Discuss the moral and ethical issues associated with recombinant DNA technology

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Whether we are reading newspaper articles, surfing the Internet, or watching the news, we cannot avoid the challenges posed by new technology and scientific advancements.

Genetic engineering and recombinant DNA, and their uses, are highly debated. People have diverse opinions influenced by factors like friends or family’s viewpoints, occupation, religion, environment, or media debates. However, there are numerous moral and ethical matters that must be clearly defined and discussed to reach a fair judgment. This essay aims to accomplish that.

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Recombinant DNA technology involves altering the genetic or hereditary material carried by genes of an organism. The process includes: 1) Identifying the gene needed, 2) Isolating the gene using a protein called a ‘restriction enzyme’, 3) Copying the gene, 4) Inserting the gene into a vector with the help of an enzyme called ‘DNA ligase’, 5) Transferring the vector into a host cell (known as ‘transformation’), and 6) Replicating the host cell (also known as ‘cloning’). The replicated cells are referred to as ‘sister cells’ in genetic engineering, which is a controversial topic.

All sister cells produced in this process are expected to contain an identical copy of the vector carrying the gene (7). The host cell produces the necessary product (8), which is then isolated from the host cell (9) and purified. Let’s now explore the moral and ethical implications of this new technology. First, let’s acknowledge the benefits of recombinant DNA.

Recombinant DNA technology can be used to cure or treat terminal or infectious diseases and disorders. This involves removing the mutated section of DNA from the defective cell and replacing it with a ‘healthy’ segment of DNA. This approach has successfully treated individuals with conditions like cystic fibrosis and heart disease, as well as ailments such as Alzheimer’s and arthritis. For people with diabetes, a different method is employed because they naturally lack sufficient insulin production, resulting in high or low blood sugar levels.

Before genetic engineering, chemists used insulin from animals like cows and pigs. This sometimes affected the human immune system. But now, thanks to recombinant DNA technology, insulin can be produced in larger amounts and faster. It can also be specifically designed to be compatible with humans. This progress helps us meet the increasing need for insulin.

This technique has been effective in solving crimes by employing forensic studies. PCR is utilized to duplicate a single strand of DNA, granting forensic scientists a greater amount of material for analysis. Subsequently, the duplicated DNA can be compared with samples gathered from crime scenes through electrophoresis, a method for segregating molecules based on their electrical charges.

When an electrical field is applied, anions will move towards the anode and cations towards the cathode. This movement forms ‘bars’ of proteins, aiding in determining DNA fragment size. Thus, we can compare different proteins to suspects’ samples due to the uniqueness of each individual’s DNA.

Additonally, recombinant DNA technology has the potential to reduce the number of aborted fetuses by detecting genetic disorders or diseases in babies. Identifying these conditions allows for removal of defective DNA and replacement with healthy DNA, providing a choice for parents to continue their pregnancy instead of terminating it.

This text originally appeared as an article in the Daily Telegraph on Thursday 8 October 1998. It discussed an American scientist’s plan to conduct experiments on foetuses that were going to be aborted. These foetuses had “serious genetic disorders” and would face severe illness or stillbirth if allowed to naturally develop. The mothers chose terminations for these reasons. The professor aims to perform gene therapy on the babies in the womb to minimize any potential disruptions.

But to do this, he claims he needs to perfect this therapy by practicing on fetuses. He would be able to use genetic engineering to determine the baby’s genetic code and locate the genetic fault. He would then replace the faulty sector with a fully functioning and healthy one. Naturally, this has raised numerous moral and ethical concerns. The Reverend expressed that “We are facing, increasingly, an erosion of the respect for life.” Many others oppose the notion of performing an operation on a fetus that would not directly benefit itself and cannot provide consent.

Religion, notably Roman Catholicism, strongly opposes abortion on moral and ethical grounds. Apart from religious objections, there are other concerns associated with this procedure. A key concern is the potential harm it poses to the mother’s health, particularly when performed in her uterus. Emotional distress is also a significant factor to consider. While some may disregard it, it is reasonable for a mother to experience guilt after undergoing a therapy that involves ending a perfectly healthy baby’s life. Genetic engineering also finds application in IVF treatment.

IVF is a method utilized by couples who face difficulties in conceiving. It involves extracting a group of eggs from the female and fertilizing them externally. Subsequently, each embryo is introduced individually into the mother’s uterus until pregnancy occurs. However, this process gives rise to a conflict.

If any fertilised embryos remain unused, they will be destroyed if a pregnancy occurs before their use. Some individuals consider this action as akin to murdering as a fertilised embryo is a living being. However, others argue that life commences at birth. Consequently, this viewpoint generates further controversies since acknowledging fertilisation as the commencement of life would imply that legalising abortion is legalising murder.

Conflicts may arise in IVF treatment when couples who have frozen fertilized embryos during their partnership separate and hold different aspirations for the future of these embryos. This predicament becomes especially challenging if the female partner views the stored embryos as her sole opportunity to experience biological motherhood.
Furthermore, recent years have witnessed extensive media coverage on genetically modified crops, a contentious subject. As a consequence, Europe has imposed a ban on GM crops due to uncertainties regarding potential impacts on human health and ethical considerations linked to altering nature.

The production of GM crops involves modifying crops to produce industrial chemicals and drugs. A survey conducted in the United States raises concerns about these ‘pharm’ crops potentially contaminating GM free foods. Nevertheless, there are differing perspectives on this issue, with companies like ‘Monsanto’ expressing optimism about the recombinant DNA technology used in genetic engineering for GM products.

According to them, using the process helps enhance the nutritional value of their products. They also assert that it improves product taste and reduces pesticide content. Despite criticisms, large companies like Monsanto believe that the advantages of this technology are greater, especially as it is a source of income for them. To be fair, Monsanto states on their website that they utilize recombinant DNA technology to benefit third world nations by cultivating crops that are both abundant and nutritious, suitable for the conditions in these countries and contributing to the alleviation of starvation.

Before considering these points, I held the belief that if this new technology has the potential to enhance people’s quality of life and potentially extend their lifespan, it could also prevent the birth of babies with abnormalities, bring justice to crime victims, and alleviate hunger in developing nations. Consequently, it seems worthwhile to pursue. Additionally, we must recognize that not utilizing this knowledge for life-saving purposes may present a moral dilemma. This is where ethical concerns come into play. In today’s society, it is nearly impossible to avoid the issues associated with genetic engineering and recombinant DNA because they are deeply intertwined with our daily lives.

Although there are health risks and moral dilemmas associated with recombinant DNA technology, its use and benefits are evident. I hold a mixed perspective on this matter. I firmly believe that the pursuit of this new technology is justified if it can save lives. Moreover, I do not advocate for the complete elimination of genetic engineering as it holds potential to cure numerous suffering individuals based on our current knowledge. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this level of technology feels unnatural and contradicts the principles of natural selection. However, considering that we have been granted by God the ability to experiment with genes, it seems appropriate to make use of this skill.

I believe that genetic engineering should only be used for practical reasons rather than cosmetic ones, like choosing the hair or eye color of a baby. Today, it is even feasible to determine a child’s gender using genetic engineering.

Although this technology has the potential to classify individuals, it should not be completely abandoned due to its immense impacts and benefits. By increasing our understanding of its effects and developing strategies to manage them, we can guarantee the safety of this technology. It is fair to allow individuals to form their own conclusions without external influence as long as they are well-informed about its advantages and disadvantages.

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