Walter Isaacson is a renowned biographer, CEO of the Aspen Institute, and previously the chairman of CNN and managing editor of TIME magazine. He is the author of Einstein: His Life and Universe, Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Steve Jobs, and most recently Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. But in his YouTube video at Big Think, CRISPR: The future or undoing of humanity?, Walter Isaacson asked questions that he already knows there are no definitive answers to.
The most vulnerable people to gene editing experiments are of course those with genetic impairments. Women that cannot have children, people that have been paralyzed in accidents or that were born with physical abnormalities, and people who suffer from incurable diseases are next on the list of people that may become part of the experiments. Right now, there is a question about the morality of using genetic technology to create designer babies. It may be ethical in certain instances, such as when doctors ask ethical questions about changing an adult’s genetics so that certain disabling traits are not inherited by future generations of children.
Some behavioral scientists have proven that they can change people’s behaviors using genetic technologies that already exist. For instance, scientists like Karen Moxom believe that they can make addicts not be addicts anymore by changing the way their brains work so that they respond differently to stimuli that might make them want to drink alcohol or turn to some other substance. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that occurs after a person experiences a traumatic event. Because PTSD has a biological basis can it be avoided by using gene changing technology also?
Everyone uses defense mechanisms to protect themselves from anxiety and in social settings to cope with what is happening around them. Defense mechanisms are usually healthy ways that people have to deal with whatever is happening but become pathological when maladaptive behaviors emerge from the unconscious mind to manipulate or deny reality. Addicts use defense mechanisms to rationalize their addiction and to protect their own ego. Should human defense mechanisms be altered using technology? Could such be the case with addicts and people who suffer PTSD?
Stem cell use and cloning have came a long way in recent years. The somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) that scientists used to clone Dolly the sheep stirred the entire world. People wondered how long it would be before scientists cloned people and when and if so, if those people would be spiritual human beings. The good that came from the experiment is that life-saving human organs can be cloned. Would it be ethical to clone a human for organs? It is scary to think of where this science is capable of going.
Technology is advancing faster than the ethical guidelines for it are. As with neurotechnology, stem cell technology is also a rapidly advancing science that can greatly improve patient’s lives. One of the most useful and least questioned techniques to harvest stem cells is from the umbilical cord. The cost of getting the stem cells and then storing them until they are needed is more than most people can afford though.
Crispr is a method of cloning good cells and destroying the bad. There are two methods used in cloning; blastomere separation which involves splitting an embryo soon after fertilization and the somatic nuclear technique that was used to clone Dolly which is a technique that removes the egg cell and replaces it with the nucleus from a somatic cell. Both methods are capable of creating clones.
Stem cell research and cloning raise the issue of clones having a living soul. Scientists have already petitioned to change the definition of personhood. Right now the definition stands as; the state or fact of being a person, the state or fact of being an individual or having human characteristics and feelings.
Genetics makes up our physical bodies, and added environmental factors form our developed feelings. Maybe our DNA holds more than we think it does. We have a moral obligation to cure diseases when we can, and to save lives when we can, but it is still unclear what rights a clone has and who owns the rights to a tissue. Could a clone ever be developed for the well being of the clone?
Cloning plays an important role in the development of stem cell research for embryonic stem cells transplantation into patients because the stem cells would be a genetic match for the donor patient. There would be no risk of rejection and for xenotransplantation which is the cloning of organs using animals that has a higher rejection rate.
Sure. We have a moral responsibility to cure sickness and disease, but who owns a clone? Can a clone have a soul? Patentability of living things is addressed in the Diamond v. Chakrabarty case where the respondent filed a patent application for a genetically engineered bacterium capable of degrading oil, something which no naturally occurring bacteria is known to do. The patent examiner rejected the claim on the grounds that “micro-organisms are ‘products of nature,’ and… as living things they are not patentable subject matter.” But the Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, Supreme Court found the bacterium is patentable subject matter under § 101 of the Patent Act and reversed the decision.
Questions remain about the ethics and morality of changing a person’s genes so that the future of humanity looks different, less sick, less impaired. Designer babies are already possible. Three designer babies were created in China several years ago by a scientist who was later arrested for creating them. However, doctors still ask if it is ethical in some cases to experiment on genetically impaired babies before they are born so that they will not be subjected to a life of disability and difficulties. Changing an adult participant’s genes in a way that does not affect future generations is probably the most moral use of gene technologies, but still many questions about where this science is taking humanity exist.
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