Genetic Engineering

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Genetic Engineering:
 Moving pieces of genetic material from 1 species to another

- Gene therapy
- Cloning
- Gene manipulation

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Embryo Research

Find cures for serious illnesses using tissue or cells from embryos
Research concentrates on stem cells in order to repair damaged organs/body parts

 Embryonic stem cells removed from early embryos > process destroys embryo

Stem cells also taken from adults, to harm + helped patients

 ESC taken from unused embryo > IVF

Embryos created in lab using donated eggs and sperm = no cures
Problematic = different genetic makeup
à rejection

Best option: making new embryos by therapeutic cloning 

Issue: supply of human eggs/ poor women paid for eggs
UK law: embryos cannot be experimented on past 14 days human embryo not to be placed in animal, human cloning not allowed + genetic structure of cell not altered while part of embryo

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Genetically Engineered Crops

+ Greater yield, better taste/quality, resistant to pests/disease à environmentally friendly, don’t require chemical pesticides à reduce/end hunger/malnutrition


- Critics: Threaten environment, cause havoc through cross pollination, long term effects on human health à unknown atm 

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Selecting Human Genes:

Embryos selected for screening for diseases

Also to create healthy baby to treat sick sibling or select sex of child
Embryos created by IVF + single cell removed from each genetic testing. One embryo selected for implantation + rest discarded


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Sex Selection

Involves destroying unwanted/unsuitable embryos à embryos person = problematic

  • Baby treated as commodity 
  • Slippery slope à designer babies


Fertilisation = 24 hours, personhood = no specific moment

Peter Singer: up to 14 days embryo has capacity to divide into 2 and become identical twins. S/times, join back tog into 1 blastocyst, if in vitro, 1 cell removed + tested + developmental process unharmed. Each cell in blastocyst has capacity to become human
è no individuality; w/o it, organism cannot be seen as person = doesn’t have human rights acc to Singer


Newborn baby harmed in medical procedures for cells à taken from umbilical cord, so no.

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Genetic Testing & Screening:

Tests for genetic diseases, who should know results?

Private à employees, insurance co’s, gov’t?

= Discrimination
+ only probability, possibility of laboratory error


Genetic Screening:
Testing section of pop known to be at risk of condition

Adv: person knows, change in lifestyle
Disadv: Discrimination
à defining normal/abnormal in society


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Gene Therapy

Correct, alter, replace genes = problematic
Sickle cell anaemia = terrible but natural immunity from malaria

Alteration of Human Genes:

  • Targeted to somatic (body) cells à parents genome changed / few ethical issues, used successfully h/e given to foetus before birth = we decide which genetic predispositions are to be altered … Divisions btwn genetically rich and poor
  • Or germ (egg and sperm) cells à parents egg + sperm cells changed with aim of passing changes to future generations (germ line)
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Stem Cell Research

Cells that change into other types of cells

  • In v early embryo: totipotent = become any type of body cell
  • Adult: pluripotent à capacity to become variety of cells, not all, does not harm adult, child, placenta of newborn; destroys embryo however.

Foetal stem cells from aborted foetuses same potential as embryonic stem cells.

Threshold of cloning à illegal UK, tried elsewhere
à confusion in family r/ships (discrimination) parents see children as objects than humans

 Unnecessary to use embryonic stem cells in search for cures:

 ESC plastic, unstable à malignant, cancer

  • Found in umbilicial cord blood, placenta blood + every other organ
  • Adult successful, embryonic theoretical stage (low success)
  • Adult overcome prob of immune rejection (embryonic rejected)
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Natural Law


secondary precept deduced:
no embryo research
à destroys life

 Research justified: preserves life by curing diseases

 GM Crops: 

feeding + t/f, preserving life

Living harmoniously in society

à Crops would help other countries have same good crops

Against animals used to produce pharmaceuticals to grow organs for transplants,
contrary to God-given purpose
H/e, NL sees animals as lower beings
à used to feed humans?

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Situation Ethics

Situation Ethics:

Human beings = ‘makers + selectors + designers’ who act morally when in control of genetics.
No opp to IVF/embryo research
Considered loving thing if only other option is to destroy
Esp = research cures diseases

T/f even testing and screening for diseases is fine à most loving thing?

Creating embryos specifically for research X
Creating to save child
à ‘loving’?

Alteration of human genes: somatic is fine, germ line à affects future generations, teleological à outcomes?


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  • Assesses individual situation
  • Works if poss to assess results of GE + ER & decide whether favour all concerned
  • Better to save many lives in future at cost of few embryos
  • Hedonic Calculus applied to sufferers now
  • But early embryos can’t feel pain à won’t work
  • Benefits of GE + ER justifiable using HC 
  • Pleasures brought a/b by cures for diseases (Parkinsons) outweigh cost of embryos
  • Cost of Health Service + success to be considered

Bentham à all sentient creatures à problem with using animals for pharmaceuticals to grow human organs
à interests of animals alongside humans
If only one animals = OK, but large numbers = concern for Singer

Impossible to know effects though of GM crops for instance

Peter Singer: up to 14 days embryo has capacity to divide into 2 and become identical twins. -> blastocyst --> 1 removed, tested, no p. Each cell capacity to become human, no individuality = not person 

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Kantian Ethics

GE + ER hard to universalise
Creating embryos for stem cell research
à none left to reproduce = die out

Treating people as means to an end X
Against if foetus considered person

Respect for persons + requirement for Human Rights to be respected.
Informed consent
à genetic medicine, testing, screening, adult stem cell research à truly humanising

Respect for autonomy + privacy essential to Kantian ethics

Consequences ignored b/c acting out of duty, no account of compassion or love

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Christian Ethics

Human life = intrinsic value, using embryos for sake of another human = wrong

Embryo also has intrinsic worth

No obj to using adult stem cells or modification of animals/ plants

NL Based, positive a/b advances in human life, never at expense of another human

Sacred from conception

Recognise need for humans to use God-given intelligence to transform + humanise world

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