Genetic Engineering and the Law Essay
Genetic Engineering and the Law
To understand the ethical implications of genetic engineering, we must first understand what genetic engineering is. Genes are units that code for specific characteristics. Such characteristics are hair and eye colour and we inherit these from our parents. It is chromosomes in the cell nuclei than enable your body to inherit features or, more specifically, it is the DNA that makes up the chromosomes that forms a unique genetic code for every human being (apart from identical twins). It is estimated that the human body has around 50,000 to 100,000 different genes contained inside, some of which have been linked to certain diseases.
Scientists claim to have identified 4,000 conditions that are linked to just one fault or defect in a persons genetic makeup, which is where genetic engineering comes in. At present a project is taking place to identify the function of every gene in the human body. ‘The Human Genome Project’ aims to uncover the cause for many diseases and find a cure for them. One such way, is genetic engineering. Genetic engineering, as a cure for disease, is the removal of a defective gene sequence and the remodelling of it. But this isn’t the only definition given for genetic engineering.
Compassion in World Farming describes it as ‘the taking of genes from one species of plant or animal and inserting them into a completely different species’. It is obvious, therefore, that genetic engineering is used for different things, in different situations. In this essay I will look at some of the varying uses genetic engineering has in today’s world and the ethical implications of such uses. Genetic Engineering and the Law At present human cloning is illegal in the UK, although there are many countries were such a law does not exist. And although, technically, it may be possible to clone humans in the way
animals have been, the Act of Parliament strictly forbids ‘ever doing with human eggs what we have done with sheep eggs’ Dr Ron James Head of PPL Therapeutics. Nor are scientists allowed to mass produce human eggs for in-vitro fertilisation- something that many scientists have been pushing for for years. Genetically modified crops are also strictly controlled by the law. Such UK laws include: The Genetically Modified Organisms (Contained Use) Regulations 1992 and The Genetically Modified Organisms (Deliberate Release) Regulations 1992. These laws are in addition to the standard For Safety Act which specifies that food ‘must be fit for
consumption’. Several government bodies have been set up to assess and regulate GM foods including ACNFP, COT, FAC and, the most important, The Department of Environment. The DOE requires tat anyone proposing a release must apply to them for consent first. It is then advised by the Advisory Committee on Release to the Environment on the granting of consents. At a European level, the Regulation on Novel Foods and Food Ingredients was introduced in May 1997 and covers labelling of foods ‘no longer equivalent’ to it’s conventional counterparts. But despite the introduction of laws, many people are still unhappy, and are pushing for
further action. For example the CIWF believe GM meat should be clearly labelled, although they also say it should not be sold in the first place. They see the genetic engineering of farm animals for food as cruel and unnecessary. But the question remains: are they right? Few people know the implications of genetic engineering and what it really involves and many are ignorant of what to expect from GM. Genetic Engineering and Animals/ Humans Everyone knows the story of the first cloned animal. The Finn Dorset sheep, known as Dolly, was the first new-born mammal to be cloned from adult cells and is a miracle for scientists the world over.
She had opened many new windows of opportunity for scientists who hope to soon be able to clone humans using the same technology. The possibilities really are endless. A single cell from an elite racehorse could be used to create hundreds of identical copies, each with the same elite genetic makeup. However pleasing this heady new discovery is, there is a widespread argument over whether or not cloning is right. Is it simply a wonderful new way to develop a generation of disease-free animals and humans or is it tampering with nature and playing God?
Many people see it as the answer to all problems, that screening can reveal vital information about a person’s life span and health future. Genetic engineering could, in theory, identify genetic defects early on, giving time to replace the faulty gene and cure the sufferer. Predicting disease is a major use for genetic engineering and one that could change the way we live forever. At present scientist are working on a genetic test known as the GeneChip. They claim in a few years doctors will be able to take a simple mouth swab and, using the GeneChip, look through your DNA for disease prospects.
Although they have come under fire from their critics, geneticists argue that anyone is entitled to know what their future holds for the health-wise. Indeed they say the information can be vital for planning out the rest of your life if, for example, you are a woman with a likelihood to develop breast cancer. Pre-natal diagnosis is also another option that could soon be open to the public. Parents could be made aware of any flaws there may be in their child’s DNA and could decide whether or not to carry on with the pregnancy. Genetic engineering could also be used to grow substances like human insulin and growth hormone on a huge level.
Currently scientists are looking at introducing blood-clotting genes for haemophiliacs and purifying milk from GM sheep for the treatment of cystic fibrosis. They are also hoping to study presently incurable diseases in the hope they might be able to introduce a cure using genetic engineering. There are also high hopes for animals in genetic engineering. Transgenic animals (or those that have been given a gene from another animal) have many uses. They can produce more meat and milk, feeding the starving, and they can grow faster, with the possibility of less fatty meat. They can be bred to resist disease, but also develop disease so they might be tested on for further research. A biotechnology firm in Cambridge is working on a transgensic pig that could be bred to grow desperately needed organs for transplant into human beings.
The technique can also be used to ‘knock out genes’, deleting proteins so that they might prevent BSE in cows. But it isn’t all good news for genetic engineering, in fact there is a lengthy and strong argument as to why it is dangerous to go to take it to these levels. Many have disagreed with the predicting of disease, saying that many people may not be able to cope with the knowledge that they may contract a terminal disease- it could ruin lives.
Also there has been widespread outcry over the Association of Insurance Brokers’ announcement that it will not offer life insurance over i?? 100,100 to anyone who had taken a genetic test that had predicted fatal disease and since 1995 there has been pressure form MP’s to develop a code of practise concerning genetic screening. There are also fears of employers discriminating against potential employees who have the potential for life threatening illness in later life. Although scientists hope genetic engineering will provide many choices for parents, the BMA has voiced it’s concerns that the industry will cause ‘selective breeding’ or the choice to abort a baby because of undesirable characteristics such as physical traits.
The BMA have also said people have been mislead about the power to screen for later abnormalities. It says ‘The number of abnormalities which can be detected in this way is limited and few of the tests are conclusive’. The problem many people have with genetic engineering is the risk of error that is involved. Screening is complex and it is difficult to be precise every time. Faulty diagnosis could put an end to job prospects or insurance benefits, not to mention the psychological problems arising from finding out you have the potential to contract a fatal disease.
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