Saturday, July 9, 2005

Technology

Technology often drives science, science drives medicine, and medicine is always pushing society into ethical corners.—Dr. Mark Hughes, Researcher

The issues concerning the modification of the genetic make-up of animals have already sparked enormous controversies. I am not surprised, therefore, to hear that familiar clash of ideologies and opinions—this time, in louder, more forceful tones—now that the issue has been directed to humans.

The area of debate is essentially this: we have the technology to manipulate the very codes that determine our genetic make-up and there is a wide variety of options out there, some of them still untapped, but do we have the right to meddle with it (our genetic make-up), let alone with other people’s bodies, especially our children? Some people would even ask, “Do we have the right to play God?”

It would do us well to remember that the discovery of the DNA revolutionized the way we think of life. Sometimes referred to by the scientific community as a breakthrough in the field of technology, the study of the DNA is a possibly more useful area than, say, nuclear technology. But coupled with its growing importance are the moral and ethical issues that inevitably go with it. For instance, let us look at the area of engineering healthy children from defective genes shown in the Discovery production, Making Babies Genetically Correct. Fatal hereditary diseases strike one in 50 North American families, but for the first time, couples with damaged genes were given the reason to hope.

It is, to me, a contrasting picture altogether: here is the mother with a sick, dying child. She wants to cure her child and incidentally, to have a healthy baby free from such genetic disease—morally, there is nothing wrong with her intentions. But the problem lies with the means through which she would accomplish this end: she would choose the genetic make-up of the child by sorting out the embryos that carry the harmful gene. Let us extend this idea: here is a couple wishing to have a baby boy who will grow 6 feet tall, think like Einstein, and look like his father. Time will come when this will be very possible (I’m not sure if we have the technology to carry this out now), but will it be morally and ethically acceptable? Are they playing God by choosing the kinds of children that they would want to have?I am afraid they are, in a sense.

As in the first case (the mother with the sick child), a disease had to be treated. When life is in question, the answer should immediately be to save it! If, in the process of saving such life, another life—or more accurately, embryos that will later on live—is destroyed, then no life has been truly saved at all. Risks like this are to be minimized first before we allow it to continue in full scale. The second case is something that is, for me, morally unacceptable. I find it unfair because had my parents decided to create a child with so and so characteristics—those which I do not have—then I would not have existed at all. The natural flow of nature will be inevitably disrupted, and parents will take full control of even the genetic make-up of their children—something I cannot swallow.

But this is how things are going. Technology is growing too fast such that we already find difficulty catching up with it. To take immediate sides on the issue of genetic engineering is rather improbable—there are always gray areas that open the same questions, or even more complicated ones, and finding the answers to these questions are hard. "

The stories were true-to-life, a fact that made all of them painful to consider even for a moment. Two couples with children who had genetic diseases were searching for the means to cure them, in hope that they might be spared of the pains of life and possible an early death. The most promising answer was, of course, genetically manipulating the embryos such that the resulting child would not have that recessive trait and so on. It is, to me, a contrasting picture altogether: here is the mother with a sick, dying child. She wants to cure her child and incidentally, to have a healthy baby free from such genetic disease—morally, there is nothing wrong with her intentions. But the problem lies with the means through which she would accomplish this end: she would choose the genetic make-up of the child by sorting out the embryos that carry the harmful gene.

Let us extend this idea: here is a couple wishing to have a baby boy who will grow 6 feet tall, think like Einstein, and look like his father. Time will come when this will be very possible (I’m not sure if we have the technology to carry this out now), but will it be morally and ethically acceptable? Are they playing God by choosing the kinds of children that they would want to have? I am afraid they are, in a sense. As in the first case (the mother with the sick child), a disease had to be treated. When life is in question, the answer should immediately be to save it! If, in the process of saving such life, another life—or more accurately, embryos that will later on live—is destroyed, then no life has been truly saved at all. Risks like this are to be minimized first before we allow it to continue in full scale. The second case is something that is, for me, morally unacceptable. I find it unfair because had my parents decided to create a child with so and so characteristics—those which I do not have—then I would not have existed at all. The natural flow of nature will be inevitably disrupted, and parents will take full control of even the genetic make-up of their children—something I cannot swallow.

But this is how things are going. Technology is growing too fast such that we already find difficulty catching up with it. To take immediate sides on the issue of genetic engineering is rather improbable—there are always gray areas that open the same questions, or even more complicated ones, and finding the answers to these questions are hard.

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