Knowledge Questions: How do we determine what is ethical? What are the ethical limitations of the applications of genetic technologies?
The tremendous potential — and concerns — over genome sequencing intensify at the beginning of life, when the genetic manual for a person’s entire life could guide their lifelong care, perhaps long before symptoms of disease even develop. But it also raises deep questions: Will the information provide clear, useful answers on what medical actions to take? Are parents sacrificing their children’s autonomy by making such a consequential decision when they are newborns? Does more information improve health and save lives, or increase unnecessary tests and parental worries and, potentially, alter the bond between parent and child?
“The technology is making it much easier for scientists to discover better diagnostics, treatments, and other tools to fight diseases that still kill and disable millions of people every year, primarily the poor. It is also accelerating research that could help end extreme poverty by enabling millions of farmers in the developing world to grow crops and raise livestock that are more productive, more nutritious, and hardier.”
Currently, thousands of plants and animals grown and raised in the United States have been genetically modified in some way. Since the beginnings of agriculture and animal husbandry, humans have been manipulating the genetics of plants and animals but what’s different now is that we have the ability to successfully and effectively splice genes from one species into another. Sometimes DNA from a bacterium has a property that is effective when added to the genome of corn. Once this DNA is added, the corn is considered “genetically modified” or a genetically modified organism (GMO). (Click here for more information on what a GMO is)
Rigorous scientific studies have consistently shown that GM foods are as safe to consume as their non GM counterparts however fears about their safety persist. Why is that? To get to the heart of the issue we have to examine the role of language in our acquisition of knowledge, the relationship between emotion and reason when making decisions about our health, and standards of good science.
“While specialists are calling it breakthrough technology, critics of assisted reproductive technology (ART) warn doctors about playing God.
“The US team at New Hope Fertility Clinic in New York, led by Dr John Zhang, had to travel to their Mexico clinic in Guadalajara to carry out the procedure, which is effectively banned in the United States.”
“Designer babies, the end of diseases, genetically modified humans that never age. Outrageous things that used to be science fiction are suddenly becoming reality. The only thing we know for sure is that things will change irreversibly.”
What you need to know about CRISPR | Ellen Jorgensen
Should we bring back the wooly mammoth? Or edit a human embryo? Or wipe out an entire species that we consider harmful? The genome-editing technology CRISPR has made extraordinary questions like these legitimate — but how does it work? Scientist and community lab advocate Ellen Jorgensen is on a mission to explain the myths and realities of CRISPR, hype-free, to the non-scientists among us.
“In a report laden with caveats and notes of caution, the group endorsed the alteration of human eggs, sperm and embryos — but only to prevent babies from being born with genes known to cause serious diseases and disability, only when no “reasonable alternative” exists, and only when a plan is in place to track the effects of the procedure through multiple generations.
“Human genetic engineering for any reason has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Many scientists fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence or create humans physically suited to particular tasks, like soldiers.”
“Out drinking with a few biologists, Jad finds out about something called CRISPR. No, it’s not a robot or the latest dating app, it’s a method for genetic manipulation that is rewriting the way we change DNA. Scientists say they’ll someday be able to use CRISPR to fight cancer and maybe even bring animals back from the dead. Or, pretty much do whatever you want. Jad and Robert delve into how CRISPR does what it does, and consider whether we should be worried about a future full of flying pigs, or the simple fact that scientists have now used CRISPR to tweak the genes of human embryos.”
“Intuition can encourage opinions that are contrary to the facts.”
“By tapping into intuitions and emotions that mostly work under the radar of conscious awareness, but are constituent of any normally functioning human mind, such representations become easy to think. They capture our attention, they are easily processed and remembered and thus stand a greater chance of being transmitted and becoming popular, even if they are untrue. Thus, many people oppose GMOs, in part, because it just makes sense that they would pose a threat.”
Strongest opponents of GM foods know the least but think they know the most
“The extremists are more poorly calibrated. If you don’t know much, it’s hard to assess how much you know,” Fernbach added. “The feeling of understanding that they have then stops them from learning the truth. Extremism can be perverse in that way.”
The finding has echoes of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the observation from social psychology that incompetence prevents the incompetent from recognising their incompetence.
Interesting article about how we acquire and spread information. How we close ourselves off to voices we disagree with and how the frequency with which information is shared is not necessarily validation of its truthfulness.
“The problem is that social media is also a great way to spread misinformation, too. Millions of Americans shape their ideas on complex and controversial scientific questions – things like personal genetic testing, genetically modified foods and their use of antibiotics – based on what they see on social media. Even many traditional news organizations and media outlets report incomplete aspects of scientific studies, or misinterpret the findings and highlight unusual claims. Once these items enter into the social media echo chamber, they’re amplified. The facts become lost in the shuffle of competing information, limited attention or both.”
We will increasingly have to deal with questions and issues raised by our increasingly sophisticated abilities to alter genes and enhance humans through the use of biotechnologies. As our scientific abilities increase so too do the questions around the ethical use of such technologies. This article discusses public opinions around the abstract uses of these technologies.
What should the limits of the uses of these technologies be? What criteria should we use to determine these limits?
“Americans aren’t very enthusiastic about using science to enhance the human species. Instead, many find it rather creepy.
“A new survey by the Pew Research Center shows a profound distrust of scientists, a suspicion about claims of progress and a real discomfort with the idea of meddling with human abilities. The survey also opens a window into the public’s views on what it means to be a human being and what values are important.”