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Ethical, Moral and Religious Issues with Gene Editing

In the past and present (and maybe in the future) scientific development will always face problems in terms of pushing forward in terms of finding satisfactory results. Factors such as religion and money can affect how science can develop making it hard for scientists to not only do their jobs but also to further enhance the spectrum of science. There are cases of this happening in the past and in the present, again this makes it for the scientists but also the general public who want a better understanding of science (especially aspiring scientists) and people who want and need to receive treatment.

Unlike modern society, the Western world in the past was mostly influenced by Religion. Religious groups such as the Catholic Church and the Protestant church controlled much of society especially the scientific thoughts. Copernicus and Galileo felt the full force of the Christian church’s influence on society. Both tried to introduce the scientific theory of Heliocentrism, and both were frowned upon by the different religious orders. Nicolaus Copernicus was a polish astronomer who was known to have theorised the scientific theory of heliocentrism. Galileo Galilei was an Italian astronomer and physicist who had supported the work of Copernicus: Heliocentrism and Copernicanism. Both theories stated that the ‘Sun is at the centre of the universe, and all the planets are surrounded around the sun’, the only difference between each theory is that Copernicanism proposes that the Sun is motionless and the planets around it orbit the Sun in a circular path[1]. However, these theories were relatively new in 15th and 16th century. And the popes and the religious leaders of this time did not accept this theory, and thus decided to go with the theory which favoured their religion; Geocentrism. This notion originated with the Greek scientists Aristotle and Ptolemy well over 2,000 years ago, was embraced by early Christians and the Catholic Church[1].                              Rather than ethical issues, moral issues are at play in this case. The idea that someone’s religious belief was being questioned at that time scared certain religious orders and the community in said religious group. The Geocentric theory was so fondly believed by the Christian church, due to the link with the Bible. The Christians believed Earth was at the centre of creation, just like man thus making it a work of God. Though Galileo and Copernicus were Christian men with Christian backgrounds the theory that they support insinuates their rejection of the work of God, even though they directly never said this. Through the time of Copernicus and Galileo, there were around 23 Popes (the Popes who were in charge during the rejection of the Heliocentric theory) who rejected the Heliocentric theory, that is around 9% of the total Popes that have been in charge. This means around 9% of the popes have not believed in the Heliocentric theory since it was first brought up. Then in 1822, Pope Pius VII accepted this theory and thus changed the mind of society. However, the moral issue of Religion is still effecting this well known and discovered theory. It has been found that around 1 in 4 Americans believe that the Sun revolves around the Earth due to the Biblical conations of the Geocentric theory[ 2]. This shows that Religion one of the main ‘contenders’ against Science has managed to stop scientific development, especially in the 15th and 16th when the Heliocentric theory of Copernicus and Galileo was rejected.

Another scientific development which is being halted due certain ethical and moral issues is the creation of Designer babies. Designer babies are babies that have altered genes in order to make them ‘perfect’. The Caspr-Cas 9 system is used to determine what type of baby a couple wants; a baby with blonde, a baby with extreme athletic ability or a baby who is prone to disease in the future. Sometimes you can change the gender of the baby. This is done by embryo screening. Embryo screening can involve a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Embryos are created by in-vitro fertilization. Scientists then observe the DNA of the cells to check for defects, normal embryos are then placed back into the womb.[3].                                                                                                                                                                         Though the thought of curing a disease before it affects someone’s life sounds good, there are still some ethical and moral issues at hand. Many people see genetic altering your baby is not morally right as you are changing someone and not loving them for them. Disappointment is also another moral issue, as if the baby does not fulfil its purpose in life then it can be seen as disappointing to its parents. For instance if a child was designed to be a very good athletic, yet they may not become a professional athlete. This makes the parents become disappointed in the child and thus lowering the confidence of the child. Another moral issue would be religion, most religious communities believe that it is not right to interfere with a person’s like that. Over 80% of Americans believe that gene editing would be taking medical technology too far, 94% highly religious agree with this conclusion as well (as of 2018) [3]. 71% of Evangelicals said that gene editing was meddling with nature and usurping the role of God (as of 2016) [4]. They believe that a person should grow up the way God intend it too, and that no one should intrude in the way of God’s plan even the a person’s mother and father. Again, we see that religion stops the development of science this time directly in a person’s life.                                                                                                                                            On the ethical side of designer babies, it is much more concerned with baby itself. The first problem is that once embryo screening occurs there will be embryo’s that will not work and thus will have to be terminated. Some may see this as abortion and even murder. This can happen because of two aspects: off target effects and mosaicism. Off target effects refers to the edits in the wrong place and Mosaicism is when some cells carry the edit but other do not[5]. Another issue would be the fact that the baby has no choice in the matter what will change and what will not. So when the baby grows up in the future, it may not like what is and it may not like what is born to do, thus giving it serious mental health problems. Justice and Equity will also be a problem, as the introduction of legalisation of designer babies might cause more of a divide between the rich and poor as the rich will have a much better advantage at life due to the genetic mutation they went through as embryo’s.

From the research conducted, a conclusion can be made that religion is one of the main driving forces in which science development has not slowed down but also stopped. Throughout history Christian authorities have been known to silence or torture honest scientists. For instance Galileo. Religion itself did not commit these actions it was actually the leaders with power who were incorporated in the religious hierarchy i.e. Pope. It is important to note that some of the most influential scientists have been religious, especially the likes of Isaac Newton. There have also been points in time where religion has agreed with science, like the Islamic Golden age. Throughout history people have changed the way in which they approach religion. Using religion to explain science has become more uncommon, this means that the curiosity of religion has faded. But there are still many groups who are against the idea of evolution being taught in school. A lot of the groups and the individuals in it use religion when justifying their stance on this topic. Groups such as Boko Haram do not agree with the idea western education in general, due to their fundamentalist Islamic beliefs [6]. So overall I would say that religion has delayed and is continuing to delay scientific progress, but this influence is being reduced by a change in the way people tend to be religious in the modern world. It has stopped parents from making the decisions they want on their children’s lives, such as in Gene editing. Gene editing could stop certain diseases that are genetic such as cystic fibrosis.

References:

  • [1] Wolf, J.. (2016). The truth about Galileo and his conflict with the Catholic Church. Available: http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/the-truth-about-galileo-and-his-conflict-with-the-catholic-church. Last accessed 2/1/2019.
  • [2] Yulsman, T. . (2014). New Survey: 1 in 4 Americans Believe the Sun Revolves Around the Earth. Available: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/imageo/2014/02/17/1-in-4-americans-believe-sun-revolves-around-the-earth/#.XDFNL1X7TIV. Last accessed 2/1/2019.
  • [3] Ly, S.. (2011). Ethics of Designer Babies. Available: https://embryo.asu.edu/pages/ethics-designer-babies. Last accessed 2/1/2019.
  • [4] Randall, R. . (2018). Intelligent Designer Babies? Christians Tell Pew Their Views on Gene Editing. Available: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2018/july/gene-editing-crispr-christian-views-designer-babies-pew.html. Last accessed 2/1/2018.
  • [5] Rodriguez E.. (22/4/2016). Ethical Issues in Genome Editing using Crispr/Cas9 System. Available: https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/ethical-issues-in-genome-editing-using-crisprcas9-system-2155-9627-1000266.php?aid=70914. Last accessed 2/1/2018.
  • [6] Singe, L.. (2018). Boko Haram’s campaign against education and enlightenment. Available: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2018/02/26/boko-harams-campaign-against-education-and-enlightenment/. Last accessed 2/1/2019.

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