Genetic Engineering - Technology And The Future
Ian Barbour - Templeton Prize for Progress In Religion
- one of the world pioneers in integration of science and religion
- wrote books and articles that have helped to expand the field of theology
not only for Christianity, but also for other faiths
- physicist and former chair of the religion department, Winifred & Atherton Bean
Professor Emeritus, Technology & Society at Carlton University
- Templeton Prize Laureate, 1999
Genetic Engineering of Plants
The question that Ian Barbour attempts to answer is "what are the significant issues in environmental risk, social justice, animal welfare, and human dignity, with respect to recent advances in genetic engineering?"
In the early 1970s it was discovered that strands of DNA can be cut by restriction enzymes and then recombined in new ways. Gene splicing can produce drugs, hormones and vaccines of lower cost and greater purity than similar products prepared from animal serum or natural sources. Extensive research is underway in the genetic engineering of plants. Genetic engineering could greatly benefit agriculture, but it must be used with care because of its environmental and social impacts. The environmental risk is that genetically altered bacteria might accidentally escape from laboratory experiments and multiply with unpredicatable and potentially harmful consequences. Also, there is potential inherent environmental risk in relation to the deliberate release of genetically altered organisms for field testing. There is potential negative impact on the Third World if First World companies secure seeds from the Third World, alter them genetically, patent them, and sell them back at high prices. Current research on genetically engineered drugs and vaccines is mainly directed to the needs of high-income populations (such as prescription drugs on which profits are high) rather than needs in the developing world (such as vaccines against intestinal diseases).
Barbour Highlights the Concern For Protective Regulation When Integrating Genetic Engineering Into Society
- Barbour points to the fact that genetic engineering can make important contributions to the future
- Barbour highlights the concern for careful scrutiny and protective regulation as essential aspects of integrating genetic engineering into society
- The concern is for environmental and human consequences
- The central concern should be for the impact on the quality of life in relation to the environment and humanity
Genetic Engineering Related To Animals
Genetic engineering related to animals is also underway - the most controversial being the bovine growth hormone, BVH. When injected daily in cows, milk production increases ten to fifteen percent. The environmental issues related to the use of BVH are the concern for human health, humane treatment of cows, impact on small farms and the milk surplus.
Some additional concerns relevant to gene-splicing in animals are:
- Is the patenting of genetically modified animals justified?
- Is the transfer of genes between animal species justifiable?
Barbour's response is that we must not treat other creatures as mere commodities to alter and use for our own benefit. In place of the anthropocentric and technocratic assumptions expressed in humanity's domination of nature, a greater respect for all living beiings should be encouraged.
Who would you rather meet?
Human Genetic Engineering
Human genetic engineering discloses the presence of human genetic diseases, and in some cases it can lead to therapy, however, it can also be used for eugenic goals that are more questionable. In some cases genetic information can lead to corrective therapy, but genetic screening programs raise several ethical issues:
- Should genetic screening be voluntary or madatory?
- Who should have access to the results of genetic screening?
Genetic engineering also has the potential of being used to select desirable genes. Amniocentesis allows the gender of the fetus to be ascertained. What is the ethical impact of selective abortion in relation to this process? In-vitro fertilization could allow for selection of perhaps gender and other characteristics. The combination of in-vitro fertilization and germ-line intervention could be used to seek positive genetic improvements. The selection of desirable genes could be used for the improvement of society. Ethical concerns are attitudes toward disabilities, dangers in eugenic programs, and the slippery slope argument. Barbour's response is that it is possible to make moral distinctions in both theory and practice. Social regulation can allow valid uses of a technique while limiting the abuses.
Genetic Engineering And Regulation Issues
- freedom of inquiry
- government regulation
- environmental risks
- research on human subjects
- relation between universities and industrial corporations
- commercializaiton of university biology
- social justice in allocation of scarce medical resources
Social Context Of Genetic Engineering
Barbour also comments on the social context of genetic research. The main institutions affecting genetic research are universities, industrial corporations, government agencies and legislatures. Regulation issues centre around freedom of inquiry and government regulation, environmental risks and research on human subjects. A second issue is the relation between universities and industrial corporations, and the commercialization of university biology. A final issue concerns social justice, in the allocation of scarce medical resources. Access to genetic counselling and therapy, should be open to all and not become a special treatment for only those who can pay.
The Necessity Of Careful Scrutiny And Protective Regulation
In conclusion, Barbour has effectively answered his initial question by pointing to the fact that genetic engineering can make important contributions to the future. Barbour highlights the concern for careful scrutiny and protective regulation as essential aspects of integrating genetic engineering into society. The concern is for environmental and human consequences. The central concern should be for the impact on the quality of life in relation to the environment and humanity.
Issues In Science and Religion, Harper Collins College Divinity, U.S.A.,
Ian Barbour Talks
© 2014 Deborah Morrison