Eliminating Blindness Through Germ-line Eugenics
With the new technological advances newer ethical dilemmas inevitably occur. Germ-line therapy is a new technology that is giving scientist the ability to alter the genetic code of germ cells (sperm, and eggs). This could give scientists complete control over the genetic makeup of an individual. The ethical dilemmas occur with how much control they will take. Scientists could try to alter or replace only genes that are detrimental to the future child’s health, or they could go as far as to control genes that affect hair and eye color in the child. Many people agree that eliminating terminal diseases could be beneficial, but others argue that controlling aspects of a person’s genetics could lead to a form of negative eugenics that would alter social structure forever. Harold Lucas argues that they have the opportunity to eliminate blindness by using germ-line therapy, and that they should do so because “many blind people have a hard time in our society”. (1) There is a significant difference between having a terminal genetic disease and a disorder like blindness. Germ-line therapy could create moral justice by giving children who would otherwise be blind an open future, but it is unclear if blindness is really detrimental enoug
enough to individuals to be removed from the gene pool. At the current time germ-line therapy used to eradicate blindness is not morally acceptable because the risks involved with procedures are high, there is a potential for moral injustices toward blind people, a slippery slope into eugenics would become almost unavoidable, and there are many acceptable methods to create sighted children already available.
Today there is no real need for germ-line therapy. There are many alternatives that will avoid most of the risks and potential consequences associated with germ-line therapy. With increasing medical knowledge remedies for blindness may be found. Gene therapy may be able to correct blindness in the near future. “Experts used genetic engineering to restore vision to rats, which went blind soon after birth, and hope future clinical trials in humans could pave the way for a treatment for age-related macular degeneration”. (1) If a gene affects formation or function of the eye, eye transplants may be able to correct such problems. Also many new innovations have been made to improve the lives of blind people, and they stand at less of a disadvantage each year. Parents could risk having a blind child and learn to live with such a handicap. If these are risks they are not willing to take, there are still other possibilities for having a sighted child.
Another procedure that is available is Artificial insemination. If both parents possess a recessive gene for blindness they could use a donor egg or sperm that does not carry such a gene. This takes away their risk of having a blind child, but the child will not have a genetic tie to both parents and it could still be a carrier of the gene that causes blindness.
One of the most detrimental outcomes of germ-line therapy would be societal treatment to those who have not been affected by germ-line therapy. “Genetic screening opens up the possibility of identifying a class of people that may become regarded as socially undesirable. Being predisposed to a genetic disease may become a stigma in a society that prizes health. Genetic carriers of disease-causing genes might be shunned as marriage partners or find it difficult to make their way into positions of social power and influence”. (4) People who are blind or carriers of a blindness-causing gene could be considered less than human or defective and become mistreated.
The NBAC also recognizes a potential for identity crisis, and family problems as reasons for a ban on cloning at this time. “One of the forms of psychological harm most frequently mentioned is the possible loss of a sense of uniqueness”. (2) In the same way a clone might lose their uniqueness, a person who has parts of their genome replaced with another person’s genes may also feel less unique. A person who has a gene replaced so they are not blind may not feel they have lost their autonomy in the way a cloned person may, but a person who does not feel as special/unique could still suffer from psychological problems. Also, when families invest a lot of money in children through germ-line therapy or cloning, they have certain expectations for those children. If a child is born with a birth-defect the parents may not be as loving to that child. If a parent sees blindness as a defect worth fixing how might they see congenital birth defects? These are major concerns that warrant critical thinking about banning germ-line therapy.
One of the most obvious benefits of eliminating blindness would be giving children with blindness-causing genes an open future. They would not have to worry about being disadvantaged with blindness. A child who is born blind will never have the op
Some topics in this essay:
Gene, Genetics, Blindness, DNA, Eugenics, Medical Genetics, Surrogacy, Macular Degeneration, Feinberg, Insurance Industry,
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