Genetic engineering of human beings is one of the hottest topics of the times.
Ever since the discovery of the DNA by Watson and Crick, our knowledge about genes and its role has grown by leaps and bounds.
A General Introduction to Genetic Engineering
To understand genetic engineering, you will first need an understanding about genes.
I’ll make it as simple as possible for you to understand.
All living organisms are made up of cells. These cells in turn, contain a nucleus, which in turn contain what are called chromosomes. The chromosomes in turn, are long chains of molecules called DNA or ‘Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid’. In the case of viruses, it is called RNA, or ‘Ribo Nucleic Acid’.
RNA and DNA are described as the ‘building block of life’, because it is essentially the programming code of all organisms.
For the sake of understanding, let’s simplify it to just DNA, and put RNA aside. DNA is made up of four molecules (Adenine, Guanine, Cytosine and Thymine), called nucleobases. These form in specific combinations (adenine-thymine & guanine-cytosine) and are repeated throughout the DNA strand. In the case of RNA, the molecule Thymine is replaced by another molecule called Uracil.
These long clusters contain specific information on how an organism’s basic functions are to go about, ranging from breathing and metabolism to external characteristics like coloration, form, shape and so on. In other words, it is the programming code of all living beings.
What this means is that if you were to tweak this programming code, you will be able to modify the organism that carries the code.
And it was this idea that led to the first forays into genetic engineering. If you want to know more about this concept and its history, feel free to do your own research. Now, let’s move on to the next topic, which is that of genetic engineering in practice.
Genetic Engineering in Practice
The very idea of genetic engineering has been a very controversial concept, given that it essentially allowed humans to ‘Play God’. It was felt that tweaking with nature was something best left to the divine, and no something we should be messing with.
While it does hold merit to a certain extent, the reality is far more complex. For example, we have been domesticating animals for a very long time. There are many creatures in our daily lives that we take for granted, which don’t exist in nature; examples of this include dogs, cats, sheep, buffaloes, cows, etc. They do exist, but not in their original form. For example, you will not find the many dog breeds you are so familiar with, in the wild; on the contrary, you will find the iconic grey wolf (which is its closest genetic ancestor) and that’s about it. And domestication is essentially what you can call ‘Playing God’, for it is at the end of the day, the tweaking nature.
With the passage of time, humans became very good at domestication, creating all sorts of new organisms, ranging from crops to animals. And with the discovery of DNA and RNA, as well as the rise of the means to edit it, we began doing exactly that; for example, there are plenty of crops which are made to withstand harsh conditions, such as BtCotton, BtBrinjal, Roundup Soyabean, etc. In the same way, we have applied the technology to animals as well, such as sheep that produce spider silk, or fish that glow in the dark.
The Dilemma of Human Genetic Engineering
We might think that we are somehow ‘higher’ than all of nature.
As much as many of us would like to believe it, the reality is that we are at the end of the day, as much a part of nature as anything else. And just like everything else in nature, we are also made up of genes.
And like any other organism that contains DNA, it is possible to edit those of human beings as well. This was something that the world wasn’t prepared to deal with, given the gravity of this new scientific discipline.
When the idea first came about, the only way many people were able to react, was to simply outright ban the technology. To genetically engineer human beings was considered an unethical and utterly abhorrent concept, never to be brought up.
Indeed, that is what has been the mainstream idea about editing human genetics. This is but a falsehood and nothing more than a hasty reaction, which will become apparent when pitted against issues like genetic disorders.
And that’s what I would like to get to.
On Genetic Disorders in Humans
Human beings are animals at the end of the day; sophisticated animals that use social media and take selfies, but animals nevertheless.
We have pretty much the same biological needs for food, clothing, and shelter and so on, like any other animal. And likewise, we suffer the same consequences as any other animal, when it comes to genetic disorders.
Not all genes are the same. There are many genes which never should have existed in nature to begin with; the consequences of bad mutations, mistakes at the time of cellular synthesis, etc. And if they are to happen, the consequences on the individual can be deadly.
Today, there are numerous genetic disorders on the planet, which simple don’t have a cure. For those suffering from genetic disorders, life is but a living hell. Take for example the genetic disorder, Huntington’s disease. It is a disease characterized by a steady degeneration of the brain cells. The disease begins to worsen with the passage of time, starting from simple inconveniences such as a mood issues or unsteady gait, and ending with problems like dementia and heart problems. To have such a problem is basically a living hell.
And let me talk about my own case. I have a problem with asthma, which is partly inherited. I am guessing that the problem is form my mom’s side, given that there are several people on my mom’s side of the family who have the problem. I have it. My mom has it. My uncle has it. My grandfather had it. There are probably others as well, but I’m not sure of that. And let me tell you, as a person who suffers from asthma, that this problem sucks; to not be able to get that dose of fresh air during an asthma attack is a real torture.
Likewise, I have mild peripheral neuropathy, which is characterized by painful pin and needle sensations all over the body. While I’m not sure whether this is genetic or not, there is clearly a genetic component involved in it. If you’re wondering what it is like to have peripheral neuropathy, think of it this way; imagine you had hundreds or maybe even thousands of pins and needles piercing your skin SIMULTANEOUSLY, often all across your body, for several seconds at a time … Yes, that’s what it feels like … And no, I am not exaggerating …
And in the context of these disorders, and others like it, I would like to ask this question …
What is so unethical about using genetic engineering technologies such as CRISPR, and others, to fix damaged genes?
Why is it ‘unethical’ for these problems to be treated using genetic engineering?
“It’s ‘Playing God’!”
If treating diseases is to ‘Play God’, then we should be shutting down the entire medical industry, ranging from hospitals to pharmacy industries, for they all ‘Play God’ by treating diseases and lengthening human lifespan. By that logic, we should just go back to the jungle and live by the principles of ‘Survival of the Fittest’. Clearly, that’s not something most people will agree with.
So then, why is genetic engineering unethical?
I’ll tell you why it’s unethical; it has been declard so by the so-called ‘ethics committees’ and self-righteous individuals on the internet (among other such places), who think they know what’s good for others.
Here is something I am not able to understand.
Why it is it that some ethical panel or self-righteous individuals are ‘Playing God’ and deciding the fate of other people?
And if you are an ethics panelist of some medical institute or a self-righteous individual, here are some questions I would like you to answer …
- Why are you deciding the fate of another man’s life?
- Why do you get to decide whether I or someone like me should suffer from damaged genetics?
- Why are you telling me that I must suffer with asthma or peripheral neuropathy?
- What is your problem if people like me and others, used genetic engineering to seek treatment for various medical conditions?
- God forbid, if you were having a deadly medical condition, would you still be of the opinion that we shouldn’t use genetic engineering?
Here is what it ultimately comes down to …
The sad fact is that these restrictions on human genetic engineering have been created by ethics panelists and self-righteous individuals, WHO DO NOT HAVE ANY MEDICAL DISORDERS to begin with.
I can assure you that if these people, God forbid, had a genetic disorder of any kind, they would be the first in line demanding for a genetic engineering based cure.
If these people were suffering from Huntington’s disease or Peripheral Neuropathy and could have it cured through genetic engineering, I’m sure they would be more than happy to have their genes modified.
In other words, we have individuals who DO NOT have any genetic problems, deciding the fate of those people who DO have genetic problems. There has been ZERO consultation among the people who can actually benefit from the technology, with regard to their views on the subject.
And that’s something truly cruel and inhumane.
Which is why, it is time to put an end to this ‘ethical’ fiasco.
Enough with the nonsense that it is ‘unethical’ to genetically modify human beings …
It’s not unethical to end human suffering!
It is unethical to permit human suffering to continue, in the name of ethics. You can even go so far as to say that it is the ultimate form of hypocrisy …
And therefore …
It’s time to open the gates to human genetic engineering.
Open the gates to this science.
Let’s start with the research.
Let’s start with the treatments.
Let’s start with the clinical trials.
And let’s fix these damaged genes and wipe them off the face of the planet!
An Upper Limit to Designer Babies
One of the biggest fears many have, is that genetic engineering of humans is ultimately going to lead to an age of designer babies.
It is certainly a concept that has real world significance, given that people will want to design their baby to be better in every way possible. And it is indeed something which divides people into groups of for and against.
Given that we have the technology to select traits, from not just humans but also other animals and even plants and microbes, there is a clear danger that gene editing will be abused.
Everything in the world comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages; and gene editing of human beings is not an exception. On the contrary, it is but a given that there will be people who will want to use this technology for vanity traits and more. This is not a problem of the technology itself, but rather that of legality and oversight. As long as there is a dynamic and robust system in place to handle the genetic engineering process, everything should be fine.
Also to note is that if you were to ban this technology, you will only be pushing it underground or to countries where there are no proper regulatory oversight systems in place. It is only by actively engaging with the technology, that we can guide its use in an ethical way.
So yes, there must be an upper limit to how much of this technology should be used. However, the mere fact that there is a potential for its abuse should not be an excuse to condemn the technology entirely. It would be like saying that atomic energy is to be condemned, simply because there is a potential for a meltdown or nuclear weapons.
If anything, it is the creation of designer babies that must be subjected to a public debate, not whether or not we should be using this technology to end human suffering.
A Warning before Playing With Fire
Does that mean we should start tweaking human genes right away?
While I am in favor of genetic engineering, I don’t think that the technology is ready. If you were to read reports about the results of CRISPR experiments, you will see for example, how wrong edits or other problems emerged after the genetic tweak.
In simple words, there is much work left, before we begin tweaking the human genome …
Therefore, it is important that sufficient research be done on the technologies, before we permit for their use on human beings.
So, no …
I AM STRICTLY AGAINST USING THIS TECHNOLOGY FOR NOW.
THERE IS MUCH WORK TO DO BEFORE WE START TWEAKING THE HUMAN GENOME.
I’LL EVEN GO SO FAR AS TO SAY, BAN HUMAN GENE EDITING UNTIL WE ARE CONFIDENT THAT IT IS SAFE.
The point I am ultimately getting to is this …
We have been debating over the issue of human genetic engineering long enough. And it is time to put the debate to an end.
There is nothing ‘unethical’ about using gene editing technologies like CRISPR and others, to treat deadly genetic disorders and end human suffering.
It’s time to open the gates to human genetic engineering as soon as we can.
It is the right thing to do … and the sooner the better!