J. Peterson- Genes and enhancement

Kenneth A. Feucht (kenf@kenf.seanet.com)
Sun, 23 Jun 1996 17:58:14 -0700

The topic of genetic engineering is becoming of greater relevance as we
learn more about manipulation of the genome of more primitive species than
man. You raise questions as to the ethical permissibility of funding
genetic intervention. I'm sure what you meant by that relates not to the
economics of genetic intervention, but the actual doing of it.

Is is ok to use growth hormones to create a sports superstar? Is it ok to
enhance the natural physique of one doomed to be shorter than average
based on genetic lineage of short parents and grandparents?

There are several categories of questions that need to be considered.
1. Genetic product replacement. This entails using human genes in bacteria
or other species to produce gene product to replace in the human subject.
This may be used to replace a known gene deficiency leading to a metabolic
disorder. It might also be used to enhance a natural disposition, such as
shortness. In regard to the later, the ethics of gene product replacement
would argue along similar lines of hormone supplementation in atheletes or
the use of plastic surgery to enhance the cosmetic appearance of a
2. Gene replacement. This would be the incorporation of a gene into the
human cellular constitution. So far, a stable genetic gene "grafting" has
not been possible (to my knowledge), although NIH folks (Steve Rosenberg
and others) have attempted it. Any ethic would be hypothetical. Ethical
arguments for this would be similar to replacing gene product.
3. Genetic manipulation. This might entail manipulation of homeo boxes, or
genes that code for a distinctive aspect of humanness. This has been done
of sorts in drosophila and other minor species, but (to my knowledge) not
yet attempted in human kind.

I don't have complete answers to your questions, because, as shown above,
you first need to define exactly what you mean. Your questions are also
difficult to discuss because of their hypothetical nature. What genes made
an Einstein? Do we really understand what genes lead to various personal
behaviors? No, we don't. Will an enhanced physical endowment truly lead to
an enhanced person, or is that a mistaken focus to begin with? Your kid
might win the Olympics or be an OJ style football superstar, but I'm not
sure you or mankind would be the better off.

The slippery slope arguments relate to hypothetical concerns rather than
practical concerns. We already have a problem with atheletes taking
steroids to enhance themselves, andisn't the genetic manipulation you are
talking about of similar ethical nature?

Contrary, do people really feel strongly about the ethical permissibility
of replacing a gene product defect in a biochemical pathway that leads to
retardation or death?

Perhaps my point is to emphasize the necessity of defining the
practicality of a given genetic manipulation, the purpose of that
manipulation, and the actual means used to accomplish a genetic
manipulation. When that is done, I feel that the discussion will be no
different than ethical questions already raised in medicine. Gene
manipulation does not present with such a radically new behavior as to
demand a new ethical field in order to discuss things.

Kenneth A. Feucht
win 95 Beta-tester 176022