Technological and scientific advancements in the genetic engineering field have proceeded rapidly in the past few years. On the one hand, proponents of genetic modification argue that this technology makes our lives much better. On the other hand, opponents of genetic engineering cite numerous environmental and ethical issues. One area of genetic engineering that has sparked heated debates is germline engineering, also known as inheritable genetic modification (IGM).
What is inheritable genetic modification?
IGM refers to the technology of changing the genes that are passed on to the next generations of the human species. The genetic alterations would be made in sperm, eggs, or early embryos. Engineered genes would appear in the person who was formed from that embryo or gamete, as well as in the future generations.
This technique has not been tested in humans. IGM would be without a doubt the most important, but also most controversial, type of genetic engineering since it would irreversibly modify the human species.
What are the arguments in favor of IGM?
Proponents of IGM argue that this technique can be used to enable people to avoid passing on to the future generations such serious genetic diseases as Tay-Sachs. It can also allow a couple (both are homozygous for a flawed gene) to conceive a healthy baby related to both of them.
In addition, IGM can allow people to genetically "enhance" their babies to live longer, become healthier, more attractive, more intelligent, and more athletic. Generally, IGM allows people to have the qualities that they wish for their children.
Proponents also say that IGM will not cease even if banned. They believe that the demand for this technology will be strong and that people will readily pay. Instead of encouraging black markets and likely abuses, advocates call the governments to legalize IGM for the much needed regulation.
What are the arguments against IGM?
However, opponents of IGM argue that it would reduce the human beings as mere objects. They particularly oppose the "pre-selection" of human traits and the cultural construction of people as biologically perfectible artifacts. For them, IGM would change the natural parent-child relationships. It would also have other destabilizing socio-cultural effects.
What’s more, IGM would be very expensive and the "upgrades" would accrue to the children of the well-off families. Opponents, even advocates, acknowledge that IGM could lead to the rise of "genetic castes." Social rifts would be so enormous that notions of a common humanity could be gone forever, with horrible consequences.