Should Genetic Manipulation of Embryos Be Allowed?
Genetic engineering shouldn’t be used to make changes to unborn children.
This is not a Q1 violation if you think that genetic engineering for any reason is wrong or you think that any non-natural attempt to effect an unborn child’s health is wrong.
This is a Q2 violation if you would want the option of making a genetic change to your unborn child or honestly wish that your parents had been able to make changes to you.
If you are completely against genetic manipulation of embryos, then you don’t have to worry about the fine details of where to draw your philosophical line in the sand on this issue. You’re against genetic manipulation of embryos and that’s it. But before you can hold such an opinion you must compare the strength of your reasons for being against genetic manipulation with the possible benefit to children of allowing them to be changed before birth. For example, could the bad of allowing genetic manipulation be offset by the good of correcting a birth defect that would kill a newborn in a week?
If you are not in principle against genetic manipulation, you need to decide what limits (if any) should be placed on it. For example, which of the following could ethically be changed through embryonic genetic manipulation?
- A condition that would be almost immediately fatal (e.g., an exposed spine).
- A condition that would not be fatal immediately but might be fatal in the future (e.g., a heart defect).
- A condition that would not be fatal but would limit potential (e.g., Down syndrome).
- A condition that is not desirable but is not necessarily significantly limiting (e.g., below-average height).
- Potentials that impact possible career choices (e.g., athletic ability).
- Aesthetic items (e.g., eye color).
- Properties desirable to the parents but not necessarily to society at large (e.g., deaf parents desiring a deaf child).
- Gender or sexual orientation.
It may help you to answer these questions to decide whether there is any moral difference between a manipulation that parents desire, a manipulation that the child could reasonably expect to desire when it is older, and a manipulation the child clearly needs to survive or thrive.
If some kinds of genetic manipulation are allowed, you might have different feelings about different methods of manipulation. Would it make a difference if the genetic procedure was to:
- Repair a mutation that had occurred in the egg.
- Repair genetic damage done by the mother’s behavior (taking drugs, for example).
- Select whether a particular gene would come from the baby’s mother or its father.
- Insert a genetic sequence that neither the father nor the mother has.
- Create a genetic sequence that humans do not normally have.
- Not change any genes at all, but rather select the most desirable candidate from among a number of eggs fertilized in a laboratory and implant only that desirable egg in the mother’s uterus.
There is also the question of who should decide whether or not an embryo should undergo a genetic procedure. Could a father insist on the procedure against a mother’s wishes? Could a court order a life-saving procedure against the wishes of parents whose religion teaches against genetic engineering?
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.