Definition: Changing the genes of an individual to improve quality of life.Genes of animals, embryos, humans and plants may be altered.Different types:
Stem cell research
Genetic modification of animals
Genetic modification of crops
Stem cells are unspecialised, so they can develop into different types of cells. Scientists can manipulate stem cells to develop into a desired type of cell.
A developing embryo have embryonic stem cells. Embryonic stem cells can be extracted from an embryo and used in medical procedures.
Embryonic stem cells are pluripotent, which means that they can develop into any type of cells.
Adults also have stem cells in their bone marrow. These stem cells can also be extracted for similar purposes, but are multipotent, so they can only develop into blood, skin and bone cells.
The legal limit for using embryos in scientific research is 14 days.
Benefits of using stem cells
grow organs for transplants (there is a long wait time for a donation)
scientists can study how cells specialise and differentiate
helping find a cure for cancer - as it thought to be caused by problems in the differentiation process
replacement cells to treat Parkinson's disease, type I diabetes, arthritis, burn victims, cardiovascular diseases, Alzheimers
Problems with Stem Cells
Roman Catholics would have a problem with embryonic stem cell research, because using these stem cells involves destroying the viability of the embryo to develop into a child. Catholics believe that the egg cell receives a soul as soon as it is fertilised.
Using stem cells is also described as 'playing God' by religious opposition, as it undermines the perfection of God's original design, by 'fixing' the flaws.
The growth of stem cells (especially embryonic stem cells) has to be controlled by scientists, otherwise the cells will grow into a tumour.
Animal sources may be used to provide nutrients to the stem cells, and people are concerned that there may be animal diseases passed on to humans receiving cell-based therapy.
The importance of the embryo vs. the importance of medical advancementRead more
Cloning is creating an exact genetic replica of an organism that is already living.
This process is normally done by extracting a healthy egg cell and removing its contents, and putting in the genetic information from a normal body cell from the individual you are trying to clone. This creates an artificially made zygote that can be implanted into the womb to develop in the usual way.
Benefits of cloning
We would never be short of organ donors.
Individual organs can be cloned by manipulating the cells, which means we can create organs that the patient's body cannot reject.
Cloning animals means that farmers can clone animals and plants that produce a good yield of meat, vegetation, milk or eggs.
Problems with Cloning
Should cloned humans have the same rights as uncloned humans?
It decreases the amount of diversity. Christians would have a particular problem with this, as they believe that God designs people to be individuals. (Psalm 139)
95% of animal cloning has ended in failure due to genetic defects, and cloning is considered unsafe because of it.
Christians may also argue that because clones are created by man, they would be born without a soul.
Dolly the sheep was the first cloned mammal that was born in 1996. Whilst this was a marvel of modern science, Dolly aged much more quickly than she should have done. As she was created from an adult cell, her DNA was a lot older than her actual age, and as a result, she developed diseases that are typical of older sheep. Read more about Dolly
Pros and Cons
What is Eugenics?
Eugenics is a way of improving the population by controlled breeding to increase occurrence of desirable characteristics.
Eugenics may be useful to improve human quality of life by removing recessive genetic diseases (such as Cystic Fibrosis).
It has been argued that human genetics will help to further to natural process of evolution.
These improvements may be achieved by genetic modification.
If a developing embryo has cells removed during cell division, it the cells can be genetically modified, without damaging the original.
Functional genes can be switched off, and substituted with other functional genes that will produce desirable characteristics. These substituted genes may come from a different species.
This method is not yet well developed enough to be used on humans, but it might be in the future. (Read more on eugenics)
What are the concerns?
Undermining God's authority to design humans perfectly - 'God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.' Genesis 1:31
Eugenics could be abused - who is to say which characteristics are desirable? Eugenics could lead to racial cleansing and denial of a child's right to life if they have a genetic disorder
Lack of diversity
There would be a divide between the rich who can afford genetic modification and the poor who can't
Genetics do not dictate emotion and ambition - what if a child created to be an athlete wants to be a singer instead?
Is eugenics ethical?
What are Saviour Siblings?
A saviour sibling is a baby whose genetic make-up has been selected (and possibly modified) with the intent that they can be a donor for their sibling's treatments.
Saviour siblings are conceived through in vitro fertilisation and then tested for genetic compatibility with the existing child (and to ensure they do not have the disease themselves). Zygotes with genetic compatibility are implanted for pregnancy.
Upon birth, umbilical cord blood is taken and used for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
In the United Kingdom, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority has ruled that it is lawful to use modern reproductive techniques to create a saviour sibling.
Caption: : The film My Sister's Keeper addresses the issue of saviour siblings. Kate has leukaemia and renal failure - which are supposed to be treated by stem cell (bone marrow) and kidney transplants from her sister Anna. Childhood leukaemia is common in the UK.
Ethical Issues with Saviour Siblings
Is it right that child is being born to save their sibling? - consider the psychological effects of the responsibility
Kant: people should be ends in themselves, not a means to an end
The saviour sibling doesn't get a choice in whether they help their sibling or not - it's their body
A designer baby is a baby whose genetic make-up has been selected to ensure the presence or absence of specific characteristics.
The characteristics may be chosen to avoid genetic disease, or for the sake of having a desirable characteristic. For example, parents might think that their child being genetically predisposed to having a high IQ is beneficial for their future lives.
This means that genetic diseases and undesirable characteristics can be eradicated.
Selecting characteristics can cause health problems. For example, pugs have been selectively bred to have squashed up faces which has led to various respiratory problems.
Christians would argue that God decides which characteristics we possess, and changing them takes away from the uniqueness and sanctity of life.
Caption: : To watch the news story video in its original format: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNdGAFc_45A
GM of Animals
Animals may have their DNA modified with the aim of making them healthier and less prone to disease. This topic is linked to the cloning of animals.Animal Testing
The GM of animals is linked to animal testing.
British law requires that any new drug must be tested on at least two different species of mammal, one of which must be a large non-rodent.
The law ensures that animals are treated humanely, and states what kind of experiments can be carried out.
All laboratories are required to maintain certain standards of care and hygiene, and are inspected regularly.
Caption: : Cow cartilage cells were fitted into a biodegradable mold, and then implanted under the skin of the Vacanti mouse, in the hopes of growing a human ear for donation. The cartilage began to grow by itself, and this was called a natural genetic mutation.
Plants may be modified to alter their characteristics, so that crop yields can be higher, and the plant itself is more resistant to disease.
If crops are GM, it may encourage people to eat more fruit and vegetables, as they are likely to be more aesthetically pleasing.
If crop yields are higher, more plants will be available, so the supply will increase, whilst the demand stays the same, which means that fruit and vegetables become cheaper.
Tumblr discussion (pros)
However, there are possible negative effects on the ecosystem if GM crops continue to be grown.
For instance, we are unsure of the effects of breeding an organic plant with a GM one. Will this have any health implications for humans?
The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act was amended in 2001 to allow the use of embryos for stem cell research and to provide for its regulation.
The following forms of genetic engineering are legal under UK legislation:
Stem cell research
Therapeutic cloning (read more)
Reproductive cloning is NOT permitted in the UK, as cloning entire organisms would lead to a question of whether these clones should be attributed full human rights.
Designer babies are also not legal in the UK (though this may change).
In 2015, the creation of three-parent babies was legalised in the UK. This could help to combat mitochondrial disease. Read more
The genetic modification of crops and animals are strictly regulated:
GM crops aren't grown in the UK, but instead imported. The majority of GM crops are ingredients for animal feed, but a small number of them do end up in food products.
There is no prohibition of growing GM crops in the UK, however, planting them is only permitted if; “if a robust risk assessment indicates that it is safe for people and the environment.” Read more
The use of cloned animals in the food industry falls under the British Food Standards Agency's 'novel foods' regulation. This means that meat, milk or eggs from cloned animals would be subjected to a safety evaluation and approved by all European Union member states as a novel food before they could be marketed legally. Read more