adam Nash and Charlie Whitaker. Adam Nash was the world's first known designer baby born by the revolutionary pre-implantation process in the year 2000. Scientists genetically selected his embryo so that he would possess the right cells to save his dying sister's life. His sister suffered from Fanconi's anaemia (blood disorder), and mostly the chances of Adam getting that disorder was also very high. An embryo was chosen, which did not have Fanconi's anaemia. Adam became a donor to his sister, which doubled her chances of survival.

Same was the case with Charlie Whitaker, who suffered from Diamond Blackfan Anaemia. His parents wanted to have a designer baby to save Charlie's life. Since they were denied the right in UK, they went to US to have their baby. In 2003, Charlie's baby brother was born and the stem cells from his umbilical cord would be used to treat Charlie.

Although the negative effects of genetic modification, or in specific ‘designer babies’, are available and the technology is easily being taken advantage of. I believe as long as we use our privileges to a positive extent, we should be proud of what we have, and what we can do.


1- http://http//news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/955644.stm

2- http://http//www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2004/s1234825.htm

3- http://http//oxforddictionaries.com/view/entry/m_en_gb0972941#m_en_gb0972941

4- http://http//www.actionbioscience.org/biotech/agar.html

5- http://http//lonelywanderer2.xanga.com/694521666/designer-babies--pros-cons--ethics/

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Are we being stewards of the world?

Many scientists consider humans as the most invasive species, as humans can greatly change an environment and impact living things that reside there. Are we being stewards of the world? Take a look at an issue in which human intervention has positively or negatively affected the biodiversity of our ecosystems.

"The fundamental property of ecological systems is a certain mixture, or diversity of living things. . ."(1). Biodiversity, or the variety of living things that exist, is fundamental to the existence of life on Earth, and the importance of it cannot be underestimated. In the past few centuries, humans have had an especially negative affect on biodiversity, although, in general, are becoming more aware of its role. However, due to the damage we have caused, and the value that biodiversity has to us as humans, protection of the natural environment is necessary.

Biodiversity is an extremely important part of life on Earth. It is not only the variety of living organisms on our planet, but also the interdependence of all these living things, including humans. It creates and maintains ecological systems; the most recognizable of which are Earth's biomes, which can be divided into the broad categories of Forests, Tundra, Aquatic, Grasslands, and Deserts. Life is, in fact, one of the major features that differentiate biomes from one another. "Biomes are defined as 'the world's major communities, classified according to the predominant vegetation and characterized by adaptations of organisms to that particular environment' (Campbell)."(2). Without vegetation or organisms, these landscapes would be indistinguishable from one another. Clearly life plays a major role in the function of ecosystems, and the variety, or diversity, of this life has played a major role in the evolution of the world.
In evolutionary theory, it has become clear that the greater the diversity that exists within a family or genus, the more likely it is to survive environmental change. So, evolution depends on biodiversity. Ecosystems are being destroyed, animals and plants becoming extinct, and biodiversity is being lost due to increased human activity. Although environments would be shifting and evolving regardless of human influence, it is necessary to understand that humans are causing the rate of change to become particularly dangerous. Environmental conditions are changing so quickly that individual species as well as entire ecosystems are struggling, and often failing, to adapt.

Currently, there are many manners in which ecosystems and species are being negatively affected. The first is land use, which is most responsible for the current decrease in biodiversity. Much of the Earth's surface is covered by farm land (Shown below) and homes, a problem that is often overlooked. The most fertile soil is usually found in the best climates, which also usually happens to be where the largest amount of biodiversity is. The best example of this is in the tropics, where both tropical rainforests and cloud forests are being cut down and turned into "patchwork" farms. Furthermore, intensive agriculture is a growing concern. Fertilizers and pesticides used to treat crops harm land and drive animals away. Eventually, a given plot of farmland will contain too many chemicals to continue farming on, and the farmer will have to move to a new one, creating a vicious cycle of destruction of natural land.

Another threat to biodiversity is the loss and extinction of species. This topic is better known and publicized than the farmland issue, and many organizations are working towards the preservation of wild animals. However, it is important to understand that we need to pay as much, if not more, attention to reductions in species as extinction's. We often wait until a species is highly endangered before helping, at which point it is often too late. Endangerment occurs both directly by humans, such as fishing and hunting to excess, and indirectly, such as reducing habitats to the point where animals can no longer live.

Many pollutants travel incredibly quickly and cover a broad area. Long-term pollution is a great concern as well, even at low levels, because it can affect entire ecosystems through the chain of life. Furthermore, pollutants in soil and ground water cannot travel quickly, and thus do not filter out well.
Climate change is a growing concern as well, though it is somewhat debatable as to whether or not humans caused it. Natural changes in weather have had perhaps the greatest affect on biodiversity and ecological systems. This is shown with the picture below, of the penguin used to its natual habitat, and that being destroyed and trying to survive without the snow and ice. The threat of humans shifting the climate is therefore extremely threatening to the natural environment. "Were the average temperature to rise by several degrees Celsius, that warming would probably be followed by potentially large reorganizations of some ecological communities." (1).

One last issue concerning the affects that humans have on biodiversity is that of overpopulation. Recent advances in science and medicine have allowed for much greater life span and a very small infant mortality rate. We are increasing in population more rapidly than ever before. The growing population causes displacement of natural environments, not only because we need more living space, but also because the demand for agriculture and industry becomes higher as a result.
It is painfully clear that in many ways humans have had a significantly negative affect on biodiversity and Earth's natural environment as a whole. It is essential to realize that as rational beings, humans have the ability to not only understand the problems we have created and what needs to be done to amend them, but also the capability of accomplishing these tasks.
The natural environment provides services which benefit the economy as well. For instance, biodiversity helps keep water clean and naturally manages water flow and watershed. Trees and plants keep air clean through the constant transfer of carbon dioxide and oxygen, and overall biodiversity helps regulate climate.

Biodiversity is clearly a fundamental component of life on Earth. It creates complex ecosystems that could never be reproduced by humans. In the end, we all want and need biodiversity. Although we continue to harm the natural environment, often without realizing the impact that we have, an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the need to protect biodiversity. Hopefully humans will continue to pursue the issue so we can eventually live entirely with nature, not harm the very system that allows us to exist.


1- http://www.gcrio.org/CONSEQUENCES/vol3no1/biodiversity.html
2- http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/glossary/gloss5/biome/
3- http://www.defra.gov.uk/wildlife-countryside/ewd/ewd07.htm
3- http://www.overpopulation.org/