The “Cookie Jar Factor” — A Better Descriptor for my Unease with Genetics

September 24, 2015 § 1 Comment

The promise of genetic medicine seems almost too good to be true: instead of administering drugs to fight disease, we can instead alter our DNA so that our bodies “create our own medicines”. Previously incurable ailments, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS that have caused millions of people to have an early death, seem to be but dominoes that will fall once we perfect this technology. The recent success, both scientifically and financially, of biotech incubators such as Moderna Therapeutics, bluebird bio, Juno Therapeutics, and Ultragenyx Therapeutics are testaments to the fact that this is a fantasy that is inching closer towards reality every day. One would think that everybody would be extremely excited for the human race to continue to pursue this (and it seems that many of my peers are, which is justifiable), and ultimately unlock the power of the human genome.

And yet, something about this technology seems so disconcerting to me. Of course there is a litany of logical, rational reasons that one could present against the case of altering the human genome — ranging from the risks of it falling into the wrong hands, to the bevy of ethical issues that it creates. However, far surpassing these factors is a sheer gut feeling. It’s similar to the feeling that you get when you know you are doing something that you should not be doing, like when you are taking a cookie from the jar that you know you aren’t supposed to touch. To me, it seems that the coding that makes us human has something sacred to it. Maybe it is because I read Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus at a young age, but I believe that there are somethings in life that man was not meant to understand. As such, I can’t help but feel incredibly uneasy whenever I hear news of our species getting closer and closer to attaining this technology. Maybe I am a Luddite and this fear of discomfort is greatly unfounded, but it exists nonetheless. (Disclaimer: yes, I actually drew a comparison between the human genome and a cookie)

Of course, I say all of this as a healthy person without any life threatening ailments. I assume my opinion would be drastically different if I myself had an aggressive disease, and my days were numbered.

-Kyle Uber


§ One Response to The “Cookie Jar Factor” — A Better Descriptor for my Unease with Genetics

  • bryantp1 says:

    I really appreciate the honesty of this post. You admit to an unease that is difficult, though not impossible, to explain. At the same time you admit that under different circumstances you might have a totally different view – again a very honest, practical assessment of your own opinion on this.

    I encourage you to go further with it, to explore even more the possibilities of why you have this gut reaction to it and what rational might exist behind it. Thus, maybe you can find that there are certain aspects of genetic modification you are ok with, while others you are not but you have well thought out reasoning behind that.

    Honestly I find myself doing the same thing. Are there particular elements of genetic modification I’m ok with and others I’m not? Yes. Do I feel like my reasons about them are fully formed? No.

    I feel like it would be ok to work to use gene therapy to cure a disease in a straightforward way, so long as it didn’t endanger the life of the embryo one was treating. But on the other side, I think genetic enhancement is wrong – partly because I have that same gut feeling – but also I think for some good reasons, such as thinking about it with regards to whether that is the type of society we want to create.


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