Can the information produced by it become a beneficial asset or a moral evil?For example, in a genetic race or class distinction the use of the X chromosome markers can be used for the identification of a persons ethnicity or class (Murphy,34). A seemingly harmless collection of information from the advancement of the Human Genome Project. But, lets assume this information is used to explore ways to deny entry into countries, determine social class, or even who gets preferential treatment. Can the outcome of this information effect the moral standards of a society?
The answers to the above and many other questions are relative to the issues facing the Human Genome Project. To better understand these topics a careful dissection of the terminology must be made. Websters Dictionary defines morality as ethics, upright conduct, conduct or attitude judged from the moral standpoint. It also defines a moral as concerned with right and wrong and the distinctions between them. A Genome is “the total of an individuals genetic material,” including, “that part of the cell that controls heredity” (Lee,4).
Subsequently, “reasearch and technology efforts aimed at mapping and sequencing large portions or entire genomes are called genome projects” (Congress,4). Genome projects are not a single organizations efforts, but instead a group of organizations working in government and private industry through out the world.Furthermore, the controversies surrounding the Human Genome Project can be better explained by the past events leading to the project, the structure of the project, and the moral discussion of the project.
The major events of genetic history are important to the Human Genome Project because the structure and most of the project deals with genetics. Genetics is the study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits (Congress,202). The basic beginnings of genetic history lay in the ancient techniques of selective breeding to yield special characteristics in later generations. This was and still is a form of genetic manipulation by “employing appropriate selection for physical and behavioral traits” (Gert,2).
Futheralong, the work of Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, on garden peas established the quantitative discipline of genetics. Mendel’s work explained the inheritance of traits can be stated by factors passed from one generation to the next; a gene. The complete set of genes for an organism is called it’s genome (Congress,3). These traits can be explained due to the inheritance of single or multiple genes affected by factors in the environment. Mendel also correctly stated that two copies of every factor exists and that one factor of inheritance could be dominate over another (Gert,3).
The next major events of genetic history involved DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA, as a part of genes, was discovered to be a double helix that encodes the blueprints for all living things (Congress,3). DNA was found to be packed into chromosomes, of which 23 pairs existed in each cell of the human body. Furthermore, one chromosome of each pair is donated from each parent. DNA was also found to be made of nucleotide chains made of four bases, commonly represented by A, C, T, and G. Any ordered pair of bases makes a sequence. These sequences are the instructions that produce molecules, proteins, for cellular structure and biochemical functions. In relation, a marker is any location on a chromosome where inheritance can be identified and tracked (202).
Markers can be expressed areas of genes (DNA) or some segment of DNA with no known coding function but an inheritance could be traced . It is these markers that are used to do genetic mapping. By the use of genetic mapping isolated areas of DNA are used to find if a person has a specific trait, inherent factor, or any other numerous genetic information.
In conclusion, the genetic history of ancient selective breeding to Mendel’s garden peas to the current isolation of genes has been reached only through collaborative data of many organizations and scientist.The Human Genome Project has several objectives. To better understand the moral issues that exist the project itself must be examined. Among the many objectives, DNA databases that include sequences, location markers, genes, and the function of similar genes (Congress,7).
The creation of human chromosome maps for DNA markers that would allow the location of genes to be found. A repository of research materials including ordered sets of DNA fragments representing the complete DNA in chromosomes. New instruments for analysis of DNA. New methods of analysis of DNA through chemical, physical, and computational methods. Develop similar research technologies for other organisms.
Finally, to determine the DNA sequence of a large fraction of the human genome and other organisms. The objectives of the Human Genome Project are carried out by organizations such as the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and various private organizations. These organizations all have two shared features, placing “new methods and instruments into toolkit of molecular biology” and “build reasearch infrastructure for genetics.” Making the directives of the Human Genome Project apparent is important in making a moral judgment on this genetic technology.
Any attempt to resolve moral issues involving new information from the Human Genome Project requires direct, clear, and total understanding of common morality. Subsequently, a moral theory is the attempt to explain, justify, and make visible “the moral system that people use in making their moral judgments and how to act when confronting a moral problem” (Gert,31). This theory is based on rational decisions. With this in mind, the moral system must be known by everyone who is judged by it. This leads to the rational statement that “morality must be a public system”.
The individuals of the public system must know what morality requires of them, and the judgments and guidelines made must be rational to them. Just like any game, the players play by a set of rules and these rules dictate how play is done. The game is played only when everyone knows how to play. When rules are broken penalties are inforced by the other players judgment according to the rules allowed. However, if everyone agrees to change the rules then the game continues without any penalties.
Therefore, “the goal of common morality is to lessen the amount of harm suffered by those protected by it” and it is constrained by the knowledge and need to be understood by all it applies to (47). Justified violations also exist in common morality. Just like in the game, a change in the rules causes acceptance, morality can be viewed not as an evil by the public perception but as a decision backed by common morals.Based on the pattern of common morality the issues of genetic race or class distinction or any other controversies involving the Human Genome Project can be put to a set of common moral standards. Just like the moral standard that says killing is wrong but killing is justifiable in self-defense, the Human Genome Project can be argued along the same pattern of moral discussion.
The justifiable violations that genetic information is based on depends on the common morality which is based on the public system which is based on the decisions of right and wrong. In conclusion, the moral dilemma of genetics is that will it be an asset to the individuals public perception of common morality or will it be an evil to the individuals public perception of common morality based on the right and wrong of the information. This answer is based on the societies structure. In one time period it may be accepted in another in may not.
- Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment,
- Mapping OurGenes: Genome Projects: How Big, How Fast?,
- Johns Hopkins UniversityPress: Baltimore,1988. Gert,
- Bernard, Morality and the New Genetics: A Guide for Students and HealthCare Providers,
- Jones and Bartlett: Sudbury, Massachusetts,1996. Lee,
- Thomas F., The Human Genome Project: Cracking the Genetic Code of Life,
- Plenum Press: New York, 1991. Murphy, Timothy F., and Lappe,
- Marc, ed., Justice and the Human GenomeProject, University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994.