NYHW: Topic - Coupling the information covered on genetic technologies in Genes and DNA to the intricate interplay between genes and environment as presented by Matt Ridley in Nature Via Nurture, discuss potential values and misuses of genetic technologies.
Genetic Detection, Treatment and Effects
As human development progresses it is sure to become exponentially more complex. What this entails is being able to rationally determine what is morally right in how far we take the scientific process of genetic alterations. While many books of relevance to the genome project have been written recently, two very prominent ones stand out in their ease of understanding. The first is that of Charlotte Omoto and Paul Lurquin, authors of the paperback Genes and DNA, which puts a majority of the history of the genome project and the technologies behind it into layman’s terms. The next is that entitled Nature Via Nurture by Matt Ridley which examines the difference between nature and nurture. On one hand we are shown that our genes determine much of the way we grow, but on the other it is seen that our surroundings make us who we are. What Ridley tries to explain is that the two are interconnected and that their coexistence makes them dependant on one another. Armed with the knowledge from the two aforementioned books we can start to take a look at the issues surrounding genetics. When contemplating the future of genetic technologies two aspects arise, each of which presents numerous ethical considerations. Detection and treatment are the main topics with unique concern to the overall genome project and its effects.
The first step in the genetic process is detection given the conditions needed. If you are looking for a disease you first must know where the defect in the genetic code lies. And even before knowing that you must know that the disease is, in fact, genetic and not strictly environmental. “The headline ‘the gene for x’ does much mischief, not least because of the reputation genes have garnered for being invincible bulldozers of all that stands in their path. However, the champions of nurture must bear some responsibility for creating this reputation in the first place, by equating genes with inevitability in the process of arguing that since behavior is not inevitable, genes cannot be involved” (Ridley 81). One problem with the current process of detection is that it is only conducted when there is reason to believe that a defect might be present. As of yet genetic testing is not something that is routinely checked against all known diseases, the technology just simply isn’t there. And while newborns are screened upon birth for a handful of genetically traceable deficiencies, it is only repeated once there is cause for concern. What this entails is that a latent disease with a very quick onset may spontaneously show itself at a point too late to be treated. Cancer is an excellent example of such a disease which currently can only be detected in rare cases . Another deterrent to preventative testing and diagnosis is the absence of a maintained public database of genetic records. Currently the largest database is maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), but is only used in solving violent crimes . Although all of these reasons seem to suggest that genetic testing is a flawed, unreachable ideal, this is only the current state of things, and should not entail that experimentation should be given up. Instead it is in hope of better, more efficient techniques that anything is being done at all. In any new invention there is a time period in which the public reacts adversely, claiming that the issue might be wrong on some moral grounds, but in the end things always seem to make life better.
Logically, one must be able to treat that which has been distinguish, otherwise why would the detection be made to begin with? Well, when considering the complexity of diagnosing a problem, it becomes equally, if not even more difficult in treating it. Even with an efficient detection process it is not always easy to treat those diseases which have been diagnosed. Cancer is still in large part a mystery in that it comes in too many forms to be treated with some overall method. And in the event of early detection of such predisposed, incurable diseases, ethical considerations come into play as to whether it is right to play god and deter the embryo from being born. To add complexity to an already incredibly in-depth issue, considerations must be given to how this will effect the world as a whole. As Dr. Norman Borlaug states, even without genetic manipulations, “the world would need to double food production by 2050 if hunger were to be banished from the world and the ongoing 'gene revolution' can definitely play a part in this" . In a way this “gene revolution” becomes a paradox in that it can both fuel and fight the problem of overpopulation. By making the human lifespan longer and death a rarity the population of the world could grow without bound, needing some sort of new genetic implementation to be added to increase the food supply.
Again, complications that arise when you begin implementing new genetic alterations may seem too detrimental to experiment with; however, without experimentation, and most especially failure, there will be no progress whatsoever. So it seems best to regulate the speed at which genetic technologies grow, and in the mean time enact new laws as needed to regulate and control them.
- Omoto, Charlotte and Lurquin, Paul. Genes and DNA. Columbia University Press. 2004.
- Ridley, Matt. Nature Via Nurture. Harper Collins Publishing. 2003.