Amanda Lown
Amanda Lown, NIU

Amanda Lown is a graduate of Lexington High School, and she is currently majoring in marketing at NIU. Her interests include reading, photography, traveling, and cooking. Her career goal is to work for a marketing firm in the Chicago area. “Drawing the Line” is important to Amanda because after conducting her research, she “developed a strong opposition to pre-implantation genetic engineering.” Writing this essay helped her to realize the social, emotional, and physical consequences of this technology.

A revolution in biotechnology is presently occurring, which affects the process of pregnancy. The evolution came about as the number of infertile couples increased. The procedure called invitrofertilization (IVF) helps such couples with the use of fertility drugs. Another problem couples face involves genetic disorders. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) makes healthy offspring possible. After IVF and before implantation of eggs, eggs undergo genotyping to determine which ones carry the healthiest traits. However, the only traits possible come from those of the embryo’s parents. Pre-implantation genetic engineering (PGE) then becomes the next step biologists and doctors hope to make. PGE alters the genes of an embryo. With germline engineering, these alterations pass to future generations. The ethics of PGE is currently a highly debated topic among the scientific and medical community. Until PGE guarantees safe and predictable outcomes, this procedure needs to be limited to necessary, medical use only.

Society describes the embryos created through the use of PGE as “designer babies” because traits are developed through gene alteration. Rebecca Dresser’s article, “Designing Babies: Human Research Issues,” discusses the possibility, risks, and alternatives of PGE. Dresser provides background information about genetic enhancement and the ethical questions that arise. She goes on to explain the alternatives to PGE, which include the use of PGD, adoption, or treatment of the genetic illness. Dresser justifies PGE for medical use. She concludes by describing the difficulties of conducting a human study on a person created from PGE. Overall, Dresser stresses that the alternatives to and risks of PGE outweigh the potential benefits. Alternatives include PGD and adoption. Some risks consist of defects from the procedure or damage to the relationship between the child and the parents.

Jeremy Rifkin’s article about PGE, “Ultimate Therapy: Commercial Eugenics in the 21st Century,” delivers a different message. Rifkin begins by describing the way humans already use genetic alterations in fields such as agriculture, but now scientists are taking on the challenge of unlocking the human genetic code. He explains that this biotechnological revolution forms a kind of positive eugenics. Rifkin’s main point relies on the argument that parents maintain the responsibility to help their child prosper at any cost. Thus, Rifkin argues that the future will see PGE as not only a social norm but also a parental obligation. Rifkin gives an alternative to PGE, which entails environmental modification. Because a person’s environment affects genetic mutations, a positive environmental change decreases the risks of developing a genetic disorder.

PGE offers couples several benefits during the reproduction process. The health of a child remains the key concern for parents. Thus, the use of this technology eliminates the chances of raising a genetically impaired child. Other medical uses include altering genes for the prevention of disease or immunity to HIV increases (Dresser 2). As the cost of PGE goes down, the price of the procedure will become much less expensive than the price of treatment for a genetically ill child (Rifkin 46). The corrective measures taken during PGE also pass on to the genes of any descendants. Therefore, genetic disorders potentially turn into a problem of the past. Beyond health considerations, PGE holds the possibility to fix other undesirable traits. Potential alterations consist of improvement to intelligence, personality, and physical abilities. However, until the current accuracy and safety of PGE increases, the value of these genetic alterations remains lower than the risks.

Because the risks of PGE remain higher than the benefits, elective alterations cannot be reliably beneficial. The complexity of the genetic code relies on the large amount of pleiotropic genes, which influence multiple traits. Dresser acknowledges that “altering a pleiotropic gene could have unintended effects on the later-born children” (3). The outcome of the child’s health then becomes a safety issue. Instead of a couple fostering a child created naturally with a considerably healthy physique, a couple may face raising a child with a disease that is triggered in the process of making a more intelligent son or daughter. Therefore, the results of PGE vary without certain predictability. In some circumstances, parents feel disappointed in their child, if the desired traits never develop; consequently, the child feels disappointed for not fulfilling their parents’ expectations. Other risks include potential discrimination and prejudice toward the children born via PGE. Some parents even choose changes that many see as dangerous, such as making a child blind or deaf.

After considering the risks of PGE, couples may look for alternatives. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis sufficiently determines the possibility of a genetic disorder. Thus, PGE used for this purpose seems unnecessary, unless a couple cannot produce embryos from IVF unaffected by disease (Dresser 3). Yet, couples find another alternative in utilizing donor gametes, in which a donor and one parent give genes to make an embryo. The last alternative mentioned by Dresser gives the couple the option to adopt (Dresser 4). Throughout Dresser’s description of alternatives to PGE, she presents an objective viewpoint to readers. Rifkin also lists an alternative. Genetic diseases not only undergo influence from genes, but also from the environment. Thus, a change of environment might replace gene alteration to avoid a genetic disease (Rifkin 48).

In his article, Rifkin explains the way gene alteration evolves in biotechnology. Since the science of gene alteration exists, most scientists and doctors feel obligated to make PGE available to people. Rifkin explains, “Their arguments are couched in terms of personal health, individual choice, and collective responsibility for future generations” (45).   Thus, the current generation should feel obliged to make improvements for the future of mankind whenever possible. Rifkin appeals to the emotions of parents. He explains that if a parent maintains the ability to better the life of their child, they should do so at any cost. In the future, parents might seem irresponsible if they reject the use of PGE (Rifkin 46). Even though parents always want the best for their child, Rifkin’s argument avoids the fact that PGE retains higher risks than benefits. Dresser stresses this fact when explaining her side of the argument. The necessary risk benefit assessment must include an unavoidable human trial run of PGE. However, Dresser emphasizes that a human study retains risks and complex problems. A large enough number of participants need observation for a credible study. Furthermore, participants carry a high possibility of halting the study at the request of the parents, the child created, or any descendant enrolled in the research project. According to Dresser, other complications exist: “To meet participants’ educational and psychological needs, long-term involvement of genetic counselors and mental health professionals independent of the research team might be required” (Dresser 6). Overall, the use of a human research study as an agent of proof for the success of PGE brings too many complex factors into the equation.

The main issue of whether to use PGE or not relies on ethics. Many see it as a religious issue when humans try to play the role of a god-like character by choosing the genes of an unborn child. Another problem remains with the probability of taking PGE too far. The fear of human perfection grows as scientists gain the ability to improve a human’s traits. People worry that the value of human life and individuality is demeaned when the genes of human beings are altered to fit an ideal mold of societal expectations. Advocates of disabled people’s rights find it alarming that society wants to get rid of any unordinary traits a being may possess (Rifkin 47). Another ethical issue gives light to the lack of diversity developed by the overuse of PGE. Those with the financial means to obtain the benefits of PGE can enhance their family’s future generations. Unfortunately, those with less means or ability to pay fall further and further behind.

With all the risks PGE brings, the practice needs to limit its use until better procedural safeguards and predictable outcomes exist. In “Designing Babies: Human Research Issues,” Rebecca Dresser makes a strong argument that the alternatives to and risks of PGE outweigh any potential benefits. However, in “Ultimate Therapy: Commercial Eugenics in the 21st Century” by Jeremy Rifkin, the counterargument of a parent’s responsibility to improve their child’s life sheds a different point. Rifkin explains that the biotechnology revolution cannot be undone. The best way to apply PGE includes preventing medical diseases, building immunity, or using for any other health reason. PGE’s risks make any other reason, such as enhancing intelligence, not worth the unpredictable outcome. The biotechnology revolution presently dominates the scientific community and raises many ethical issues. The ethical issues, however, cannot stop these advancements.


Works Cited

Dresser, Rebecca. “Designing Babies: Human Research Issues.” Ethics & Human Research. 26.5: 1-8. EBSCO. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.

Rifkin, Jeremy. “Ultimate Therapy: Commercial Eugenics in the 21st Century.” Harvard International Review. 27.1: 44-48. EBSCO. Web. 7 Nov. 2009.

Published by Aaron Geiger

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