Controversy Over Genetic Engineering Essay, Research Paper
Dolly was a sheep that was the first living clone in its time, not a country
music star from Tennessee. This was a magnificent feat but what did it mean?
To some it meant a world of possibility, to others it meant havoc. Who is
right? Who is wrong? These questions are unanswerable which results in a
never-ending controversy. This controversy over the benefits and dangers of
genetic engineering in humans, animals and plants will live on forever.
There are many benefits of genetic engineering. At the forefront of these
benefits is preventing and curing illnesses. Imagine beating chronic, fatal
diseases before they strike. Think of the lives, money, suffering and effort
that could be saved if doctors could identify individuals that are genetically
stricken with heart disease, cancer and many other diseases. Take cancer for
example. Scientists are working on a way to alter the processes of the body’s
own immune system so that white T-Cells will attack cancerous tumors (see
appendix I). The T- Cells will be biologically altered and engineered to
perform a specific function unlike current T- Cells who don’t have a specific
antagonist to fight against (Hagelin 2001). If research is funded well enough
so that it can continue, society will see an incurable disease such as cancer
disappear like a rabbit in a hat.
Other diseases that are known to be passed on genetically can also be cured
using gene therapy. A gene therapist could go into the embryo and find the
mutated gene that causes heart disease or high cholesterol and replace or
extract the defective gene. This conception of prenatal gene therapy is derived
from the idea that a doctor would be able to “test” an unborn baby for
defections. Many people argue that the prenatal testing can be harmful due to
social and medical implications (Wekesser 1996). These implications include
malpractice and increased stress on the mother of the baby. Clearly, much
controversy exists over prenatal gene therapy.
Something that Uncle Sam has strongly prevented is the construction of
genetically produced human organs. Naturally, these organs would be intended
for a transplant involving the person who had the organ produced (Hagelin 2001).
For example: Bob needs a liver within the next six months but cannot find a
match. The answer is within Bob’s own body. A genetic therapist would be able
to extract a liver cell, clone it, grow a liver for Bob, and then transplant the
organ into Bob.
Medically, there are many barriers to break, but agriculturally there are few.
Many of the foods we eat today are biologically produced. Apples and oranges
are biotechnologically altered so that they are bigger and better.
Biotechnicians are also producing microorganisms that prey on crop ruining
bacteria and the like (Woods 2000). There have even been experiments with farm
animals that result in bountiful production of pork, beef and poultry therefore
boosting the economy as a result of more agricultural profits (Wekesseer 1996).
In 1987 a gene therapist began altering the hormones of pigs. The geneticist
implanted a human growth hormone into the pig, which in turn increased the
amount of lean pork, the weight of the pig, and unfortunately the size of the
pig’s heart. Although the pigs had giant enlarged hearts, the breeding of the
pigs continues (Wekesser 1996). This is not to say that the agricultural
industry is booming with the recent production of “super livestock and crops”.
Inversely, many people disagree with either some forms of gene therapy or
all of gene therapy. Gene therapy is very risky and may cause more harm than
good. Take the development of nuclear warfare for example. This resulted in a
thirty year long cold war between the U.S. and the USSR. In this situation
there was obviously more bad done than there was good. Genetic engineering can
end up the same way; there may not be a war but there will be more harm than
help. That being said, gene therapy is morally wrong (Skaggs 2001). Not only
is genetic engineering morally wrong with humans it is wrong in the agricultural
What were to happen if a biologically produced organism designed to increase
crop production were to overtake an entire ecosystem? (Woods 2000). The
organism could spread into natural habitats killing the “crop frying” organism
that was food for an earthworm which was food for a bird which was food for a
snake etc… This may be only minor in comparison to what can happen to a
genetically altered animal that has gone wrong. As stated above, in 1987, a
doctor altered pigs’ growth hormones resulting in arthritis, gastric ulcers,
enlarged hearts, dermatitis, and kidney problems (Wekesser 1996). Or even
worse, what would happen if genetically altered food wreaked havoc on the human
body? In 1994 this did happen. Beef which was shipped from South America to
Europe was contaminated with a hormone that became lethal a result of altering
the cattle from which it (the beef) came (Skaggs 2001). This shows a direct,
palpable consequence to humans and genetic engineering.
What’s the current U.S. policy according to genetic engineering? In the field
of agriculture and foods more generally the FDA (see appendix II) makes the
call. Currently, the FDA has no written policy about the production of
genetically enhanced foods. The FDA does, however, maintain its policy of
keeping the public safe. As with every food, the FDA tests the altered food to
make sure that it is safe (Woods 2000). In other words, biotechnologically
produced food goes under the same discrimination as all of society’s other foods
(Woods 2000). Whether this is comforting or discomforting is up to the eater.
Although there are some labels on foods that are genetically produced, this is
not required. More importantly, the former president Bill Clinton put a ban on
cloning in 1997 for a total of five years.
Whether or not there is legislation condoning genetic engineering or prohibiting
it, there will be controversy. This controversy will exist for as long as human
beings walk the Earth we live on. Whether the controversy is over something
petty or something as serious as cloning human beings, the arguers will argue on
and on, endlessly.
Wekesser, Carol. Genetic Engineering. San Diego, CA: Geenhaven Press, Inc.,
Hagelin, John. “Genetic Engineering of Humans” Genetic Engineering: A
Precautionary Approach. January 2001. (October 3, 2001)
Woods, Chris. “Food and Genetics” Genes Are Our Life. October 1999.
(October 3, 2001)
Skaggs, Betty. Telephone Interview. 8 October 2001
A. General information
Benefits in Cancer
B. Gene Therapy
III. Benefits in Prenatal Gene Therapy
IV. Organ Transplants
V. Benefits in Agriculture
VI. Negatives of Genetic Engineering
A. Nuclear analogy
VII. Negatives of Genetic Engineering in Agriculture
VIII. Current U.S. Policy
B. President Clinton
To Alter or Not to Alter
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