Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Evolution or Revolution. (from the Editor)

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Evolution or Revolution. (from the Editor)

Article excerpt

Many commentators in bioethics have asked whether we should permit genetic interventions that would change not only the person receiving them, but also the person's children, and grandchildren, and so on into perpetuity. In this issue, Mark Frankel refers to such interventions as "inheritable genetic modifications," and Nancy King refers to them as "germline gene transfer" (since it is by making changes to germ cells that gene transfer becomes inheritable). What is both especially alluring and especially troubling about inheritable genetic modifications, as Frankel notes, is the prospect of making our children genetically superior. Thus those who take up the question of whether we should permit these interventions ask about the implications of ever-accumulating genetic enhancement. Would we become "post"-human beings--creatures descended from but different from human beings? Would the human species gradually split into genetic haves and have-nots--and should we forestall that? These and other concerns one might have are rooted in questions about the status and nature of concepts such as human dignity, the sanctity of nature, justice, and the rights of unborn persons.

Commentators have also discussed how gene transfer research ought to be conducted, if it goes forward. What animal studies are required? What patients are suitable for early trials on humans? What must the subjects be told about the animal studies? And so on. Intricate questions of this sort are part of the ethics of human subjects research.

Frankel's and King's articles in this issue take up yet another line. They do set out reasons for abandoning all or some forms of gene transfer research. …

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