To alter, or not to alter, that is the question

September 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Through advancements in modern science, the possibility of ‘designer babies’ who have had their genetic makeup artificially selected to ensure certain characteristics or genes is becoming more realistic. Specifically, genetic modification could affect a child’s susceptibility to disease, allow parents to choose a specific gender, determine personality traits, or even establish appearance and IQ. But if you had the choice to pre-determine everything from the color of your child’s eyes to the score he or she will achieve on the SAT, would you?

Gene altering is an extreme ethical dilemma. What if you could ensure that your child wouldn’t die from or contract any disease that can be determined by an individual’s genetic makeup? Selecting against these genes seems like a very attractive option, because you would help your child, hopefully, live a long life with. However, these genetic alterations have implications for the children of parents who decide not to tamper with genes. In the movie GATTACA, parents can ensure that their children won’t have certain diseases or characteristics through gene alteration, providing them with the best start possible. However, this leads to discrimination against natural birth children. If doctors, as in GATTACA, can alter genes to reduce or eliminate the risk of heart disease for an individual, that person would most likely to be hired over an individual who could possibly die from a heart disease. Also, opportunities may be closed off to natural birth children because companies wouldn’t want to take the risk of an individual dying young when they could be relatively well-assured that the genetically altered individual will live a longer life. In my opinion, if genetic altering were used to reduce the risks of contracting certain diseases, individuals who do not have their genes altered would get stuck with extremely high health care premiums and extra costs, such as the mental toll of discrimination, solely because they choose to allow nature run its course. Selectively altering genes for diseases, when not applied to the entire population, does not seem like an ethical action because it would most likely produce a divide between those who have had genetic modification and those who haven’t.

If selecting against genes for diseases is an ethical dilemma, what about providing your child with genes that make him or her more altruistic to other people? How would this affect their life? I believe that pre-determining a child’s personality traits is unethical, and that personality and characteristics should be allowed to develop naturally for an individual. Parents shouldn’t be able to ‘design’ their child like a toy – for if anything turns out different than what they tried to design or change, then they are likely to be dismissive toward the child and possibly see him or her as an ‘experiment gone wrong’ if they act against altruistic behavior. Furthermore, although children provided with altruistic genes would be disposed to help others and be caring, individuals without these genes would be likely to take advantage of the genetically altered individuals with the knowledge that they are pre-disposed to help others.

Overall, I believe that gene altering is unethical and in most situations could lead towards discrimination. However, if technology is developed that can alter the genes of an entire population to reduce the risk of certain diseases (and there wouldn’t be a divide between individuals with the genes who won’t get sick and individuals without the genes who have a higher probability of getting sick), then I think that this instance would provide the right setting for ethical gene alteration because it would make everyone better off.

-Lexi Zarecky, Blog 4

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