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Treating Faulty DNA

An ethical issue which appears in both secular and religious discussions is the distinction between somatic therapy and germline enhancement. By “somatic therapy” we refer to the treatment of a disease in the body cells of a living individual by trying to repair an existing defect. Many ethical commentators agree that somatic therapy is morally desirable, and they look forward to the advances HGP will bring for expanding this important work. Yet, the ethically minded stop short of endorsing genetic selection and manipulation for the purposes of "enhancing" the quality of biological life for otherwise normal individuals or for the human race as a whole. We can speculate that the new knowledge gained from HGP might locate genes that affect the brain’s organization and structure so that careful engineering might lead to enhanced ability for abstract thinking or to other forms of physiological and mental improvement. But such speculations are greeted with the greatest caution. Molecular hematologist W. French Anderson says,

Somatic cell gene therapy for the treatment of severe disease is considered ethical because it can be supported by the fundamental moral principle of beneficence: It would relieve human suffering. Gene therapy would be, therefore, a moral good. Under what circumstances would human genetic engineering not be a moral good? In the broadest sense, when it detracts from, rather than contributes to, the dignity of man....Somatic cell enhancement engineering would threaten important human values in two ways: It could be medically hazardous....And it would be morally precarious, in that it would require moral decisions our society is not now prepared to make, and it could lead to an increase in inequality and discriminatory practices.Rifkin, Algeny 252.

In short, genetic enhancement risks violating human dignity by opening up the possibility of discrimination.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Ted Peters

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