The use of stem cells and cloning has came a long way. Designer babies are possible, and there is a lot of controversy about it. Sure. We have a moral responsibility to cure sickness and disease, but who owns a clone? Can a clone have a soul? Is it even moral to create designer babies? Could a clone ever be developed for the well-being of the clone?
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. It’s been happening for more than 20 years now. 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.
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. Xenotransplantation, which is the cloning of organs using animals has a higher rejection rate. The good that came from earlier experiments 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 ethical guidelines. Affordability is also a concern. Patient’s lives can be improved, but it is not cheap. The cost of getting the stem cells and then storing them until they are needed is more than most people can afford.
The 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 not 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.
Genetics make up our physical bodies, and added environmental factors form our developed feelings. Maybe our DNA holds more than we think it does. 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 just some of the people that may become part of the experiments. In some circumstances, it may be a moral decision to change someone’s genes. An adult with an incurable disease or someone that experienced a life-changing accident that left them unable to live comfortably may have a better life if they become part of the gene editing experiments.
What about changing behavior? 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.
Changing an adult’s genes in a way that does not affect future generations is probably the most moral use of gene technologies, but there are many questions about where this science is taking humanity. 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. He was recently released from prison. Doctors still asked 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.
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