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Mya Verrone

UWRT 1104

March 29, 2018

Playing God, Ethical or not?

Let’s imagine a world where scientists have the ability to eliminate a medical condition

that could alter the course of your life before you are even born. Let’s then imagine a world

where you could be hand designed to be genetically superior: more beautiful, strong, intelligent,

talented.​ Although this is not yet been tested in human trials nor has it been made legal, we are

soon approaching a world where genetically modified embryos will be very real and accessible

to the public (​Here, Malcolm told me that I build tension and then do not mention that this is could

become possible so I lose the attention of the audience. Here, I inserted a piece of information that I think

will fulfill the anticipation for the reader.)​.​ The idea of this, yes, sounds amazing. But how far is too

far? Just because we are scientifically able, should we proceed and essentially play God and

decide the fate of one's life before they are born? My topic of inquiry throughout the semester

thus far has led me to analyze the aspects of this concept and discover what scientists and

technology make us capable of in the 21st century. ​This scientific breakthrough is heavily

debated and extremely controversial when discussed by scientists, medical professionals and the

public. Because of this, ​With the use of a piece of scientific equipment called the CRISPR, it is

possible to alter the genetic material of DNA in an embryo in the early stages of development.

The CRISPR works by isolating a specific part of genetic material and actually eliminating it

from the embryo, and replace it with a new piece of genetic material. Recent scientific research

and experimentation have shown that with the use of this technology, it is possible to remove
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malfunctioning elements of DNA and replace them with genetic material that works

properly​.(​Malcolm thought that this part of the introduction seemed out of place. I do not 100% agree

only because I wanted to introduce the reader to how this could be made possible before they read the

body paragraph so they are not confused. However, I am going to take the suggestion and put their part

as the first few sentences in the first body paragraph, which is about how this process is carried out.)

research and trials have been heavily restricted due to fear that this will come with repercussions

and possibly lead to designer babies. My inquiry has lead me to understand the process, research

conducted, and debate surrounding this topic.

The process of altering embryonic genetic material seems like a fairly complex process. I

have learned that with aid from a ​single piece of scientific equipment​ (​Malcom said that the term

scientific technology was too broad. I agree, but in the following sentence I got more specific and

specified what technology was used. Instead of saying scientific technology, I replaced it by say "a single

piece of scientific equipment.")​ ​scientific technology​, it can be done quickly and efficiently.

Specifically, the technology that makes this possible is called the CRISPR. The CRISPR is a

“gene editing tool comprised of two molecules that can zero in on individual genes and make

very precise changes to the DNA,” according to Rob Stein from ​NPR.​ (​Here, I simplified the

sentence to flow better for the reader.)​With the aid of this tool, it has been proven by scientists that

genetic material can be taken from two mothers and a father and combine the material to

eliminate diseases that might be genetically inherited by the embryo. (​This portion of the paragraph

no longer is relevant or fits into my paragraph because following this sentence, I make an example of a

case study involving two mothers and a father, not one mother and one father.)​This can also be done

with an embryo from one mother and one father​. (​I wanted to give a specific example of how this

process works, so I pulled a case study from research that I have found.)​Although this has not been
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made legal and available to the public, according to BBC News, Professor Doug Turnbull,

professor at Newcastle University and Dr. Mary Herbert, scientific director at Newcastle fertility

center have been granted permission to work on developing embryos from two mothers and one

father. Something similar was successfully achieved in New Jersey. Taking genetic material

from two mothers and one father can be valuable when trying to prevent a genetic disease being

passed from parent to fetus. In the particular instance of taking genetic material from two

mothers and a father, the mitochondrial DNA is specifically targeted. Malfunctioning

mitochondrial DNA can have severe consequences to the fetus if not treated. Up until now, there

has been no cure for mitochondrial DNA damage. Now, with the aid of the CRISPR, a New

Jersey doctor has successfully discovered how to replace the mitochondrial DNA that is

malfunctioning with DNA from a second mother.​ When performing experimentation with this

type of technology, precision is key. First, viable embryos must be donated to scientists who

have been granted permission by research funders and the government. The embryo must

carefully thawed and prepared for testing. The CRISPR is then injected into the thawed embryo

and can target a specific area of the DNA and alter it. After the DNA is altered, it is then left to

develop. Research has shown that the embryo will still develop normally, despite the

modifications that were made. (​Malcom pointed out that I had stated that miscarriages and eliminating

diseases had been successful so far. He was confused because he thought that I meant it had been

tested in trials. It has only been tested in very specific experience regulated by the government and

research funders. I just wanted to clear this up for the reader.)​With this procedure, heavily monitored

research has been successful not only in keeping the embryos viable, but also in eliminating

diseases and preventing miscarriages so far up to a certain stage of embryonic development.​ ​Of

course, because of all of the controversy surrounding this topic, once the embryos develop to a
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certain stage in development, the embryo is terminated​. Only minimal research has been done so

far due to heavy restrictions placed on research by the government,​ but so far the results have

been positive if executed correctly.​ When editing genes that cause disease, it is easy to target the

one specific malfunctioning gene. However, altering physical characteristics like height or eye

color, this is much more complex. ​To go back to the case of having two mothers and one father,

the fetus will still resemble the mother and father of the child. The mitochondrial element that

was donated by the second mother to eliminate mitochondrial disease will not play a role in

phenotypes of the child​.(​I was told to place a comma splice where it previously said "There is no single

gene that is responsible for these traits; many different genes work together to produce physical

characteristics" instead I changed the sentence to say what it does now and here, I do not need a comma

splice.)​ This scenario is due to the fact that no single gene that is responsible for these traits,

many different genes work together to produce physical characteristics. It is nearly impossible to

identify all of the specific genes that work together to produce a certain hair color, eye color,

height etc. in an individual. (​I wanted to tie this case study in for the reader to give them something to

better understand why phenotype is not affected, since this is not common knowledge to everyone.)​This

is why replacing only the mitochondrial DNA will have no affect on how the fetus looks​. With

this knowledge, it can be concluded that designing babies would be far more complex and may

not be possible with only the CRISPR.(​I wanted to explain to the reader that although technology

gives us accessibility to many cool things regarding genetic manipulation, we are not quite there when it

comes to designer babies, but if research is allowed, shortly this could become a reality.)​ In order to go

down the path of designer babies, more complex research needs to be conducted on how to

isolate genes that determine physical characteristics of an individual. If this is accomplished,

then scientists will be one step closer to developing a procedure capable of designer embryos.
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This leads us into whether or not it is appropriate to do research on gene editing that could

potentially lead us to being able to hand craft babies.

(​I added a few sentences to open up the paragraph and set the readers up for what is about to

be discussed)​The technology and knowledge needed to genetically enhance embryos is available.

With proper funding and permission from the government, scientists have the potential to

eliminate diseases that are inherited from the parents of a fetus, or genetically enhance certain

features and phenotypes.​ (​Here, I used a writers move to transition to the topic of the paragraph)​This is

where debate regarding the ethical aspects of this argument come in.(​This part is unnecessary and

does not fit in right here. I might add it into a different part of the paper or scratch it all together. I haven't

decided yet.)​ ​Despite the benefits that this could offer, scientific research is heavily monitored by

the government due to fear of what consequences and repercussions this might lead to.​ (​I am

setting up the argument that pro genetic manipulation populations make on this topic.)​Those that argue

genetic manipulation is necessary to offer a better life for those affected by genetically inherited

diseases say that it would be unethical to have access to these types of life saving possibilities

and not take advantage of it. ​Although this process can be done in many different ways to target

many specific disease,​ (​I set up an example to show how beneficial genetic manipulation could be if

done correctly. This shows a real example of a pro genetic manipulation advocate and evidence backing

up their claim.)​A specific example expressed by an article that is pro genetic manipulation​ from

the ​NCBI ​website explains that the CRISPR can give us the ability to alter a genetic sequence in

utero and fix the sequence to eliminate the possibility of death in a fetus. Without this ​procedure,

fetuses with a malfunctioning element of DNA will die in utero. Scientist who are pro genetic

manipulation continue to plead their case to society and explain why this type of research should

be allowed. Another pro genetic manipulation advocate,​ (​I took this portion of text from another
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paragraph because I thought it fit better here since it is supporting pro genetic manipulation.)​scientists

Fredrik Lanner, a developmental biologist who support this movement argues that research on

this type of science will be a “game changer.” In an article done on ​NPR, ​Lanner also reveals that

“if they can understand how these early cells are regulate in the actual embryo, this knowledge

will help us in the future treat patients with diabetes, or Parkinsons, of different types of

blindness and other diseases.” Along with Lanner, many other scientists have expressed that not

allowing this research would be counterproductive. Research of this sort would benefit society

and even improve the quality of life for thousands of people.​Despite all of the lives that could be

saved and diseases that could be eliminated, this research continues to be restricted and

prohibited until further ethical discussion and debate by the public, government officials, and

members of the scientific community.(​Here, I am preparing the reader to transition from pro genetic

manipulation to anti genetic manipulation)​ ​On the other hand, many will argue that it is unethical to

alter genetic material and express concerns about the possible dangers that this could cause for

society​.(​This is not necessary to keep in my paper, it is just extra rambling that I can do without)​ ​Recent

discussion shows that it comes down to the pros being enough to outweigh the cons of playing

God and being willing to risk the potential, non reversible consequences.

(​This does not properly set up my next paragraph)​Next when looking at this topic of inquiry,

it is important to understand both sides of the argument. Scientists like Lanner, who support this

movement argue that research on this movement will be a “game changer.” In an article done on

NPR, ​Lanner also reveals that “if they can understand how these early cells are regulate in the

actual embryo, this knowledge will help us in the future treat patients with diabetes, or

parkinsons, of different types of blindness and other diseases.” Along with Lanner, many other
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scientists have expressed that not allowing this research would be counterproductive. Research

of this sort would benefit society and even improve the quality of life for thousands of people.​ ​In

contrast to pro genetic manipulation, many people argue that messing with the genetic material

of an embryo could lead to detrimental consequences and that the concept of it contradicts many

peoples beliefs. ​On the other hand,​ Scientists fear that ​research on this would lead to designer

babies and this ​this type of genetic manipulation could possibly create new diseases if a mistake

is made during the process. Marcy Darnovsky, ​who speaks and writes on human biotechnology,

tells ​NPR ​that “when you’re editing the genes of human embryos, that means you’re changing

the gene of every cell in the bodies of every offspring, every future generation of that human

being.” She then goes on to express that “these are permanent and probably irreversible changes

that we just don’t know what they would mean.” In addition to the biological concerns of this,

there are concerns on how these new procedures would affect social classes. With the potential

of advanced research leading to altering the genetic material of aesthetic features such as height,

beauty, intelligence, and talents, there is fear that this would widen the social gap even further

creating a resentment between classes. ​It is possible and predicted that even more resentment

would build between the social classes and could lead to conflict and rebellion against the

genetically superior.​ In addition to this fear of a widened social gap, it is also possible that this

would cause a new social class all together. This social class would be referred to as the

genetically superior. I​t is argued that since this procedure will be expensive and in high demand,

that the wealthy will have the most direct access to it. This would push them that much further

up than other classes, essentially creating a superior race. Those that could not afford it would

continue to pass along their genetic diseases to their offspring. Over time, it is predicted that the
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lower classes will be breed out, leaving only genetically superior humans.​ To counter argue this

concern, a professor from the article “Designer Babies” states that ​life​ ​like​ many other medical

procedures, this process of genetic manipulation would soon become less expensive, and

affordable for most people. It has also been argued that through natural reproduction, the

superior genes that do not contain genetically inherited diseases will be weeded out, therefore

eliminating certain disease altogether. This would be tremendously beneficial to society and

improve the quality of life for many. However, those who are not for genetic ​manipulation argue

that weeding out certain​ diseases could increase the lifespan of the average human to 150-200

years. This​ would have negative effects on the earth and environment that we live in. We do not

yet know how this type of alteration will affect the resources available to us, and if it would

cause damage to the earth and decrease quality of life. The duration of life now is anywhere from

sixty to ninety​ years old and is only increasing with advancing medical availability and

knowledge.​ Concern as to what this advanced access to medical procedures is concerning to

many and this inhibits us from progressing with research as of now.​ Another concern that has

been expressed that closely relates to a widened social gap, is the potential for these genetically

manipulated embryos to turn into consumer goods. If an embryo is manipulated to be genetically

enhanced, the “good” traits will be highly sought after. This would give parents a sort of

dominance and pressure over the child. How the child will be affected for the rest of its life is

hard to gage without experimentation. Many behavioral scientists think that children will turn

into more of a “trophy” or a consumer item for the parent to show off and push to succeed in

certain aspects of their lives that will bring in money and fame for the parent.​ In contrast to this

argument, some say that a parent with a child that was genetically modified will be incapable of
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loving their child the same way as if it was conceived and born naturally from the two parents.

Others argue that the parent will love the child the same either way. Every parent has a different

style in loving and raising their family and having one that is genetically modified will not

change how the parent will raise them or love them. It can easily be seen that without trial and

error, we can not know for sure how this type of technology will affect society or the way a child

is raised. As I continued to ask questions regarding my inquiry topic, another element of research

that I found that supports this movement is various case studies that have been done, legally and

illegally.

In different parts of the world, research to further understand genetic manipulation is not

as heavily restricted. For example, in China, a research group “published an article that described

the genetic modification of human embryos,” according to Jeremy Sugarman, ​professor of

Bioethics and Medicine at John Hopkins University​. This research was done in non viable

embryos that were not far enough developed to form life. Even though the embryos were not

developed into babies, genetic manipulation was still done and published. Despite the fact that

the ​embryos were terminated and not used in in vitro fertilization​, an uproar was expressed b​y

the public due to the freedom the Chinese scientists were given to conduct such research.

Discussion on whether or not this should be legal will require many public debates, legal

research and ethical expression from the scientific community before this will be made legal.

Another element that makes this a difficult issue to tackle is that it is not a “uniform, global

approach to ensuring the novel clinical approaches using reproductive technologies are

scientifically, medically and ethically sound”(Sugarman). With that being said, some scientists

who do not agree with the restrictions on research regarding this topic are taking their studies
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elsewhere. Places like Mexico and the Ukraine, recently “announced human experiments with

mitochondrial manipulation,” (Darnovsky and Hosman) is not restricted. Word of this reached a

doctor in New York, leading him to Mexico where he continued his research. His research

involved conception of a child using the CRISPR to modify its genetic material. The baby was

“born on April 6,” according to Darnovsky and Hosman. Situations like this cause issues and

discussion regarding consequences and legal actions that must be made to protect a procedure

like this to take over and be integrated into the scientific community and practiced on human

subjects before we know the risks and consequences of this.

In conclusion, my topic of inquiry has lead me to analyze and research a​ variety​ of

different elements of this debate. It is evident that there is much complex debate around this

topic, and a lot of brilliant research being done. Through the process of inquiry, I have learned

that although this technology that we have access to is brilliant and could be potentially

revolutionary to the field of science and medicine, ​there are many elements that need to be

considered.​ Is it fair to restrict research that could save thousands of people affected by

genetically inherited diseases? Many argue that we do not have the right as humans to tamper

with this type of genetic manipulation.​ It is expressed that playing with this sort of research

should not be taken lightly and the consequences should be largely considered. We do not yet

know how sever the repercussions of this could be and scientists and society must take all angles

of the argument into consideration before laws and be past and regulated.​ I have found that those

who are pro genetic manipulation say that it would be unethical to have the ability to cure

someone of a fatal disease and not proceed to help them.​ This technology could save thousands

of lives and offer a cure to many genetic diseases. How can people decide to take that gift of a
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normal life away from others if a cure is reachable.​ Others say that it is unethical to tamper with

this type of research due to the dangers that it could cause for society. Another interesting aspect

of this topic that is widely discussed is how it will affect social classes, parent-child

relationships, and the biological elements of a humans life. I think it is evident that at this time,

thorough ethical boards need to be assembled that bring together medical professionals and

public opinions to ensure that all aspects of this new technology are analyzed. ​Only after all

discussion and ethical debates are considered will society be able decide whether research on

genetic manipulation of embryos should be able to continue.


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Citation Page

Darnovsky, Marcy, and Elliot Hosman. “The Social and Political Dangers of Germline

Intervention.”​ Gene Watch,​ January-March, 2017,

www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/GeneWatch/GeneWatchPage.aspx?pageId=582.

Accessed 10 March, 2018.

Masci, David. “Designer Babies.” ​CQ​ ​Researcher​, 18 May, 2001.

http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/document.php?id=cqresrre2001051800&type=hitl

ist&num=19. Accessed 1 April, 2018.

Stein, Rob. “Breaking Taboo, Swedish Scientist Seeks To Edit DNA Of Healthy Human

Embryos.”, Gene Editing Raises Hopes, Fears: ​NPR,​ 22 September , 2016.

www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/09/22/494591738/breaking-taboo-swedish-scien

tist-seeks-to-edit-dna-of-healthy-human-embryos. Accessed 9 March , 2018.

Sugarman, Jeremy. “Ethics and Germline Gene Editing.” ​EMBO Reports,​ 16 August, 2015,

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4552475/. Accessed 9 March, 2018.

“Embryo with Two Mothers Approved.”​ BBC News​, 8 September, 2005,

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4225564.stm. Accessed 23 April, 2018.