Bioethics (4518 words) Essay

As our technology continues to advance, new breakthroughs in medicine are
discovered. With these new developments serious ethical and moral questions
arise. Advancements in genetic engineering, reproductive technologies, cloning,
organ transplanting, and human experimentation are all causes of concern. The
Human Genome Project, an incredible scientific undertaking determined to produce
a map of the human DNA code, will tell us how each gene or group of genes
function (Lemonick and Thompson 44). With this map, scientists and doctors will
be able to figure out how genes can malfunction and cause deadly diseases. Of
course, they will also know what each gene controls, and how to manipulate and
control our genes to get the specified, desired results. This is exactly the
type of tool researchers need to perfect the science of eugenics.

“Eugenics”- a powerful word from the Greek stem meaning “good in
birth” (Gray 84). In the past, it was thought that we could improve the
quality of the human race by making it impossible for those with undesirable
traits to reproduce. Charles Davenport once said that he hoped “human
matings could be placed on the same high plane as that of horse breeding” (qtd.

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in Gray 84). Many states in the United States have put into place laws that
required people in custody with hereditary defects to be sterilized (Gray 85).

The false science of eugenics and purification of the human race swayed these
states. One such example of this is the 1927 Supreme Court case of Buck vs.

Bell. The result of this case was the sterilization of Carrie Buck, the
seventeen year old daughter of a “feeble-minded” mother; the mother a
seven month old daughter, already determined to be of “subnormal
intelligence”; legally declared a “moral imbecile” herself. But
the concept of purging our race was not present in the United States alone.

Hitler’s concept of eugenics consisted of sterilizing the blind, schizophrenics,
and those with terrible physical deformities (Gray 85). Now, with the
advancement of genetic engineering, genetically altering the human race has made
a huge leap forward. Soon scientists will be able to genetically pre-determine
nearly every characteristic new-born children are likely to have. Doctors will
be able to determine how tall a child will be, what type of body they will have,
what illnesses they will be resistant to, and even their IQ and personality (Lemonick
64). As Jeremy Rifkin, a critic of biotechnology, says, “It’s the ultimate
shopping experience: designing your baby. In a society used to cosmetic
surgery…, this is not a big step” (qtd. in Lemonick 64). However, the
gene or combination of genes that make up these favored characteristics have not
yet been found, so it is not yet possible to engineer a variety of genes, both
in and out of the fetus (Lemonick 64). According to a TIME magazine poll, if
given the choice of which traits a person would choice for his or her child,
sixty percent of those responding would choose to rule out a fatal disease.

Thirty-three percent of the people would request greater intelligent, twelve
percent desired to influence height or weight, and finally, eleven percent of
those questioned would determine the sex of the child (Lemonick 64). Also,
according to the same survey, thirty-nine percent of those polled believe that
parents with genetically linked diseases ought to be required to test their
children for them, while fifty-five percent did not (Lemonick 64). When speaking
of genetically altering genes to obtain the proverbial “perfect baby,”
one must address the issue of genetic discrimination. If researchers are able to
locate the exact genes that determine our mental traits or characteristics,
could zealous parents or possibly the government use this ability to destroy any
characteristics they see as undesirable and remove them? Then proceed to add the
traits they consider good and guarantee everyone receives them (Yount 86)? The
issue of genetic discrimination will become more and more prevalent as society
continues to strive toward perfection, and new methods of obtaining this are
developed. As geneticist Karl A. Drlica said in 1994, “What we now call an
average child may eventually be considered defective” (qtd. in Yount 80).

This is a relatively easy point to defend. When a group of parents is
genetically altering the future generation to perfection, those not engineered
will be at a disadvantage. Soon we will have the technology to escape having
children with certain “defects,” such as attention-deficit disorder,
below-average height, lower intellect, homosexuality, or a possible genetically
linked disease. Will those individuals still possessing these traits be
ostracized and made to feel even more inferior (Lemonick 66)? Canadian biologist
N.J. Berill stated it well when he said: “Sooner or later one human society
or another will launch out on this adventure [of using gene alteration to
produce people with certain characteristics], whether the rest of mankind
approves it our not. If this happens, and a superior race emerges with great
intelligence and longer lives, how will these people look upon those who are
left lagging behind?…They, not we, will be the heirs to the future, and they
will assume control.” (qtd. in Yount 86) Are all of these theories on an
emerging “superior race” unfounded and irrational? If researchers use
the new science of genetic engineering to achieve positive results, is there
really any issue? As the editor of the Economist said in 1992, “…People
have a right to make what they want of their lives…” (qtd. in Yount 81).

But the question of genetic discrimination has not yet been adequately covered.

There are many every-day situations in which this could rear its ugly head. For
example, if employers were given access to the genetic history of potential
employees, might they be hesitant to hire a candidate that has not been altered,
if only because they would then have to pay more for health care (Yount 81)?
When given the choice between a proven medical endorsement and a possible health
disaster, it is not difficult to make a decision. Insurance companies are eager
to obtain access to policy holders’ genetic records. With these records,
insurers will be able to determine possible health risks more accurately.

However, insurers claim they are only replacing the old method of using medical
check-ups and life expectancy calculations with the latest technology (Kirby).

According to a TIME magazine poll, most people do not support the practice of
charging higher premiums for those with a genetic predisposition to health
problems. Eighty-eight percent of those questioned did not agree with higher
rates, as opposed to the eight percent that did (Golden 59). Insurance worries
and workplace conflicts are not the only situations where this problem becomes
apparent. There is new evidence that sexual orientation is partly genetic in
nature. If scientists discover this to be true, will it curb discrimination by
proving sexual orientation is instinctive, or will it compound the problem, and
result in destruction or alteration of all fetuses showing this mannerism
(Kirby)? The problem of genetic discrimination is being addressed. On November
11, 1997, the UNESCO General Conference adopted the Universal Declaration of the
Human Genome and Human Rights. This declaration states: “No one shall be
subjected to discrimination based on genetic characteristics that is intended to
infringe or has the effect of infringing human rights…” (Kirby).

Currently, over seventy genetic discrimination bills are being debated in
twenty-four states, and more than thirty states have laws forbidding genetic
tests for job or health insurance applicants. Also, the Health Insurance
Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 makes it illegal for health insurers
to deny coverage based on pre-existing genetic conditions (Hallowell 60).

Whether or not these various laws and regulations will prove to be effective
remains to be seen. One piece of the puzzle that has been sorely neglected thus
far is the fate of those fetuses having “defective” genes. Will
parents be pressured to abort when confronted will the serious possibility of a
genetic disorder? One case in California strongly suggests this is happening. A
young woman discovered her child would be born with cystic fibrosis. This
woman’s health-care organization would cover the cost of the abortion, but
denied care to the child if she gave birth to it; however, a lawsuit reversed
this decision (Yount 82). The debate over the ethics of genetic engineering is a
heated one. There are many sides to the issues; one must look at the positive,
as well as the negative. Proponents of genetic engineering stress the fact that
this technology can be used to do a world of good. The first successful
application of this science occurred in 1990. Nine-year-old Cynthia Cutshall and
four-year-old Ashanti DeSilva, both diagnosed with immunodeficiency disease,
underwent a procedure to replace the defective genes with healthy specimens into
their bloodstream; which stimulated production of the enzyme their bodies needed
but did not produce. Soon after, both girls became perfectly healthy. Dr. W.

French Anderson, one of the surgeons working with the girls, said afterward that
it was “a social and cultural victory. It launched the field of human gene
therapy” (qtd. in Wekesser 13). Little did he realize what an impact this
life-saving procedure would have on scientists, researchers, doctors, and
parents everywhere. Physicians at the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center
are claiming to be the first group to apply this form of technology to treat
heart disease. Scientist injected a gene telling cells to make new blood vessels
into a sixty-year-old man’s heart. Their hope is that, eventually, the heart
will grow its own bypass (Physicians 6). Defenders of genetic alterations also
claim that this science is perfectly acceptable as long as researchers refrain
from doing anything along “racist” or “classist” lines (Yount
88). They also state that although we can change the genetic makeup of an
organism, we cannot guarantee our attempts will be successful. In order for
something to function properly, all its parts must fit together readily. The
only changes that will be successful are those that preserve the internal
balance of the said organism (Wekesser 25). Andrea Kott best summed up these
sentiments best when she said: “Imagine beating chronic, debilitating, even
fatal diseases before they strike. Think of the lives, the medical dollars, that
could be saved if doctors could identify individuals genetically predisposed to
heart disease, cancer, and other killers, and, through modification of diet,
lifestyle, or other risk factors, reduce or eliminate their susceptibility. The
possibility seems within reach as an ever-expanding arsenal of gene-testing
technologies is developed.” (qtd. in Wekesser 27) It must be stated that
the science of genetic engineering does not apply to humans alone. Many
breakthroughs have been made in the field of food alteration. Scientists are now
able to modify a variety of edible products to achieve a desired effect. But is
there a risk to genetically engineering that which we daily consume? Peter Mond,
the head of the organization Greenpeace, would tell you that this represents a
great hazard. Mond was once arrested for mowing down and uprooting an entire
field of genetically modified corn (Congman 43). Political activists are not the
only ones concerned with the issue of genetically engineered food. A Gerber
Corporation spokesman verified the suspicion that due to a fax from Greenpeace,
the company will cease the use of modified food products in its ingredients (Congman
43). According to researchers, there are potential risks to altered food. Some
of these include the threat of an allergy inducing gene being spliced into a
relatively harmless organism, the increased production of poison by an altered
plant, and the loss of nutritional content in engineered food (Tangley 40).

Agricultural engineering has also undergone several new advancements.

Researchers have been able to develop specimens of corn, wheat, rice, and
soybeans that are resistant to disease, pests, and are able to create their own
fertilizer. One example of this is the new breed of strawberries scientists are
generating. Geneticists have taken the gene that prevents the arctic flounder
form freezing in icy water and spliced it into strawberries to make them more
resistant to frost (Wekesser 12). One can only imagine what this will do to the
year-round availability and price of strawberries. Of course, as anyone from the
Cornbelt can see, the rapid reduction of the price of any given agricultural
product can devastate the economy. It is now time to discuss society’s
ever-growing problem of organ transplanting ethics. It is a sad statistic that
more organs are buried each year than the number of patients in need of them
(Leone, Biomedical 54). There are over fifty thousand people currently on organ
waiting lists, and of those, nearly ten die each day (Leone, Medical 57). How is
this problem to be solved? There is a portion of the medical and scientific
field that believes that, in order to provide a constant supply of organ
donations, the sale of organs should be made legal. Now, this group does not
promote the sale of organs from living donors, rather, the trade of cadaveric
organs (Leone, Biomedical 56). The 1984 National Organ Transplant Act has made
the trade of organs for monetary exchange illegal (Leone, Medical 53). However,
organ trafficking is legal in Turkey, Brazil, Japan, Iraq, and the Phillipines.

Between 1990 and 1995, more than two thousand kidneys were sold annually in the
Middle East. The donors were typically poor, relatively unhealthy, and
desperately in need of this money to survive (Leone, Medical 54). Opponents of
this believe that to accept organs under these conditions is a medical crime.

This question is not an easy question to answer. On one hand, the sale of organs
could indeed save many lives. On the other hand, is it worth the risk to
initiate that form of commerce? A discussion on the ethics of biotechnology on
the human body would not be complete without touching upon new reproductive
technologies. This science has gone through extensive developments in the past
years. 8.5 percent of married couples in the United States are infertile (Leone,
Reproductive 13). Because of this, several new methods of impregnating infertile
women have been developed. One method is “zygote intrafallopian
transfer,” otherwise know as “ZIFT.” With this method, a doctor
inserts the embryo into one of the woman’s fallopian tubes, where it travels to
the uterus (Leone, Reproductive 13). Another method, “gamete intrafallopian
transfer” (GIFT), is done by injecting sperm and an unfertilized egg into a
fallopian tube, at which time conception and implantation will occur (Leone,
Reproductive 13). Lastly is the “zona cracking” method. This technique
involves piercing the outer layer of the egg and placing a single sperm cell
within the egg, then embedding the fertilized egg into the woman (Leone,
Reproductive 13). There is yet another well-known fashion for infertile couples
to conceive a child – surrogate motherhood. In this process, the fertilized egg
of one woman is allowed to develop in the womb of another. Surrogate motherhood
has its benefits. It allows a woman who faces a high-risk pregnancy have a child
without jeopardizing her own health, and lessens the chances of premature birth.

Surrogate motherhood also gives non-traditional families, such as single or
homosexual parents, an opportunity to raise their own descendents (Leone,
Reproductive 81). Opponents of reproductive technology argue that the solution
to infertility is adoption. However, adoption can be very difficult and expense.

Also, some feel they would not be able to love a child that is not their own
offspring (Leone, Reproductive 50). Progress has been made in the field of
genetically testing unborn children, also. Almost nine of every ten pregnant
women have undergone some sort of prenatal screening (Golden 56). Most often,
this is done to detect spina bifida, nueral defects, and Down syndrome (Golden
57). Furthermore, prenatal testing has reduced by more that ninety-five percent
the number of Tay-Sachs births in American Jews (Golden 58). Many couples also
opt for a sex determination test. However, in a nation such as China or India,
where males are favored over females, what will happen if parents begin actively
producing an unbalanced number of males? Boys, like first-born children, are
often dominant and aggressive. It will be even more difficult to dispel
gender-based customs if society is filled with dominant, first-born males; and
submissive, obedient females (Lemonick 66). Because religion plays such a huge
role in the lives of many Americans, this aspect must also be considered.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, in-vitro fertilization is “morally
illicit,” and considered sin (Leone, Reproductive 34). The church objects
to the fact that children may now be conceived in the absence of a sexual act
between a married couple (Leone, Reproductive 34). Yet another cause for concern
is the technology that entitles post-menopausal woman to give birth. A bitter
debate over this issue was ignited when a fifty-nine-year-old British woman gave
birth to twins. This was made possible through artificial conception (Leone,
Reproductive 53). The chief question in this controversy is whether or not the
parents will be able to raise the child. Arthur Caplan, director of the Center
for Biomedical Ethics at the University of Minnesota, summed up these feelings
when he asked, “Is it right to intentionally create children if you know
that both parents are likely to be entering a nursing home before the kid is in
elementary school?” (qtd. in Leone, Reproductive 53) Women are now able to
give birth to four, five, six, or more children through reproductive technology.

Is this safe for the children? Children who are the products of multiple birth
cases are more likely to be small and premature. There is also a four hundred
percent increase in the risk of cerebral palsy. Lastly, older mothers are more
likely to give birth to an infant with developmental brain damage (Multiple 1).

Is it morally right to endorse a situation that may result in an unhealthy
child? There is also an area of study dealing with fetal tissue research.

Scientists in Scotland can now deliver a baby mouse created from the egg of an
aborted mice fetus, and will soon be able to achieve this with humans (Leone,
Reproductive 22). Immature eggs can also be collected from a female fetus as
early as the ninth week, aged in a petri dish, and be used to create another
child (Leone, Reproductive 38). Fetal tissue research has had its positive
effects. Doctors have been able to extract brain cells from aborted fetuses,
inserted them into the brains of Alzheimer’s victims, and cure or nearly cure
the patient. The application biotechnology on humans is not limited to
engineering and reproductive technologies. The frightening truth is that
scientific experiments are often performed on American citizens. Perhaps the
most gruesome example of this act was during World War II. Nazi scientists
performed various tests analyzing the effects of cold, mustard gas, and
phosphorous burns on the human body (McCuen 22). During World War II, Japanese
scientists were also involved in this horrid practice. One old farmer described
his human experimentation experience; where he dissected a young man still
alive, bound to a bed, without anesthetic. “The fellow knew that it was
over for him and so he didn’t struggle when they led him into the room and tied
him down. But when I picked up the scalpel, that’s when he began screaming. I
cut him open from the chest to the stomach and he screamed terribly and his face
was all twisted in agony. He made this unimaginable sound, he was screaming so
horribly. But then finally he stopped. This was all in a day’s work for the
surgeon’s, but it really left an impression on me because it was my first
time…” (qtd. in McCuen 39) Is human experimentation limited to savage,
foreign countries? Unfortunately not. The United States government itself
sponsored several thousand human radiation experiments between 1944 and 1974
(United 10). Another example of human experimentation in this country is the
Tuskegee Experiment. This was one of the largest know surveys on the effects of
untreated syphilis on male Negroes. The controversy over this test erupted when
it was made know that patients were denied the option of treatment once
penicillin became widely available (Mccuen 49). The United States military has
also been extensively involved in human experimentation. In one program,
biological and chemical agents were released over highly populated areas such as
Hawaii, Alaska, San Francisco, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and more (McCuen 83). In
1945, seventeen-year-old Navy recruit Rudolph R. Mills volunteered for a gas
mask experiment. Little did he know, the test mask he was wearing became less
effective with each use. Mills wore the same mask almost a dozen times for an
hour each time the test was performed. Mills was left with burns on his chin and
cheeks (McCuen 100). There are regulations to how far researchers can go in
their explorations into human experimentation. The Nurembourg Code, which was
put into place after World War II, demands the voluntary consent of human
subjects during experimentation. It also states that “the degree of risk to
be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of
the problem to be solved by the experiment” (McCuen 22). Finally, perhaps
the most recently developed, controversial bioethical dispute: cloning. The
process of cloning is incredibly complex. Scientists remove the nucleus from a
mammary cell and place it into an egg cell that has been removed of its DNA. The
cell is then starved of nutrients, the nucleus and donor egg are fused with an
electrical charge, and implanted into a surrogate mother (Leone, Biomedical 16).

When Ian Wilmut cloned Dolly the sheep in 1997, a tremendous uproar ensued. The
National Bioethics Advisory Committee recommended a five-year moratorium on
human cloning so that the technology and ethics of such an undertaking could
further be studied (Leone, Biomedical 13). As this is such an enormous cultural
and social topic, the pros and cons of today’s cloning technology must be
painstakingly considered. First, a look at the benefits of cloning. Proponents
of human cloning have several reasons for having the view they do. One
justification for human cloning is what many deem “spare parts.” If
doctors were able to harvest organs from patients in need, the organ shortage
could be severely reduced. In addition, patients would no longer require taking
medication their entire lives to avoid rejection of the new organ (Yount 90).

Scientists could also grow hearts and livers from pigs that would be compatible
to humans (Clone 10). Another benefit of cloning is what it could do to the
pharmaceutical industry. Drug companies will be able to clone proteins from
animal milk for the treatment of hemophilia (Clone 10). Japan has become notably
progressive in its use of cloning technology. Japanese researchers have
developed to prototypes of cloned cattle – ES1 and ES2. These cattle are only
the beginning of Japan’s venture into using advanced biotechnology to rouse its
sluggish beef industry. Researchers in Japan have already perfected methods to
clone potatoes, tomatoes, asparagus, orchids, and goldfish (Brave 12). It has
been said that to clone a human will strip away the very essence of humanity.

This is not true, say some advocates of human cloning. Personality traits are a
complicated interaction between many genes and the individual’s unique
environment. One cannot expect a gene to work how its “label” says
(Leone, Biomedical 30). Human cloning also occurs randomly in nature – with
identical twins (Madigan et al.). Yet nobody argues that twins are not
individuals and are mutations of nature. Even twins kept in the same room will
react differently to various things. For clones, this would be even greater
because of their divergence in years (Leone, Biomedical 48). No matter what you
clone, you cannot clone two exact brains. The cloning of a human being would
also end the argument over genetics or environment once and for all. Senator Tom
Harkin of Iowa is one of those who believe cloning research should be allowed to
evolve without restriction. He states that those who would put an end to cloning
should “take your ranks alongside Pope Paul V, who in 1616 tried to stop
Galileo” (qtd. in Leone, Biomedical 14). Many would be inclined to agree
with him, including a long list of influential American and international
figures. This list includes such scholars and humanists as Sergei Kapitz, chair
of the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology; Indumati Parikh, Indian
reformer and activist; W.V. Quine, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Harvard;
and Kurt Vonnegut, novelist (Madigan et al.) There is another serious side to
this debate, which also deserves equal focus. The negative aspects of cloning
also weigh heavily on many consciences. One argument is that in order to achieve
one normal human specimen from cloning, a number of deformed or handicapped
children will be produced. This theory is based on the fact that of 277 attempts
to clone a sheep, only one acceptable copy was actualized (Leone, Biomedical
14). Another fear is the suspicion that if we are able to change the genetic
makeup of an organism and clone it, will someone, somewhere, attempt to clone an
entire race of lower-caste, human slaves (Madigan et al.)? Or, looking at it
from another angle, will it be possible to engineer and clone an entire
generation of superior beings? Many conclude that that argument is inadmissible,
because the concept of defining superiority through genetics is nearly
impossible (Leone, Biomedical 30). A quick glance at the list of those opposing
the continuation of human cloning research reveals several world leaders,
including President Bill Clinton of the United States, President Jacques Chirac
of France, former Prime Minister John Major of Great Britain, and the Vatican in
Rome (Madigan et al.) The Vatican in Rome. A commanding force to be reckoned
with in the debate over moral and ethic issues. Numerous religions around the
world have publicly announced their opinion of cloning; and, for the most part,
they do not favor the practice. Dr. Abdulaziz Sachedina, an Islamic scholar at
the University of Virginia, declared cloning to be in violation of Islamic
teaching about the family legacy and said that it eliminates the sanctioned role
of fathers in procreating children (Madigan et al.). A recent conference of
Roman Catholic bishops announced that cloning is “intristically morally
wrong,” an attempt to “play god,” and it “exceeds the limits
of the delegated dominion given to the human race” (qtd. in Madigan et
al.). One Protestant scholar, Gilbert Meilander, said that cloning is immoral
because the reason for the clone’s existence “would be grounded in our own
will and desires” (qtd. in Madigan et al.). There are many reasons for the
Church’s hostility toward cloning; however, three prominent reasons emerge most
often. The first of these is that cloning is an attempt to “play god.”
Now this argument was also used against birth control, organ transplants and
assisted deaths. Many proponents of cloning believe that religious leaders use
this excuse anytime people attempt to control their own lives (Madigan et al.).

This does not however, make it wrong or misleading. Should there be a barrier
that determines how deep into human life scientists can go? The next widespread
argument is that cloning is not natural. It has been said that cloning separates
reproduction and intercourse (Madigan et al.). Religious leaders believe that
conception should be a moral, loving act between a married couple. Lastly, there
is the theory that by cloning a human, we deny that person their uniqueness and
dignity. By giving a cell a “used” set of genes, churches conclude,
scientists are robbing that person of singularity and the right to be
one-of-a-kind. There are two arguments to refute this. First, DNA, as well as
environment, shapes one’s personality (Madigan et al.) Also, the fact that
clones can be found in nature on a regular basis, with identical twins. This
violent debate between religion and science is not likely to end soon. The basic
fact is, everyone must form their own set of morals and ethics. One’s outlook
determines the side one will take in such debates. It may be based on personal
experience, religious beliefs, or occupation. My personal philosophy is that if
we, as a progressive society, ever hope to achieve the things that were once
looked upon as lunatic science fiction, we must be willing to dig as deep as
technology allows us. There are so many amazing new discoveries to be made,
inside our bodies and out. This technology WILL be put to use by someone,
whether for good or for evil. Why not use as much as possible now for society’s
benefit, before the science is forever barred? Let’s get what we can out of it,
instead of letting it get into the wrong hands.


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