The Moral And Ethical Issues Associated With Using Biotechnology To Manipulate Reproduction

Many people are united in their concerns regarding biotechnology, not just in the area of reproduction but on a much more general scale, such as genetically modifying food. I am going to research the moral and ethical concerns surrounding the use of biotechnology to manipulate reproduction, I will look at the arguments for and against this use of technology in various circumstances looking at its use on humans, and in farming.

I will also research the various ways in which biotechnology has been used, including cloning, infertility treatments, and synchronisation of breeding behaviour. From this essay I am hoping to discover whether the concerns many people have regarding this subject, are indeed justified and that the creation of life is an area that should be left to nature, or whether the use of biotechnology in creating life will indeed aid man kind greatly in time to come.

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Biotechnology is often used by farmers to enable them to control various aspects of their animals, including synchronising their breeding behaviour. It is usefull for a farmer to know when his lambs will be born, and also to have them born within a short period of time. The farmer could just let nature take its course and allow the sheep to come into their oestrous cycle and therefore get impregnated naturally, but many use various hormones to help synchronise the impregnation and therefore birth of the sheep.

A farmer would do this by first introducing a teaser ram which has had vasectomy into a flock of ewes, this would bring them into season, 2 weeks after the introduction of the teaser ram the farmer would take measures to synchronise the oestrogen cycle of his ewes, he would do this by removing the teaser ram, followed by inserting a sponge, impregnated with the hormone progesterone, into the vagina of the ewe, which will inhibit the FSH preventing ovulation.

After 14 days the sponges would be removed, allowing oestrus to start 3 to 4 days later, in some cases the ewes may also be injected with MSG, which is a combination of FSH and LH, which will stimulate ovulation enabling the start of the oestrous cycle to be further synchronised. Once oestrous has started the rams are introduced and the ewes are impregnated at roughly the same time, therefore synchronising the birth of the ewes. Although doing this is very useful to the farmers, some people feel that it is cruel and morally wrong to make the ewes go through this solely to allow the farmer a better idea of when the lambs will be born.

Infertility is a problem suffered by many couples all over the world, it is a terrible thing not to be able to conceive a child, but this problem can be beaten in some cases. There are many reasons for infertility, in both males and females, in women the most commen reasons are blocked fallopian tubes, an imbalence of hormones causing failure to ovulate, or cervical mucas that repels or kills sperm, and in men the most comen reasons for infertility are low sperm count, production of abnormal sperm or production of antibodies that make sperm stick together.

Imbalenced hormones, is the easiest problem to overcome, the treatment consists of drugs to stimulate FSH and LH production, which would be taken on a daily basis, the treatment is followed by examination of the ovaries to detect the development of follicles, once a ripe follicle has been detected using HCG, ovulation can be stimulated by a hormone with a similar effect to LH. Although the treatment for hormone imbalence is fairly straight forward, dealing with the other causes of infertility become more difficult.

IVF is probably the most well known treatment, as it is used by many couples and makes the private companies which use it very well off, it involves giving the women hormone treatment for several weeks, followed by locating her eggs using ultrasound scanning, and then collecting them under local anesthetic. The eggs are then fertilised in vitro by her partner’s sperm and incubated for 2 days, before being inserted back into her uterus.

This process can be used to overcome most causes of infertility, but it is difficult, and it is unlikely that the fertilised eggs will develop, as they have been tampered with, this means that the success rate is very low, at just 30%. Gamete intra-fallopian transfer, otherwise known as GIFT is another form of infertility treatment, it is simpler than IVF and also has a 5% higher success rate, it is more natural than IVF, as the eggs are out of the body for less time.

The eggs are collected in the same way as that of IVF, and then mixed with the sperm and immediately introduced into the fallopian tube. Artificial insemination is the teatment mostly used deal with low sperm count, or a womens cervical mucas repelling the sperm, it is a fairly simple process, drugs are given to ensure that several mature eggs are released at ovulation (which can be detected by scanning with ultrasound) and then the partner’s sperm is introduced directly into the uterus.

Although many people agree with such infertility treatments, there are several ethical reasons that condem them, especially IVF. The main issue surrounding the use of IVF to treat infertility is what happens to the healthy embryo’s after the infertile couples family is complete, ‘The embryos may simply be destroyed, but this is not the most usual fate for them. If the parents are willing – and they often are – the embryos may be used for further research into the treatment of human fertility. They may be allowed to continue developing until they are 14 days old’ (3)

This goes against many peoples belifs, especially those of a religious nature, as they belive that even a cluster of cells, which is first present just after concevment is a life, and should be treated as one, let alone a 14 days old when the embryo is beginning to take shape. Another ethical issue is the question of whom the frozen embryos belong to in the event of the parents separating, if the parents don’t agree on what should be done with the embryos then who should ultimately take responsibility for them.

These concerns surroud what is best for the potential child, some people belive that it would be nicer not to have interfeared and allowed nature to decide, some even belive that being infertile is Goda wish and using such treatments would be going against him and what he had planned. Cloning is currently an area of great controversy, nobody quite knows where the future of this technology will lead, many fear the results it could have if it went wrong, and others fear what would happen if it went well.

Human cloning is an aspect of biotechnology that once thought to be impossible is becoming closer and closer to reality. On February 24th 1997 the impossible happened an adult mammal was cloned, a sheep named Dolly became the first ever mammal to be successfully cloned, and more shocking still ‘The news that the mammal had been cloned from an adult cell – was something that even scientist like James Watson and Francis Crick had gone on record as stating was very likely impossible’ (1)

The process used to clone Dolly was nuclear transfer, the embryologist involved, used a mammary gland, taken from a six year old Scottish Finn Dorset ewe and removed its genetic information, via the above process, this information was successfully inserted into a hollowed out egg from a Scottish Blackface sheep, which had already been fertilised by a sperm cell, and was then placed into a second Scottish Blackface (pictured to the right, alongside Dolly) that served as a surrogate mother.

After news of the succesfull cloning spread, and the details of the procedure were published more and more stories of successful mammal clonings arose, not only in sheep but in a variety of other mammals. From the moment Dolly was successfully cloned, scientists world wide, began work on producing human clones, some for fame, and others for man kind. There are many different organisations attempting human cloning, for various reasons, some are trying to discover new treatments, such as growing stem cells to regrow damaged spinal tissue, others are trying to make a new form of infertility treatment.

Obviously there are different outlooks on both reasons for cloning, but the reason I am going to look at, is the most controversial and that is using cloning technology as a form of infertility treatment. There are already many forms of infertility treatments available today (as mentioned on the previous page), but for some couples these various treatments are unsuccessful, it is these couples that wish to resort to cloning, though few of them understand the true extent of what they are saying.

The clinics and scientists which are working on such methods of cloning, such as Dr. Richard Seed, who ‘has announced his plans to open a clinic dedicated to using the new technology to serve the infertile public. He has even chose four couples who are willing to be first in line for creating children from their own genetic material via cloning’ (2) This quote, shows that Dr. Seed and those like him belive that cloning truly is a step forward towards helping those suffering from infertility, and that there are infertile couples, that are willing to take the chance inorder to pass on their genes.

Due to this, some people would argue that it is upto the infertile couple, if they are willing to take the chance with cloning then who are we to stand in their way. Something that doesn’t help Dr. Seed and those like hims cause, is the extortionate fees they are charging, thus arguing that such scientists do not care about the outcome of the cloning process, but are instead driven by the fame and fortune they would receive if successful.

There are also fears regarding the outcome of the use of biotechnology in this way, nobody knows exactly what state any child would be in, if conceived in such an unnatural way. These fears are justified, as there have been many horrible results to animal cloning, none of which we would wish upon anyone. Although there have been many successes in the cloning industry, they are nothing in comprison to the failures, and deformities. Many animals did not develop correctly resulting in huge abnormalities, some died in early stages of development, yet even worse some were born.

Many that did survive the birth had to be put down as they were so severly deformed it was cruel to keep them alive. If this happened during human cloning the answer would not be as simple as you could not kill the child to end its suffering as you would an animal. Even in success cases, such as Dolly the sheep, where they seemed healthy at birth, some problems arise they get unexpected illnesses and generally die young. Dolly got artheritas at a very young age, and died at just six years old.

It is possible that early deaths of clones may have happened any way, but more likely that it they were as a result of unsolved problems during the cloning process. There is alos fear regarding what will happening if human cloning does become acceptable and widely used, many people have already frozen tissue samples of dead children, or relatives with the plans to have the deceased cloned in the future. Many people including my self, belive that this is immoral, especially as although the person would appear the same ultimately they would be a different person inside.

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