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.


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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.

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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.

Sources:

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/