A momentous pioneering journey began in 1987. A group of zealous research scientist received approval for a series of tests involving genetics with the condition that there would be no experiments involving human beings. These scientists carried their experiments to the furthest extreme reaching a cessation. Now theyre brushing the realm of actually altering a fetus before it is conceived. Do humans as a species have the right to play with the very threads that make up our existence? Do we have the right to alter the natural outcome of fertilization?
The science of Genetics began its fundamental stages in the early 1960s when the United States Department of Energy conceived its Human Genome. The main purpose of this endeavor was to record and chart the 3 billion different codes that make up our estimated 70,000 genes. This Project will conclude in or around 2003 with the completion of the mapping. Harvard Medical School has been involved in the Human Genome Project from its onset with the interests and involvement of the staff, Alumni and students push the increasingly involved knowledge of genetic mastering to new limits.
These limits are allowing the identification and manipulation of the chromosomes that tell our cells who and what we are. We are able to over-ride those chromosomes and tell our own cells who or what we want to be Project (U. S. Dept. of Energy, web site). Gene therapy began in the late 1980s when geneticist began understanding the essence of genes and chromosomes; the doctors realized that the location and type of chromosome determined the resultant child (Cook 157).
With just a few more years of research, the scientists discovered certain patterns that predictably occur to indicate an increased probability of certain genetic diseases. The doctors used this technology to test high-risk mothers for possible fetal abnormalities that earlier tests couldnt determine. These tests could determine if the embryo was healthy or not, thus giving the would-be mother an advanced opportunity to abort the pregnancy earlier than what was previously (Cook 158). The increased use of gene testing introduced a new ethical problem.
Does a genetic defect give a mother the right to terminate the pregnancy? Does the fetus have the right to life? This argument is highly debated among Pro-life and Pro-choice alike. Is it fair to bring a child into this world with a pre-known handicap? In an official letter to all Archbishops, Pope John Paul II denounced the use of genetic testing for any reason. This decision is based on facts pertaining to biblical conflicting passages dealing with infanticide; this is one of the main premises that the Pro-life advocates stand on (Pope John Paul II).
Even though the strong religious arguments exist, the medical community is striving toward eradication of birth defects in general. In the process of advancement, If the scientists discover ways to design babies to a parents specification; there will surely be opponents to its continued forward movement (Lyon 226). The initial successes in genetics involved inserting an altered gene into a healthy cell. This cell would then simply spread its genetic code throughout the organism using the natural processes of cell splitting called meiosis.
The advances in genetics now allow a doctor to manipulate a chromosome (or set of chromosomes) like an order form (Cook 196). The geneticist can program a chromosome to set its code as either recessive or dominant; this allows the doctor to control the outcome of the combination. The possible genetic manipulations have allowed other miracles of modern science (Cook 196). Cloning is one of the more publicized technologies resultant to genetics. This technology allows the exact duplication of cellular structures including the genetic substructures.
Using this technology, genetic engineers have created duplicate skin that is highly effective in treating burn victims as well as certain other patients that have endured surgery leaving them with excessive scarring. This manufactured skin is genetically identical to the host, therefore there is a slim chance of the host rejecting the transplanted skin cells (Cook 203). This has led to experiments toward cloning more vital organs that are commonly used in transplants. This has raised a clamor in the ethically conservative community. Is science going to resort to people farming(Lyon 227)?
The scientific community has conceded that there will be no experiments involving human fetuses; however, there have been experiments involving other species (U. S. Dept. of Energy, web site). Dolly, a very common, normal sheep, made headline news when it was cloned in 1992. The fully-grown sheep was cloned at 6 months old and produced two identical twins (Kolata 79). This gives rise to even more advancements. Scientists have used this newfound information to increase their studies in human genetics. Shortly after Dollys landmark re-creation, another landmark was set. Another sheep, Polly, was cloned.
This time there was another step added to the process. The genetic material that was used in the clone was first altered to remove a genetic defect that causes a hemophilic type condition. It is guaranteed that neither of Pollys sisters will contract the disease. This leads to interesting developments in human genetic research (U. S. Dept. of Energy, web site). The developments in animal genetics have opened new windows in human genetic testing and even in a new field of genetics, Gene Counciling. This field allows geneticist the opportunity to investigate and determine the viable options that are available to the human cell.
The most foreseeable use of this technology will involve invitro fertilization clinics(Cook 230). Here, prospective parents (parent) would come in for genetic counciling. The doctor would perform a gene test on the parent and determine the possible recessive genetic defects that are present in the hosts (Cook 231). This could possibly follow with any physical options that the hosts may prefer. The host cells would then have their chromosomes extracted and replaced with altered chromosomes that were changed to the new specifications.
Nine months later a genetically altered child would be born that would (barring mutations) be nearly perfect. This of course is science fiction as of 1998, but it is a foreseeable future in medicine. The legal and moral aspects of this possible endeavor are, of course, very controversial. What happens if the gene that causes Downs Syndrome is also the gene that creates artistic capability? If the gene is altered and it slips into the reproductive cells of the patient, all the successive offspring will carry the new genetic pattern.
The family traits that had previously been predominant in a bloodline would now be non-existent. If there was a mistake that caused a less-than-favorable outcome, who would be responsible? Would the fertility clinic that performed the genetic coding be responsible for repairing the bad genes? An option to presenting active genes into a cell system is the insertion of an enzyme switch. This would allow a patients offspring to have the option of activating the altered code by taking a pill or a shot that activates the code (U. S. Dept. of Energy, web site).
This purely theoretical method is probably the only viable option that would satisfy the opponents to this type of gene therapy. The ability to identify genetic codes has presented a multitude of new morality issues that depend on the scientific community to use their knowledge responsibly now. An important ethical issue that should be considered is the common perception of the Haves versus the Have-nots. The prohibitive costs of genetic counciling now and the doubtfulness that the cost for this type of procedure will go down in the foreseeable future leaves a bleak outlook for the underprivileged (Asimov 96).
The gap between the people that have advantages and the people that lack the financial ability to afford even the most basic medical care will surely increase. Should a procedure like this be included in government paid medical programs? This would be comparable to artificial insemination or other forms of fertility problems. This type of counciling is not required for todays medical standards and is doubtful to be included at any time. Genetic counciling is now, and will be in the future, a very important part of human medical evolution.
The importance of its use in controlling genetic defects and possible other medical uses warrants the continued government financial support. At which point the Medical field controls the use of this technology will be an important stepping stone in moral and ethical standards. The future of the human race depends on the responsible use of the new medical technologies that are allowing people to live longer, healthier lives. If its possible to guarantee that a child will have certain physical characteristics, then the added bonus should be enjoyed by those than can afford it.