Therapy is justified but Genetic Enhancement is not

1. Introduction

The opportunity of genetic technology employment on human turns up a number of moral questions and warns people toward the implication of this issue. From this emerge various human rights issues of how people are to understand the idea for respect for rights and human dignity. For instance, genetic therapy and genetic enhancement are two of several advanced technological treatment on human, as the result of the progression of the development in the medical and healthy areas. They nowadays become the main topics of many discussions among ethical scholars, and this will be the main key points of this writing. In order to maintain human life and society into nature moral framework, it seems so urgent to see and analyse deeply about both of these matters.

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Related to those problems, in this essay I would like to outline and write some critiques toward genetic therapy and genetic enhancement. The argument is that the claim that genetic therapy could be justified but genetic enhancement should not being justified. Nevertheless, I am not intending to resolve the problem or to justify anything, but to tease out some of the possibly conflicting values that are tie up with human discussing on these issues. In order to do that, we will begin by going through the review of both genetic therapy and genetic enhancement, and then examine them one another. We will also see not only the distinction between them but such advantages and disadvantages of genetic therapy and genetic enhancement as well.

2. Genetic Therapy and Genetic Enhancement

In terms of the definition of both genetic, or some people just say ‘gene’, therapy and genetic enhancement, some people are often being confused not only to distinguish each other but also the objects of these treatments. Therefore, it is important to make these terms clear to everybody, and thus we could construct such any forward ethical notion upon those advanced medical technology phenomenon.

First of all, ‘gene’ is a word obviously used in biology or bioscience to point out the plasma that is believed functioned in human body as a heredity agent. Human Genome Project Information uses this technical term by stating that genes, which are carried on chromosomes, are the basic physical and functional units of heredity. Genes are specific sequences of bases that encode instructions on how to make proteins. Genes could be altered so that the encoded proteins are unable to carry out their normal functions, genetic disorders can happen (www.ornl.gov). It seems that gene is a fundamental element that might be treated by such an engineered treatment in order to meet with the result desired.

Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, genetic therapy might be defined as “… the insertion of genes into an individual’s cells and tissues to treat a disease, and hereditary diseases in particular.” (www.wikipedia.org). Similarly, Rocholl (1996) argues and exemplifies this term by saying that “Gene therapy is the introduction of genes into existing cells to prevent or cure a wide range of diseases. For example, suppose a brain tumor is forming by rapidly dividing cancer cells”. In rather different version from that, Human Genome Project Information says that gene therapy is a technique for correcting defective genes responsible for disease development (www.ornl.gov). From these definitions, it can be understood that genetic therapy is a kind of medical treatment in which any gene of someone or a patient is treated by such an engineered treatment in order to healing either general diseases or heredity diseases.

There are several approaches that often use in genetic therapy to correct any disorder gene. Human Genome Project Information is sorting out these ways of treatment as follows:

* The first, which is the most common approach, is by inserting a normal gene into a nonspecific location within the genome to replace a nonfunctional gene.

* The second is by swapping an abnormal gene for a normal gene through homologous recombination.

* The third approach is by repairing an abnormal gene through selective reverse mutation, which returns the gene to its normal function.

* The fourth is by altering the regulation (the degree to which a gene is turned on or off) of a particular gene (www.ornl.gov).

The implication of genetic therapy is mainly to treat the certain disorders, especially those caused by genetic anomalies or deficiencies, by introducing specific engineered genes into a patient’s cells.

Genetic therapy is relatively new in medical technology and still being developed, but it delivers a bright hope for maintaining people health. Wikipedia indicates that although this technology is still in its infancy, it has been employed with some successes. In addition, it also describes that gene therapy often lumps together with antisense therapy (www.wikipedia.org). Moreover, nowadays, genetic therapy is very often used in embryo research, especially to eliminate any possibility disease that a fetus may have from its parents. In this sense, the prospect of this engineered medical science gives such an opportunity for people to get their better health or even to get a better healthy generation in the future.

On the contrary, when people employ an engineered gene treatment for a special intention to modify in advance the ability of their body, or even just a part of the body, this treatment might not be categorized as genetic therapy, but indeed, it is included to genetic enhancement treatment. For example, if an athlete is being treated with any kind of gene engineering in order to make her or him stronger than is natural, this treatment is merely for an enhancement matter. Hanna puts down a definition of genetic enhancement by saying as follows:

“In general, genetic enhancement refers to the transfer of genetic material intended to modify non-pathological human traits. The term commonly is used to describe efforts to make someone not just well, but better than well, by optimizing attributes or capabilities — perhaps by raising an individual from standard to peak levels of performance.” (Hanna, 2005 on www.genome.gov).

In addition, it is also described that gene insertion may be planned to affect a single individual through somatic cell modification, or it may target the gametes, in which case the resulting effect could be passed on to succeeding generations (ibid). The implication of this enhancement aim of treatment is that the genes which are inserted might be pretended to boost the functioning of normal genes. In other case, the normal genes could be replaced with other engineered genes due to produce a desired higher ability than the normal ones.

3. Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetic Therapy

According to Genome Science Centre, there are at least five advantages of genetic therapy that can be distinguished, with such an expanded explanation for each point, as follows:

Firstly, genetic therapy treats a genetic disease directly at the root of the problem or the pain, at the DNA1 level. In addition, it also possible either to targeting a specific cell populations or to modifying viral coat proteins (http://obiweb.bcgsc.ca). This medical way of treatment is believed could work effectively since it engages within the central area of disease, the main cause of the disease. Likewise, it is not necessary to do many treatments on other unnecessary parts of the pain concerned.

Secondly, genetic therapy opens a high possibility to treat any disease for which no treatment is now available (ibid). People commonly concern that there are several illnesses that can not be healed yet using conventional treatment, like many types of cancer (National Cancer Institute, 2005), heart attack (American Society for Gene Therapy, 2005) and few new epidemic such as AIDS/HIV (Aids Info, 2005) and bird flu (WHO, 2005); however, many of those diseases might be treated successfully by genetic therapy.

The third advantage is that genetic therapy may be a better healing treatment alternative not only because it is so effective to solve the problem but also it is potential for life-long treatment from a single injection (http://obiweb.bcgsc.ca). Since this particular treatment is pointed out directly to develop the main elements of human life and performing them into a better and permanent ones, and therefore is very possible to settle-down and keep the treated individual in good condition for long time, only by one treatment.

The fourth is that the medical professional believe that through genetic therapy, indeed, the patients own body produces the therapeutic2 gene product (ibid). In this sense, medically, when any gene treatment is given to somebody for any particular disease, it also supplements those genes treated to enable them to create the therapeutic product as an immune for her or his body. As the implication of this, of course, the individual might have and enjoy good health for a long term.

The last one is that once a treatment for one genetic disease has been developed, thus a similar disease should be equally treatable, using a different disease-specific gene (ibid). The plausibility of this conviction emerges optimism to many people who suffer from both regular and specific disease. More over, genetic therapy seems to be able to overcome almost all kind of illness.

Nonetheless, genetic therapy could raise several disadvantages. Rocholl (1996) indicates at least three negative impacts of the therapy, which could be categorised into three main problems, namely: increasing the number of abortions, high insurance, and regulation. Furthermore, these problems can be examined as follows:

Firstly, since the basis of gene therapy is to find the malfunctioning gene and to insert a healthy portion into that gene, and that scientists must perform genetic tests or genetic screening to see if the gene that causes, for instance cystic fibrosis, is present. This genetic testing is causing much controversy and raising many ethical and legal problems. This is because it is seen as not only an invasion of privacy, but also these prenatal tests could lead to an increase in the number of abortions. (www.ndsu.nodak.edu).

Secondly, in fact, when people know that they have a positive test for any disease, eventually, they are facing a dilemma in finding adequate insurance to cover the treatments, that can be gene therapy, or living out their lives knowing that they carry a gene for a disease. This positive test has put them into a high risk group in which they might not have been had they not been tested. This high risk label makes insurance coverage almost impossible to find, and it may be extremely expensive. Therefore, choosing to have the test may be a question of whether they think their current insurance will cover them or not. In addition, many young couples might find out that they are carriers of a disease, and then now they should decide if they want to have a child that could be born with a genetic disease (ibid).

Finally, another problem is related to the regulation of the uses of gene therapy. People in our society are obsessed with the idea of youth and beauty. If scientists could identify the gene that contributes to youth or beauty, then the technique of gene therapy could be monopolized by the cosmetic industry to enhance beauty or to stop the progressing of age being, instead of medical treatment for maintaining health. The problem with this is whether every physical problem such as baldness, height, or beauty could be proper enough for such a premise to ask genetic therapy. In this context, indeed, states should create and establish such genetic therapy regulation that will have to come into play in deciding whether a flat-nose is as important a genetic problem as blood cancer and which necessitates gene therapy. (www.ndsu.nodak.edu).

4. Advantages and Disadvantages of Genetic Enhancement

There are several reports on the result of human genetic enhancement that indicate a few advantages of this treatment, namely producing perfect people and improving general human performance. Although the implication of this research is still too early to be seen, many scientists strongly assert that it could work perfectly on human implementation. To a certain extent, some of these enhancement therapies have already been applied partly to the human body, such as for cosmetic benefit.

One of the advantages giving hope for people is in terms of reproductive possibilities. As some couples have medical problem with having a baby, this engineering treatment could resolve this infertility problem. Madrigal (1998) says that childless parents could choose human cloning to overcome their problem, and it is a kind of right that should be respected. Moreover, people also can produce or select a good breed for the next generation that might have the best abilities in thinking and acting (Garreau, 2005). In this sense, this world will be able to develop better and faster.

Many people are quite happy to recognise some benefits on this treatment as they think that they will be more comfortable, confident, and stronger than before they receive treatment. There are some clinics available now where people can get special treatment to enhance particular parts of their bodies, such as face, breast, and skin. Yet, some believe that enhancing certain people could be good for entertaining the public, such as enhanced athletes (FuturePundit, 2004), who might show an amazing performance.

However, there are a number people who hold deep concerns regarding the negative implication of using genetic enhancement. Kimura warns people by referring to Moraczewski about the possibility of genetic enhancement to destruct human life by saying that:

“The possibilities of genetic engineering have given humans another source of power, also potentially destructive of life as we know it. This power could radically alter existing life, to produce entirely new species. Technology, to be in the true service of humans, must not prevent man from reaching eternal life.” (Kimura, 1990; pp. 157).

Similarly, some have predicted that this treatment on humans may affect human evolution (Hanna, 2005). Mahowald (2000) states that even for a cloned organism, different gestational and environmental factors may lead to unexpected phenotypic expressions of the genome. To put in other way, the employment of medical enhancement technology on human can develop a new type of human being who differ from ordinary ones not only physically but also, near being true, mentally since genetic enhancement could be used to enhance the brain and those other element of mind. If it is done, people will be trapped into difficult situations, struggling against the new pattern of human surrounding them.

On the other perspective, philosophers and religious people raise an objection onto this treatment behavior, based on the belief that to intervene in such fundamental biological processes is “playing God” or attempting to place us above God. Also, people from various points of views believe that any interference with the nature is inherently wrong and question our right to toy with the product of years of natural selection (Hanna, 2005). People tend to keep all natural things into natural process, let it be as it will be by the rule of nature.

5. Justifying toward Genetic Therapy and Genetic Enhancement

Some might argue that genetic therapy could increase several disadvantages, like the issues surrounding abortion, high insurance, and regulation; nevertheless, it is very clear that the main purpose of genetic therapy is to solve the diseases problem of people, for healing and maintaining the health. Yet, medical experts have found that the case of heredity gene disorder could be fixed by such an engineered gene treatment. In addition, through this therapy people can both treat themselves into good condition out of gene disease and also prepare to have a good heath new generation. For those reasons and the benefit that could result, so genetic therapy seems to be a kind of future medical treatment that give more chance to create the more healthy societies, and thus in certain extent it should be justified. Moreover, by considering the few problems that may appear in employing this treatment, it is important to establish a special rule of conduct and people are encouraged to give more attention in controlling this using of genetic therapy.

On the contrary, Hanna believes that genetic enhancement will raise several problems related to two major concerns, namely the undermining of the principle of social equality and the problem of creating an unfair advantage that would be enjoyed by enhanced individuals (Hanna, 2005). When people go through any treatment in order to enhance their abilities and capabilities higher than the normal one they have, this kind of behavior may create a certain “superman” people, in which it can subvert social equality principle. Likewise, it will develop an unfair competition where the enhanced people entirely tend to use their over-loaded capacity to overcome those normal people.

The implication of this phenomenon is that empowering people through genetic enhancement will eventually destroy the community and the people themselves. The Guardian (2002) emphasizes that the ability to genetically enhance future generations could lead to an era of violent rebellion against the emergence of a new ‘overclass’. Thus, this kind of treatment should not be justified and even must be prohibited by both society and government. Yet, King underlines that “medical resources should not be used for ‘enhancement'” (King, 2001 on www.hgalert.org). The further consequence of this justification is that there should be clear such a provision for examining what is “cure” and what is “enhancement”.

6. Conclusion

Generally, people always want to spend their life in good condition without pain or illness both in physically and non-physically. Some of them even want to get better condition that the normal one they have. Therefore, many people concern and seek continually to have such treatment that can provide the good, or for some the better, condition; these desires now could be presented by genetic engineering, namely genetic therapy and genetic enhancement.

As a conclusion, since any treatment such as genetic therapy is intended to healing and maintaining the health of people, so it looks like a good effort of human kind; pertaining human good, human life and human dignity; and thus it should be justified. Conversely, we could not give any concern for justifying genetic enhancement as it could lead people into producing special human with some “super” abilities, in which it could destroy the community or human kind because of those abnormal capabilities they have.

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