The Stuff of Nightmares

I found the example of the Puerto Rican mosquitoes most interesting. The thought of releasing a herd of genetically altered flying insects into the environment to mate with the existing mosquitoes sounds like the stuff of nightmares or the plot of a science fiction horror movie. I find the pros of this proposal to be relatively clear whereas the cons of the situation seem to present themselves in a far more convoluted light. The pros are simple: The objective is to genetically alter a population of mosquitoes and release them into the wild so that they will mate with other infected mosquitoes but pass on the genetic material that does not host such awful diseases. “Last year, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, James used CRISPR to engineer a version of Anopheles mosquitoes that makes them incapable of spreading the malaria parasite.” (Michael Specter page 2) The cons on the other hand center around whether or not it is moral or ethical to release a population of genetically altered mosquitoes into the environment when no one can be absolutely certain there will not be any unintended consequences. The compromise that has been proposed would be not to release this genetically altered population unless there was some way of reversing this technology or a way of countering what might go wrong should things take a turn for the worse.

The ethics of gene editing on humans are very interesting simply because there is both an enormous up-side as well as the potential for down-side. The positive aspects of human genetic engineering come in the form of human health and the prevention of genetically hereditary diseases. Those who do not support this technology being used on humans largely do not support it simply because they argue it is not right for humans to “Play God.” The reason the question of “Playing God” comes into consideration here is because if this technology is used on humans to genetically delete hereditary diseases, what is stopping us from creating designer babies? Is it right for the parents of a child to dictate what this baby will look like before it is even born without its consent? In my opinion, gene editing offers so many amazing positive outcomes that promise real health benefits to individuals suffering from chronic diseases that I think we have no choice but to move further with this technology and develop it further. The negative aspects in this case simply do not out way the plethora of positive outcomes that come from human gene editing. While I don’t think that creating designer babies is ethical at all, that will be a hurdle we must cross when we get there because the powerful technology of gene editing simply offers far too many positive benefits to be ignored compared to this one relatively small issue.

1 thought on “The Stuff of Nightmares”

  1. Hi Nick!

    I enjoyed reading your post, especially your second paragraph as it offers a much more optimistic view of how gene editing will benefit us compared to what I posted. One of my main concerns with gene editing is how do we balance the known benefits of it to any potential unforeseen consequences? This topic makes me think back to some of the “laws of ecology” from Barry Commoner, specifically laws 1 and 4, which respectively are “Everything is connected to everything else” and “There is no such thing as a free lunch”. While these “laws” were mainly written concerning ecosystems, I think they can easily be applied here. For example, how sure are we that if we change some gene, there will be no drawbacks? Despite our many advances in medicine and understanding the human body over the years, our bodies are still some of the most complex systems that we know, and while we can be decently certain that we understand some parts of the human genome, we lack an understanding of the big picture and I hope that we do not reach too far with these new powerful technologies.

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