What are the ethical issues of genetic engineering?

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Many people feel the use of genetic engineering in food and farming is wrong, that it goes against nature or their spiritual beliefs. Others think it's wrong because it allows big companies to gain more control of the food chain.
The fact is that genetic engineering allows scientists to take a gene from one species and insert it into a completely different species with which it could never naturally breed. Thus it is possible vegetarian, halaal, kosher and other rights may be infringed. We should consider whether we should have the right to experiment with the blueprint of life and commercialise living organisms.

  • Consider the series micro-organism-plant-animal-human. Should we draw a line limiting genetic manipulation at some point? If so where, and on what grounds?
  • Which potential benefits, if any (e.g. therapeutic medicines), might be thought to justify animal genetic manipulation, which would not? What criteria might we apply?
  • In what sense does genetic modification by biochemical methods differ ethically from age-old selective breeding practices? Are we exceeding ethical limits even in selective breeding?
  • What constitutes proper and improper human use of animals? Should animals ever be used in research? Do animals have "rights", as we think of "human rights"?
  • Should animal organs, e.g a pig's heart genetically modified to counteract tissue rejection, be transplanted into humans to overcome the large and inevitable shortfall in donor organs?
  • Should we eat foodstuffs which had been genetically manipulated using human genes? Why, or why not? How does this affect religious and other groups with strong dietary laws?
  • Should anyone be able to patent a genetically modified animal or plant? If not, how else could a company protect the results of a huge research programme?
  • Is the profit motive too dominant a driving force in research in biotechnology? What other criteria are important? Are we reducing animals, and nature in general, to the status of just commodities?
  • What other system of funding might you apply?
  • How great are the potential risks involved in releasing genetically modified organisms into the biosphere without knowing all the possible consequences?
  • Is genetic engineering to make a staple crop more resist in marginal conditions (e.g. drought, cold) a potential boon for Third World agriculture, or another danger of increased dependence on rich "developed" countries?
 Some Wider Questions about Genetic Engineering
  • How should we handle an emotive issue about which opinions are apt to be polarised at a very fundamental level? How do you assess a "gut reaction" ethically?
  • It is an "expert technology", but how do we make the "experts" accountable to society?
  • How should the public be represented in what goes on?
  • How do we handle issues of information and misinformation, the media and lobbying?
  • How far should commercial secrecy be allowed, and how far should a firm be obliged to publish?
  • What are our motives in genetic engineering? - commercial, humanitarian, curiosity, professional kudos, national interests, to improve mankind, ...?

Are there better medical or biotechnical things to be doing with our research money than genetic engineering?
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