Build-A-Baby | Teen Ink


January 22, 2015
By hallie13 BRONZE, Cincinnati, Ohio
hallie13 BRONZE, Cincinnati, Ohio
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

On December 17th, 1938, two German scientists made a discovery that changed science forever: nuclear fission. Chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann discovered barium in neutron-bombarded uranium, and realized that they had split the atom. Immediately, intense research began on this subject; naturally, some used this research for destruction. In 1939, the United States learned that Nazi scientists were quickly overcoming the obstacles to nuclear weapon creation, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt quickly put into action the Manhattan Project, an Allied Forces effort to reach this nuclear weapons technology before Nazi scientists (American Museum of Natural History). President Harry Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb as a means to end the war brought to light the true destructive power of the nuclear weapon. After Japan’s surrender, the United States faced the Soviet Union in the most dangerous war in history, the Cold War. Each country further developed and advanced its nuclear weapons, but thankfully the nuclear war never went further than that. Today it is an agreement among all nations that nuclear weapons are not to be used by any country against another. In light of the danger, it would be easy to dismiss nuclear technology as a failure. However, nuclear physics is still a very active, promising field.  There are applications of this technology that are and will be used for immense good. For example, when perfected, nuclear reactors will be a sustainable source of completely clean energy. Although not well known, the field of nuclear physics is an extremely beneficial aspect of nuclear technology, which is commonly generalized and vilified because of the publicity of nuclear weapons.

The near future holds a similarly feared, potentially invaluable yet potentially annihilative technology: genetic engineering of humans, the nuclear fission of the twenty-first century. Since the age of cavemen, humans have been combining and designing inanimate objects in various ways to fit their needs or wants. From the very primitive, like shaping stones into tools, to the incredibly advanced nuclear physics, humans have experimented with and found increasingly sophisticated ways to manipulate materials to whatever they desire. Today’s creations and machines are incredible feats of engineering; for example, we have created a whole new world with the internet and cell phones, and have systems of large, complicated machinery for everyday tasks that are commanded by the simple push of a button. We have created a mechanical world that meets our needs and wants in the most efficient manner possible. This practical, efficient engineering is now being applied to the field of genetics. While efficiency in general is very beneficial to humans, in this scenario is it quite the opposite. Genetic engineering, which, when applied to humans, is called reprogenetics, is designing certain aspects of a human through his genes. This technology is not available yet but will be in the very near future. Although reprogenetics is understandable for prevention of genetic disease, this type of genetic engineering will take away the humanity of humans – qualities like unconditional love, diversity, and empathy – and it must be restricted by the international community. There must be laws in place surrounding reprogenetics to ensure that science does not go too far; if not, the human world could destroy itself.

Since the beginning of the Human Genome Project, the effort to sequence every DNA base pair, in 1990, much of medical research has revolved around genetics. Most importantly for the average citizen, it has significantly advanced the field of genetic disease testing. Now, there are tests that one can have done that indicate predisposition for many kinds of genetic diseases. Scientifically, this is a wonderful advancement; for the patient, it can be much more complex than that. Robert L. Klitzman, M.D., explored these complicated factors and reactions surrounding genetic testing for diseases; interviewed many different people with genetic mutations or family history of genetic diseases and followed them through all stages of the genetic testing process. The 330-page book is a compilation of all his findings, organized by following the decision process, considers various patient reactions to several obstacles, such as: whether to test, whom to tell, which treatments to choose, whether to reproduce, questions about fate and genetic identity, and problems with insurance and politics. Most of these questions are very emotional; genetic diseases are a direct line to that which all humans fear: death. As Klitzman states, “Though intellectually humans are all aware that they will eventually die, few confront this inevitability with the certainty of those who know they have or may have a potentially lethal mutation” (Robert L. Klitzman). At this point in time, genetic testing can only give advance notice and help initiate treatment and monitoring; in the future, testing will be far more important when combined with gene manipulation technology. Testing an embryo for genetic diseases in the future, for example, could result in the ability to eliminate the chance of genetically-caused breast cancer. Testing would not bring as many emotional implications, because it would result in action, not simply fear. This type of reprogenetics is very beneficial for society. The removal of genetic diseases from family lineage will result in an overall decrease in disease, which is helpful both morally and financially for the human population. The use of reprogenetics to prevent disease is the advantageous aspect of this technology, and when available, should be put into widespread use.

No parent wants a child to have a genetic disease, or have another kind of disadvantage in life. Current reprogenetics allows for genetic testing of embryos in vitro, known as pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Great Britain has been a leader in establishing laws surrounding this field, and has a board in place to review each PGD case. A decision in 2007 by this board is one of the most progressive to date. In this case, two families applied for PGD in order to eliminate the breast cancer genes from their families. This procedure encompasses embryo testing and selection based on whether the embryo has the breast cancer gene. The controversial part of this is that the embryos with the gene are discarded, even though they would likely have lived 50 years without cancer and possibly would have never have been afflicted. As Dartmouth professor put, “To its critics, the HFEA, in approving this request, crossed a bright line separating legitimate medical genetics from the quest for ‘the perfect baby’” (Ronald L. Green). Although this specific case does not flagrantly pursue perfection, it indicates a troubling issue that will be more prominent in the future, when humans can manipulate and choose genes in an embryo. Parents may not simply choose to eliminate disease, but choose to select desirable traits. If parents can design a child, they theoretically remove the imperfections from the child, at least genetically. Their love of their child is to some extent based on their selection of its genes, and removes the unconditional aspect of parental love. To avoid this, gene manipulation must be restricted to diseases only. There must be regulations on the genes that can be manipulated or chosen, to ensure that reprogenetics does not lead down a path to the point which humans can love only conditionally.

Eliminating disease is one thing. This is a moral use of reprogenetics that can benefit all humans and give each person an opportunity for success. Planning a baby who will be female, Caucasian, blue-eyed, blond, straight-haired, tall, thin, large-busted, intelligent, strong, and great at volleyball is quite another thing. Humans have a tendency to conform, and idolize certain traits at certain points in time. For example, women today tend to idolize the tall, willowy thin, runway model-type body. However, sixty years ago, the curvaceous, slightly heavier body was idolized. Even though trends change, the genetically given body type does not change. With genetic manipulation, children would become a manifestation of culture trends. More importantly, however, genetic manipulation would likely result in the reduction of minority group diversity. Since there is still Caucasian privilege, if parents could choose the appearance of their child, they would likely choose traits that are the most Caucasian-looking. Blacks might choose straight hair or lighter skin; Asians might choose wider eyes; races would conform to the popular appearance. This is not only dangerous for personal identity, but also could be dangerous evolutionarily. Mating between people of similar genes causes genetic mutations. This will decrease the variation of the human genome and increase the likelihood that an outside disease, such as a bacteria or virus, could wipe out the entire population. Diversity, for both social and evolutionary reasons, must be preserved, and allowing unrestricted genetic manipulation would destroy that.

The technology for this genetic manipulation, given its extremely complicated nature, will be very expensive for some time following its creation. In the case that gene selection is unregulated and is available to the public, only a very small percentage of the world population will be able to afford this very expensive technology. The global median household income, including both developed and developing countries, is $1,225 per year. To be in the world’s richest 1%, annual household income must be $34,000; the median annual household income in the United States is $43,318, although the cost of living difference must be accounted for (Gye). Even so, many Americans are not able to receive expensive medical treatments that may be highly recommended, because they cannot afford them. New medical procedures are always very expensive, especially in the genetics field, since they are on the cutting edge of technology. Therefore, a very large percentage of Americans, most of whom are the global 1%, would not be able to afford gene manipulation. This technology will be accessible to much less than 1% of the human race. Given the nature of this technology, the wealthy 1% of the human race would then produce genetically “perfect” offspring, engineered to be superior to all other humans. This creates a very dangerous situation. Historically, even the perception that one race or group is superior to others led to slavery, genocide, and other horrors. If one group truly is genetically superior to others, in intelligence, potential for disease, and other aspects important for performance, then historical horrors are likely to occur. The genetically perfect elite could very easily oppress the natural population, which would be the underclass simply because they do not have access to gene manipulation.

This exclusive access to genetic technology would first create an unamendable standard of living gap between the elite and the underclass. If this lasted long enough, it could proceed to an evolutionary gap, through which the elite continue to progress and the underclass remains stagnant (or, with limited resources, may regress). For all of human history, there have been class gaps. Currently, there is a large worldwide wealth gap, even though it is being helped by the generosity of some of the rich and humanitarian programs. If, however, we allow these class gaps to manifest in our genes, we have squandered any hope of a bridge between classes, no matter how generous the upper class may be. Evolutionarily, the creation of an elite, superhuman population is sickeningly logical. With superior intelligence, strength, and infallibility, that population could make advancements that normal humans never could. That would be the mechanical, scientific, cold decision – but realistically, it wouldn’t be a decision at all. It would be the normal order of things; the rich would buy, the poor wouldn’t be able to. The rich would advance, the poor wouldn’t be able to. This gap would extend to oppression. These consequences may seem like a far-fetched worst-case-scenario, but they fit with every historical and economic pattern. Genetic manipulation must be severely restricted in order to prevent this evolutionary gap and subsequent oppression.

The possible familial detachment, destruction of diversity, and creation of an oppressive genetically elite class are very daunting possible outcomes of unrestricted gene manipulation. This imminently available technology has the potential both to rid the world of disease and to rid the world of humanity. However, it is not possible to completely dismiss or prevent this technology from developing. Humans must handle this new, powerful tool responsibly and decidedly. Like with nuclear technology, reprogenetics will have to be closely regulated by international laws. The beneficial aspect, disease prevention, will be embraced and eventually improve the quality of life for millions of people. The very dangerous aspect, “the quest for the perfect baby,” must be prohibited by international communities. As Robert L. Klitzman stated, “We should fully neither embrace the hype around genetics nor dismiss the field – but rather, as individuals and a society, carefully judge how best to proceed” (Robert L. Klitzman). Gene manipulation to eliminate disease can only improve human life. However, taking this technology any further will cross moral boundaries that must not be crossed to maintain a functional civilization. To design the genes of humans is, above all else, ensuring that society views each human only for his genes. The dangers of this are significant, but the technology will come no matter what. It simply must be determined how best to regulate this technology so that it cannot be taken too far. As an international community, science is an integral part of the lives of humans; but we must decide that we as humans are more than science, that we are more than our genes.

Similar Articles


This article has 0 comments.