“Man is now evermore the maker of what he has
made and the doer of what he can do, and most of all
the preparer of what he will be able to do next.” (Hans
Genetics - information
Genes are strings of chemicals long enough to give
instructions to the cell, information about which protein to
make and how to use them
Genes are located in the nucleus of each cell of each living
DNA: long, complex molecule, arranged in various clusters
of genes called chromosomes
DNA is made up of four similar chemicals (called bases and
abbreviated A, T, C, and G) that are repeated millions or
billions of times throughout a genome. The human
genome, for example, has 3 billion pairs of bases.
A genome is all the DNA in an organism, including its
Human Genome Project
identify all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in
determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base
pairs that make up human DNA,
store this information in databases,
improve tools for data analysis,
transfer related technologies to the private sector, and
address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that
may arise from the project.
Polygenic defects: spina bifida, anencephaly
Ethical concerns in genetics
1. Genetic testing
2. Genetic screening
3. Genetic therapy
4. Genetic enhancement
Suppose you are living twenty-
five years from now. Suppose that
among the advancements in genetics
is the ability to screen individuals for
particular genetically caused or
influenced disorders and conditions.
Would you want to have such information?
If yes, what kind of information would you want
to have access? Would there be any information
that you would not want to know?
How much would you be willing to pay for such
Do you think that society should pay for
anyone’s screening? Why or why not?
Genetic tests are designed to identify a problem after
symptoms have appeared
They can also predict future diseases
They can identify healthy people who are carriers of
disease-prone genes that will or may affect their offspring
Tests can threaten our privacy
The genetic testing of one individual can threaten the
privacy of other individuals
Genes are the “holy grail”
we are nothing but our genes
Pressures are mounting for prognostic testing of
children without symptoms to detect their status as
carriers or as subjects of a genetic disease that might
develop later in their lives
Biotechnology companies are developing commercial
Will the genetic testing be a net benefit for children
who cannot consent?
Prudential reasoning suggests that
genetic testing in the absence of any threat
to the child in childhood should be
postponed until the child has enough
maturity to make the decision for herself.
Testing Adults for Genetic
Genetic tests showing a higher degree of likelihood for
some forms of Alzheimer’s disease, colon cancer,
ovarian cancer, and breast cancer now exist.
E.g.: testing for BRCA genes, testing for carrier status,
How can we engage in ethical decision-making about
genetic testing designed to identify a predisposition to
a disease? Consider that the decision to test or not to
test can profoundly affect the quality of life.
If it were possible to make
genetic alterations, what
characteristics would you want
your children to have?
What would the world be like if
people had only those
Types of Human Gene Transfer
Concerned with improving
Intent to correct or prevent various genetic traits of the
some genetic defect that patient or permanently
causes disease engineering the genetic
endowment of the patient’s
Therapeutic Gene Transfer
SOMATIC CELL GERM-LINE GENE
TRANSFER THERAPY TRANSFER THERAPY
- a genetic defect in a body - either a genetic defect in
cell of a patient could be the reproductive cells of
corrected by using a patient would be
various enzymes to splice repaired or a genetic
out the defect and to defect in a fertilized
splice in a healthy gene ovum would be
corrected in vitro
- Affects future children
and modifies sequences
in a whole line of future
Nontherapeutic Gene Transfer
SOMATIC GERM-LINE GENETIC
ENGINEERING - Existing genes would be
- A particular gene could altered or new ones
be inserted to improve a inserted into either germ
normal trait cells or into a fertilized
How would gene therapy work?
Arguments in support of genetic manipulation
Utilitarian: produces overall a better group of people
Libertarian: a matter of individual liberty to decide
what genetic enhancements one wants
Arguments Against Genetic Manipulation
Too risky at this time—we simply don’t know
enough to do this safely
Violates child’s autonomy by choosing a future
Playing God—takes on privileged more
appropriate for God than human beings
There is much that we do not understand about
Altering genes may result in changes that we do not
If these changes can be passed down to future
generations, there is a possibility of catastrophic
We may create pressure for people to use these
Genetic manipulation strikes many people as
profoundly unnatural, against the natural order and
(sometimes) against God’s order.
Is this merely a subjective feeling, shared by some but
not all, or does it have some stronger foundation?
Some critics maintain that altering genes is “playing
What is the force of this objection?
The argument would be that altering genes can change
future generations to an extent never before possible.
What Kind of Restrictions?
What regulation, if any, should apply to genetic
The free market/individual liberty model.
Individuals should be allowed to do whatever they want as
long as they do not infringe on the liberty of others.
The government regulation model.
Genetic manipulation should not be permitted unless
explicitly approved by the government.
The government should ban all attempts at genetic
Genetic manipulation is too hazardous and should not be
Germ-line genetic alteration
Germ-line genetic alterations could occur either while the
ova and spermatozoa are separate cells or in early embryos.
Alterations to cells in early embryos are germ-line
alterations because the cells are not yet differentiated (not
yet functioning as specific cells, such as brain cells, blood
Any alterations made in the undifferentiated cells of an
early embryo will in all that cell’s daughter cells, and some
of the altered cells will function as germ cells.
Thus, a change in the genome of the embryo affects its
future germ cells.
Would you advocate moving forward
with germ-line genetic alteration?
Under what circumstances and from
what reasons would you consider it