Saving lives: Applauding the marvels of genetic engineering

Brittany Jordan
Brittany Jordan

Medicine is making incredible strides. The most recent marvel is human genetic engineering — altering the genotype of an individual to affect phenotype. This has incredible potential: The more genetic abnormalities medicine can identify, the more diseases that it can cure.

Genetic engineering has already been used to treat chronic lymphocytic leukemia and Parkinson’s and is in testing stages for cystic fibrosis. These diseases have been affecting quality of life for years and, thanks to this medical marvel, people affected are now thriving.

And yet, this practice has caused quite a controversy.

Unfortunately, thanks to modern media, when people hear the terms “human genetic engineering,” they think of “perfecting” a fetus. Instead of saving lives, the misconception of genetic engineering has geared the public into thinking that they can make the dream of a perfect child a reality.

First of all, there are two types of genetic engineering: somatic engineering affects an individual post-conception. Then there is germline, which targets genes in eggs and sperm, which can affect everything from eye color to metabolism of an individual that hasn’t even been created yet.

And it’s true, science is getting close to being able to affect the sex of a child, as well as physical appearance. Always wanted the stereotypical blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby girl? You soon may be able to ask your doctor to make that happen.

People criticize genetic engineering of interfering with nature; instead of letting the cards fall as they may, we want to be able to see what hand’s coming next, if you’ll pardon the poker reference.

But that alone isn’t what the controversy is about. No, what people are all up in arms about is that your doctor can screen an embryo for genetic abnormalities such as Down’s syndrome or other debilitating diseases and attempt alter the affected genomes, hopefully so that the child can lead a life free from disease.

And a lot of people apparently think that this is taking it too far. Inevitably, a discussion about genetic engineering will turn into an argument about abortion, assuming that if potential parents were to find out that their child’s quality of life would be severely affected, they might choose to abort the fetus.

But this isn’t a pro-life or pro-choice column. This is about the practice of finding that information out.

Antagonists of genetic engineering say that this is a way that we can produce superb human creatures — individuals that have the physical strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger or appearance of Carmen Electra. And yes, they bring up Hitler and the Nazi regime, saying that in an attempt to eradicate disease, we are now providing parents with choice of traits that they may prefer their child be with or without.

But what people seem to forgetting is that we can save lives. Not only that, but we have a capability of improving the quality of life for individuals that may have had crippling disabilities otherwise.

That is incredible, no matter how you spin it.

Brittany Jordan is a junior psychology major. Feedback of all varieties can be sent to letters@collegian.com.