The Issue With Gene Editing On The Human Body From The Viewpoint Of Morality

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Gene Editing is a process that has become of interest to many due to advanced technology. The first time humans were tried on for gene editing was back in 2009. The process of gene editing allows scientist to alter or delete certain characteristics of a cells DNA. Gene editing happens by a tool called “CRISPR” which locates a certain part of someone’s DNA and then changes it. After that particular part of a person’s DNA is located, an enzyme called Cas9 allows for another part of DNA to switch out for the part you want to change. DNA is a person’s specific and unique qualities. (Structure displayed in Figure 1). Gene editing was created for the purpose of helping prevent and/or cure diseases that are impossible to do so otherwise.

Gene editing can be done within the human embryo, or after child birth for certain cases.

Using gene editing within a human embryo has been put up for debate by many. There is no correct answer to state if gene editing is a positive or negative resource in today’s world. The only way to decide is by studying the research done by scientist. One country that has already gotten permission to use gene editing within human embryos is Japan. A recent proposal in Japan encourages researching gene editing yet restricts controlling embryos for reproduction. (Cyranoski, 2018). What this means is that it is being encouraged to find out more about gene editing and the ways it can be used, it should not be used for controlling the cycle of reproduction.

Gene editing is a powerful tool that can affect a humans life before they’re even born. Boyle &Cordero (2005) state “ About 3% of children born in the United States have a major birth defect; birth de-fects account for about 20% of all infant deaths.” (Paragraph 3). This quote demonstrates how birth defects affects many people, and can even lead to their deaths. The most common birth defect is Down Syndrome and there is no prevention or cure for this disease. In Figure 4 it shows that 15.3% of children are born with a chromosomal abnormality (such as down syndrome). This is where Gene Editing may play a positive role. It is believed that if Gene Editing advances, it will be able to fix the genetic mutations before it becomes a disease. This would mean babies would be born healthy instead of being borned with an incurable disease. A certain aspect of gene editing, CRISPR was being tested on humans who were already living. CRISPR was being used to stop the risk of cervical cancer by destroying the genes that cause tumors to form in the body. (Michael Le Page, 2017). This shows that gene editing may be powerful and helpful if it prevents diseases that are incurable.

There may be some downsides to this very powerful technology of gene editing. If gene editing is advanced enough to alter genetic mutations then it is also able to alter the DNA for non-medical reasons. From a moral standpoint, some researches are worried that people will start altering their babies DNA for non-medical reasons before they’re even born. Using gene editing for non-medical purposes can cause a very detrimental effect on society. The reason it affects society is the way people are choosing to look at medical conditions such as down syndrome. Sara Chodosh (2017) discusses how parents of children with genetic conditions think it is offensive that some people would not want to have a child based on the fear that they might have the same condition. The parents believe it is offensive because by avoiding to have a child with those conditions make them seem unworthy or undesirable. Editing the genes of children who may have a disability reflect on society’s viewpoint of those who have disabilities.

The thought of using gene editing to alter physical characteristics such as height, hair color or eye color can not only effect that child, but could potentially affect their future children. Claire Maldarelli (2018) suggested the way gene editing plays a part in future generations by saying “edit reproductive cells like eggs, sperm, or embryos—collectively known as germline cells—and those edits carry on to every generation that follows.” (paragraph 5.) This statement is saying that whatever changes made to an embryo not only affect that baby being formed, but will affect all future generations of that babies family. Genes that are formed within humans are formed in such a way to resemble something of their parents. The more people start changing them, the more it will affect the generations that are to come.

The embryos that would be altered for non-medical purposes have gotten labeled as “designer babies.” This name is coming from the idea that babies could be designed instead of forming naturally.(Chodosh, 2017). The fear that comes along with is, if it will potentially affect the child’s health in a negative way as they grow. If there is no health issue within the embryo, people may not want to start changing what is already a healthy baby.

The only way to know if gene editing is beneficial or not is to run test trials. Countries such as Japan,China, United States and United Kingdom have started trials. China is the first country to perform 20 human trials. They are using CRISPR to edit the cells inside the body, which has never been done before. The main purpose of this trial is to destroy the genes that cause tumors to form which could lead to cervical cancer. This trial is still underway, but from the results of other gene editing trials, such as CAR-T, it is being hoped that CRISPR works just as well as CAR-T.

In simpler terms, CAR-T is another aspect of gene editing that is being trialed to help cure and/or prevent different defects. Michael Le Page explained CAR-T as “ This involves using a virus to add a gene to immune cells that make them target specific cancers.” (paragraph 4) What this quote means is that CAR-T is specifically designed to stop cells from potentially turning cancerous. In the event that the persons cells attack their own body, researchers developed another aspect of gene editing called UCART19. This form of gene editing has been known to help children who had leukemia. 2015 was the first year that gene editing had ever saved someone’s life. Layla (shown in figure 5) was just one years old when she was dying from leukemia, but the doctors saved her life by using UCART19. T-cells come from the thymus gland and play a role in the immune system. What the doctors did for Layla was get a T cell donor, and then remove Layla’s T-cells by replacing them with the healthy donors. Due to this form of gene editing, Layla’s leukemia went away. This is an example to show how beneficial gene editing can be when it is used for medical purposes. It can save people’s lives if it is used for the correct reasons.

A scientist named Junjiu Huang(shown in figure 3) conducted an experiment in China studying gene editing techniques within human embryos. The embryos used in this experiment were non viable, therefore no baby was to get affected. 86 embryos were used for this experiment, and the type of gene editing they used were CRISPR and Cas9. Out of the 86 embryos that were tested only 71 of them survived. There was a surprising number of embryos that resulted in having an “off target mutation” which was believed to have been caused from the gene editing of CRISPR and Cas9. (Cyranoski & Reardon,2015). The unintentional mutations that were caused could be harmful if done to a viable embryo. The same research was conducted on animals and the human embryo came up with the highest off target mutations. This goes to show that gene editing may be a dangerous tool to use even in the medical world. If gene editing can cause off target mutation then it is possible that it may have more harmful factors that have not been discovered yet. It was previously stated that gene editing may have a detrimental effect on future generations and this experiment with CRISPR and Cas9 shows that it may even be detrimental on the actual embryo itself.

The main issue with gene editing rises from a viewpoint of morality. The question that is mostly debated is if it is okay to change the way a baby is forming or if it is for the better. There is no direct answer to this question, but medical research has shown that using gene editing for medical cases has been highly beneficial. The fact that a girl was cured from leukemia due to the gene editing CRISPR opens so many doors of research. If gene editing does get more advanced and more common in society should be there some type of restricting on what it can be used for? Certain people in today’s society thinks so, because by changing characteristics of a person may appear unfair or as discrimination. Gene editing is a technological advancement like no other, but allowing people to change characteristics may be a step back for society. It may show that as a society people are more prone to judge others based on their looks. Simultaneously, it may seem that only using gene editing for medical purposes may be good, but there’s also risk factors such as off target mutation happening. Gene editing doesn’t stop here, it as an advancement that will be further studied to give people the answers they are looking for.

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