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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Genetic engineering may be used to change DNA in a human egg

National Public Radio reports that some scientists are considering changing some of the DNA in a human egg, so that the resulting offspring would not have an inherited disease. Up until this point, genetic engineering has been used only to change the DNA of a child, so that the results of genes in that child that cause disease can be mitigated. (See here for the Wikipedia article on genetic engineering.)

As the article points out, there are a number of ethical concerns, such as whether it is acceptable to use human eggs for this purpose, whether it's acceptable to modify an egg in such a way, whether there is potential harm to any offspring born, as a result of such a procedure, whether it's acceptable to treat women in this way, and whether we have any business tinkering with reproduction in this way. Up till now, genetic engineering in humans has not been used to change the type of fertilized egg produced, which, of course, could lead to a change in the offspring produced, and to that change being perpetuated in the population as the offspring had descendants.

On the other hand, there is certainly potential for alleviating harm, and lots of it. If, for example, sickle cell anemia, or Lou Gehrig's disease, could be stamped out by genetically engineering eggs, should we do it?

Good question. The answer depends a lot on the answers to the questions about ethical concerns. It also depends on motive -- why would we do this? To make money? To win Nobel Prizes? There are questions of justice that the report doesn't mention, either. Assuming that we decide to do this, what conditions, in what populations, do we consider treating in this way? Which ones don't we treat, or don't we treat right away? How do we make these choices? God help us, either way.


Mirt Media Maven said...

I immediately thought of positive uses, since my son-in-law has a serious genetic disorder. However, I think people have shown over & over that this kind of power is almost impossible to manage without abusing it, at least for some.
I hope if we implement this technology, it IS used to wipe out genetic disorders which are financially and emotionally costly, as well as physically detrimental.

Pilgrim said...

There are always unintended consequences in these situations,and so often they give opportunity for the fallen human nature to show itself.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks to both of you.

Yes, there are serious possible dangers, or unintended consequences.