Our genes are the sequence of DNA or genetic codes that determine our characteristics. So by changing our genetics we must be effectively changing our characteristics and ultimately ourselves. Is this simply medical care that is no different from taking everyday medicine like antibiotics? Or are we inauspiciously playing God and immorally defying nature in order to safeguard our species? In my opinion scientific progress is enabling lives to be saved and a loving God would not condemn this. A religious person may look at different aspects of genetic engineering and thus hold a different view.
Genetic engineering in humans is the development or manipulation of genes used to prevent disease and disabilities. Genetic diseases are serious and affect a vast number of people. Diseases or 'genetic disorders' like Huntington's, Sickle -cell anaemia, muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis can cause mental retardation, physical deformity or early death. Research into genes and genetic engineering can help prevent these problems and is surely ethical and not immoral. Most genetic research is based on germline therapy that enables genetic changes to the cells carrying the disorder from generation to generation.
This means that permanent changes can be made in the person's genetic code that prevents the transmission of these cells. So the person's genes have been changed, they are not the exact same person they were in terms of the constitution of their cells and their potential child's character has been altered. Does this mean God's work in creating the person and their eventual children will have been undone? Surely if the genetic disorder has been reduced or removed then God's work needed was rightly improved. More recent progress means that we can grow healthy cells to replace the malfunctioning ones and so cure disease in that person.
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This process involves creating stem cells. Either from embryos that were produced by IVF but not used, or from adult bone marrow or blood. The stem cells are kept alive so they can multiply and be transplanted into diseased cells to produce a cure. Stem cell research was banned In the UK because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology act said that the technology could only be used to treat infertility. I consider this an absurdity that this morally debateable technology was permitted to treat infertility but not to cure disease!
Surely saving life is as important as creating it. This I think was realised by the government and in 2001 the research was permitted. So should this research be allowed or should stand idly by while people who could potentially be cured are suffering from the diseases and problems above and not uncommonly dying painful deaths. It is clear that I agree with the government's decision, along with a number of non-religious and religious people for a number of reasons. It offers the prospect of cures for currently incurable diseases and gives those suffering a glimmer of hope.
Non-religious people argue stem cell cloning would only use embryos until it was easier to use the adult cells. Genetic research is an integral part of medicine research and is bound to include some genetic engineering. All genetic research is closely monitored by the law and so will not directly oppose religious morals but also has vast potential benefits. There are many non-religious people who would counter argue that genetic engineering has too little information about the long term consequences. They say that it should not take place because the effects are irreversible.
This means that should anything go wrong the damage would be permanent. Knowledge is power and people argue genetic engineering gives vast amounts of power to the scientists who could, they say, could act in a malevolent way to create scientifically produced human beings. This power is almost godly and is too excessive for the scientists to have. These scientific processes treat humans no different from commodities like plants. The research and advances could grow to the extent that they introduce the possibility of people having to be genetically screened before getting life insurance or even jobs.
Then a Gattaca like situation becomes imminent where anyone likely to develop illness or dir young would be refused the insurance, the job and would be denied a range of opportunities. Although these arguments are perhaps extravagant they are possibilities and the potential of scientific progress could have inhumane consequences. Religions recognise that in the modern world they must deal with issues like genetic engineering and amongst them there are different views of weather we, as humans, have the right to interfere with our own genes.
Christianity is not harmogenous and so within it there are different attitudes towards genetic engineering. It is mainly the more liberal protestant Christians who think that genetic engineering is a good thing and see the positive aspects like the potential curing of disease and the negative, which would be the potential creation of artificially produced 'perfect humans'. There are religious reasons why these Christians support this scientific research and action. Jesus was a healer who showed that Christians should do what they can to heal and help healers and to cure disease.
They believe that as humans we stewards on God's earth and by discovering the genetic make up of humans in order to help improve human life is fulfilling this stewardship. They believe that this is no different from researching medicine that can improve human life and reduce suffering. Regarding the potential of this technology getting out have hand, these Christians believe that creating cells is very different from creating people. Creating people via science rather than through sex would be wrong because as it would be taking over 'God's creator of life role', but creating cells is working with God.
As far as "killing" embryos for the genetic research is concerned; an embryo is not considered human life until it is 14 days old (This is then the time limit set by the Human Fertilisation and embryology authority for genetic research. ). They also use some of the non-religious arguments to support genetic engineering. It is mainly the Roman Catholics who believe that that genetic engineering is okay under certain circumstances. As long as the technology is for work into curing diseases and does not use human embryos it is permissible.
The reason they condemn the use of embryos is because they believe that life begins at conception, whether in a womb or a glass dish. Killing an embryo is killing a human life and is immoral and banned in the Decalogue. Some Christian are opposed to any kind of genetic research because they believe God has created the genetic make up of each human at the moment of conception and people have no right to interfere with God's will. Genetic engineering means 'playing' God and by doing this we are defying him which is a terrible sin. They believe we are doing wrong by trying to create a perfect world, as only heaven is perfect.
Many Christians believe that all humans should be living their "normal" lives" in accordance with 'natural' law (Aquinas) and that only God has the right to interfere with the natural genetic make up of all humans. They also feel that when creating artificially "perfect humans" we are not thinking about the people that are being produced. A scientifically created person will have no biological parents and many feel that what we are giving the child genetically, we are taking spiritually. These little 'genetic miracles' will be lacking in spirit. This idea is well portrayed in the film Gattaca.
The Christians against genetic engineering would also use the non-religious arguments against it. Islam is another religion trying to decipher between where the lines are in ethics of medical issues such as genetic engineering. Islam is usually in agreement over issues like this however there are two different Muslim attitudes to Genetic engineering. Some Muslims believe that the genetic make up of all human's has been established by God and so therefore human's artificially altering genes would be and attempt to 'play God' which is absolutely an unacceptable sin, shirk the greatest Muslim sin.
They also believe that using human embryos in research is abortion as they believe life begins at fertilisation and therefore do not agree with this kind of genetic research. They believe scientists who are trying to create life from stem cells are trying to play God a so this is also shirk. These Muslims also accept the non-religious arguments against genetic engineering. Other Muslims hold a similar view to Catholics, that genetic engineering is only good to an extent. As long as it is being to done in an effort to cure disease and not producing humans by scientific means.
These Muslims support genetic engineering firstly because the Qu'ran and the Hadith teach that Muslims should do everything in their power to prevent diseases and improve human's lives. In the way that some Christians believe in stewardship, these Muslims believe that humans should work as vice-gerents in hiding and supporting lives. This no different from researching medicine that will help improve lives and reduce suffering. These Muslims also believe there is a difference between creating cells and creating people and that creating cells is working with God.
They also consider that embryos can be used for research up until they are 14 days old, this is when the human life begins according to teachings of the Shari'ah. It is very difficult to foresee if the potential good of genetic engineering and 'interfering with genes' outweighs the potential bad and whether it is ethical in it's current state of research. I think that at the moment we have a very good idea of what the positive effects of 'interfering with our genes' would be.
It could cure diseases and prevent them from being passed on to generation after generation. The negative effects are slightly unclear. Will we end up producing genetically modified "perfect humans" who are lacking in will and spirit through no fault of their own? Is producing humans without sex wrong even? Is it against the will of God? Personally I think that the these questions go unanswered by the critics of genetic engineering who do not have plausible enough arguments to stop the research into curing disease and saving human life.
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