Will DNA alteration be in our future or will ethics come in the way?
Updated: Mar 22
Audience: Middle and High School students
As medicine, science, and technology are all evolving at exponential rates, new and innovative research opportunities have risen.
One of the most captivating opportunities is DNA alteration, which is an artificially-produced alteration to the gene cell.
This change is permanent and can be seen in subsequent generations as well. As interesting as this venture is, anything that infringes on natural human composition always raises an ethical dilemma, and DNA alteration is no exception. Many countries have already started implementing regulations on DNA alteration, and researchers have become increasingly wary about the ill effects of this new opportunity.
DNA must be strategically placed for it to fit together. However, it can be altered to fit as well. Photo by qimono from Pixabay.
DNA alteration is currently banned in 40 countries, including Canada, Mexico, and Australia, who are fearful of the harm DNA alteration will cause to their citizens. Another valid concern is the need for regulation around the globe; more dangerous than free access would be unequal access to this medicinal practice across the world. Many countries such as China, the U.K, and the U.S are trying to harmonize genome editing regulations.
So far, DNA alteration cannot be used for reproductive purposes until it is proven to be safe, yet it is impossible to test for this safety without putting a test subject's life at risk. Researchers are also concerned about the use of this for non-therapeutic purposes, and about the abuse of this tool to alter the human body to inhuman standards. Many countries are heavily driven by religion, including Mexico and Brazil, and are also wary of any genetic changes made to the natural body.
Furthermore, as stress on consent is becoming an increasingly common social norm, questions about the consent on part of the unborn baby are being raised. The practice of DNA alteration will undoubtedly affect the embryo for the rest of it’s natural life, so why must it be up to the parents to decide to put its life at risk? Moreover, if DNA alteration were to malfunction, it will go on to affect generations to come. The most dangerous part of this practice is definitely its unpredictability.
Another concern is the increase in the divide between social classes as a result of DNA alteration. Undoubtedly, this practice comes with a hefty price and will most likely only be available to the uber-wealthy. Would the service of DNA alteration be regulated by government healthcare or the private sector?
Despite all these concerns, DNA alteration may be inevitably beneficial to the human race. When two parents are homozygous dominant for a gene—such as cystic fibrosis or cancers—the children would 100% inherit these genes. With many alternate forms of treatment increasing, such as STEM cell research, it looks like DNA alteration may very well be a part of our future; especially if it means reducing the load on the healthcare system later in the child’s life as they suffer from genetic conditions.
DNA Alteration: the process of using recombinant DNA (rDNA) technology to alter the genetic makeup of an organism
Homozygous dominant: parents carrying two copies of the same dominant allele. If both parents are dominant, the offspring will mostly carry the same traits.
Cystic fibrosis: an example of a hereditary disorder affecting the respiratory system
Cancers: Hereditary cancer can also be engineered with DNA alteration
Bergman, Mary Todd. “Harvard Researchers Share Views on Future, Ethics of Gene Editing.” Harvard Gazette, Harvard Gazette, 28 Oct. 2019, news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/01/perspectives-on-gene-editing/.
NIH. “What Are the Ethical Concerns of Genome Editing?” Genome.gov, 3 Aug. 2017, www.genome.gov/about-genomics/policy-issues/Genome-Editing/ethical-concerns.
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