For a moment, imagine a world where people are able to prevent a person’s risk of contracting a genetic illness and possibly shaping the overall populations future. In recent years, human genome editing has been a hotly debated topic of discussion. While it serves many potential purposes, there is one particular gene modification type known as germline editing generating hysteria. In theory, germline editing is to be performed on human embryos, or gametes; thus, resulting in the creation of a modified human. (Liang, etca). While this medical and scientific stride could prove to be advantageous, it also presents with a multitude of adverse consequences. By comparing the three theories of virtue ethics, deontology, and utilitarianism, a clear distinction can be easily made as to why germline gene editing should not be used to shape the worlds population; for the purpose of good, or bad.
In 2015, an unviable human embryo’s genes were successfully modified by a Chinese group at Sun-Yat Sen University. (Liang, etca). Through a tedious process of trial and error, they were able to pull of this tremendous feat. The gene editing completed by the group resulted in the removal of a mutated DNA segment that predisposes the embryo to disease. While this proves tremendous, for many, this instance does not equate to something ethically good, or right. The ethical issues surrounding the topic of germline modification can be streamlined by its medical, and societal implications. From the medical standpoint, genome editing can further the understanding of normal development, disease, and its treatment. (Brown).
But its long term results are unknown, and it may result in unintended medical harm for not only the individual, but society as a whole. Brown states, “…editing went so wrong in so many embryos.” (Brown). Testing has not been performed on a viable embryo, so there is no way to know if it could result in unintentional harm. The next issue germline modification presents is the possibility to be used for gene enhancement. This untherapeutic use poses the risk of increasing discrimination, stigmatization, and exacerbating current social inequalities. Further exploration into some ethical theories will further solidify the negative affects relating to gene editing. (Brown).
In the theory of virtue ethics, if an action is aimed towards a good result, morality exists and is therefore, good. So, in this regard it would initially seem that virtue ethics would be in favor of gene editing. If the individual’s goal is to cure an illness and thus result in their ability to flourish, it would result in a means to an end. But, if it is done for the sake of others, or society, it does not result in an end, and cannot end in happiness. The philosopher Aristotle believes that wellbeing was meant to serve the individual and not necessary for society. This stance in virtue ethics then proves that if germline editing serves society by curing disease there cannot be an end; therefore, happiness will not be attained. Also, if gene modification is used for enhancements or nontherapeutic purposes, it would result in excess of the mean. In the theory of virtue ethics, these people are morally corrupt and do not have the ability to obtain excellence.
While virtue ethics pertains to reason, deontology’s main focus is a set of rules that determine what is right. If the right intention is upheld in their duty, no consequence will matter, regardless of the end result. The ethical problem of gene editing for the deontologist is that as it currently stands, there are no specific set of rules for its rightness or wrongness. As individuals, many people have their own ideas of why it is right or wrong to mold the human species. Germline gene modifications potential for negative or positive implications are truly unknown, making it nearly impossible to determine if its implementation is right. This lack of a universal law makes it so deontology’s theory of duty cannot apply to this circumstance. The deontologist would say it is their duty to keep people safe from harm, and because of its uncertainty, could not agree with germline gene modification.
The theory of Utilitarianism easily supports the ethical arguments against act gene editing. In this theory, its foundation believes that morality is defined by what is most useful and beneficial for the most people in the end. Germline gene modification’s potential for adverse effects on the individual and society has been widely conveyed and solidified. Although gene editing could result in some diseases being wiped out, the list of cons is noteworthy, far more profound and include: the perpetuation of stereotypes, greater separation in classes of people, new medical issues, accessibility to healthcare. The majority of societal issues that gene modification are crimes against humanity and would affect people physically, fiscally, developmentally and socially. It is feasible to suggest germline gene editing’s ramifications cannot fall in line with the theory of utilitarianism. Because of this, the utilitarian theorist would agree these would negatively affect more people than benefit a total society.
Creating an elite class of scientifically edited human beings leaves the door wide open to harm in health, justice, and equality amongst all civilizations. The contrast of each theory pertaining to germline gene modification makes the ethical argument against apparent. In virtue ethics, this type of modification could result in living a life of excess or at a deficit. There is no reason in living above or below the mean and does not align with a virtuous life. The deontologist cannot follow a set of rules for rightness or wrongness in human modification. Because its lack of a universal law, there is no way to determine morality under the theory of deontology. Lastly, the utilitarian realizes the detriment gene tampering would cause to the group, and the consequences far outweigh any good. Therefore, gene modifications negative affects on society would have the utilitarian agree with my thesis. Germline gene editing currently demonstrates its multiple fallacies and any ethicists would agree, modification of the human race lacks moral justifiability.