Designer Genes

January 1, 2003 Best Of The Voice

In the last century, the human race has made stunning scientific advances. One of the newest, most controversial of these is genetic engineering. It is an awesome power, but one that humanity is not mature enough to possess. Morally and medically, human cloning is too risky, and the human race too prone to selfishness, for us to use this power without understanding its implications.

One of the key moral implications of genetic engineering is the idea of the ‘designer baby’. The existence of cloning would make the application of human genetic engineering possible. Such engineering might begin with the removal of inherited disease, to the elimination of predisposition to conditions like alcoholism and obesity, and even move to the augmentation of normal traits (Nash, 1998). The moral questions here are obvious ones – where do we draw the line with what is acceptable and what is not? Where will our selfishness begin to outweigh actual need and necessity? While the idea of the designer baby is an extreme one as yet, it is an issue that has to be addressed before mankind has the ability.

Even before we ask ourselves these moral questions, there is the issue of the “number of clinical failures [that] lead to miscarriage, the necessity of dozens or even hundreds of abortions, or births of massively deformed offspring” (McGee, 2001). It is feared that the “early cloning experiments will breach a natural barrier that is moral in character”, (McGee, 2001) taking the human race into an area that exceeds any prior reproductive experimentation and technology.

Scientists are already experimenting on human foetuses, and seemingly dancing around semantics in order to excuse it. Dr. Antonori, an Italian doctor and president of the Italian Society of Reproductive Medicine, has been attributed as saying that the word cloning is inappropriate to describe his work. He has, instead, referred to it as “genetic reprogramming” (Lorenzi, 2002). “Mammalian embryos are scientifically defined in part by how they come into being” (McGee, 2001), which again raises the question of how far we would excuse ourselves because of semantic issues. The idea of difference between a cloned embryo and one which is fertilised and grows to term in a mother’s womb, might remove emotional attachment to what is being experimented upon in a lab in much the same way that animal experimentation became commonplace. Will we excuse inexcusable testing with the idea that what’s in the petri-dish “isn’t really human anyhow”?

The benefits of genetic engineering are many, and are not limited to the removal of flawed genes in an unborn foetus, the cultivation of healthy tissue from a person’s own body to be used in treatment of disease later on, or, even more specifically, blocking a gene currently known as muscarinic-5 which has been tied to drug and alcohol addiction (Susman, 2002). Many feel the benefits of human genetic engineering far outweigh the risks inherent in early testing, and the moral implications raised by detractors of that engineering.

Proponents – and some detractors – of genetic engineering fear that lawmakers will focus on a “nightmarish vision in which billionaires and celebrities flood the world with genetic copies of themselves.” (Nash, 1998). They feel that laws will be brought into being by medically uninformed people without due consideration to the benefits of such experimentation. Laws recently passed in Italy promise stiff fines, prison terms and loss of career for “anyone who realises a project which aims to obtain a human being from one starting cell, genetically identical to another human being, alive or dead.” (Lorenzi, 2002) Dr. Ermanno Greco of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine of Rome’s European Hospital feels that law is “a misdeed law, scientifically wrong. [And] doesn’t protect anyone.” (Lorenzi, 2002)

Dr. Antonori’s desire to clone a human despite the views of most scientists world-wide that using the cloning procedure to do so is not only unsafe but also morally repugnant, points directly to the human tendency to abuse the power and privilege it has. History shows that when left to its own devices, scientific advancement continues regardless of morality. Consequently, we must enforce restrictions on the experimentation that is allowed to occur.

While the benefits of genetic engineering are many, humanity itself – at least some of it – is still too tempted by overstepping the bounds of sense in order to make use of something it is clearly not ready to be ‘playing’ with. Until the day we can make an informed choice that satisfies the medical and moral sides of the fence, human genetic engineering is an issue we should treat delicately and with great caution.


Rosella Lorenzi
2002 06 19, Reuters Health
reprinted by Yahoo News

Glenn McGee Ph.D.
2001, BioScience Productions, Inc.
“Primer on Ethics and Human Cloning”

J. Madeline Nash
1998 02 9, vol. 151, no. 5, Time Inc.
“The Case For Cloning”

Ed Susman
UPI Science News
From the Science & Technology Desk
Published 11/4/2002

Further Reading

The American Journal of Bioethics


Lonita has been an AU student since early 2002, and is studying towards a Bachelor of General Studies in Arts & Science. She enjoys writing, creating websites, drinks far too much tea, and lives in hopes of one day owning a plaid Cthulhu doll. The most exciting thing she’s done so far in her lifetime is driven an F2000 racecar, and she’s still trying to figure out how to top that experience. Her personal website can be found at and what you can’t find out about her through that, you can ask her via email: