Scientists fear that existing genetic techniques will be misused
before the consequences of altering the human blueprint on personal,
generational, and societal levels are fully realized. At St. Jude
Childrens Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, leading
ethicists and genetic experts argued that our current ability to
manipulate our genes brings with it an obligation to conduct a
worldwide discourse, which has not occurred to date.
Sometimes, as a society, we see what we want to see in
technology and fail to look at the down side, said W. French
Anderson, MD, director of Gene Therapy Laboratories at the University
of Southern California, School of Medicine. With something like
genetic screening for cancer, the same technology that gives us the
ability to eradicate deadly disease carries with it a great potential
Misuse May Lead to Loss of Humanness
Dr. Anderson also discussed the difference between treatment (using
genetic therapy to cure disease) and enhancement (using genetic
therapy to create genetically superior humans). He cautioned that
genetic engineering may alter our humanness.
Dr. Andersons colleague, Eric Juengst, PhD, associate professor
of biomedical ethics at Case Western Reserve University School of
Medicine and a member of the Committee on Human Genome Diversity of
the National Research Council, warned that the problem with
enhancement is that it corrupts an individuals ability to
honestly achieve a goal.
We need to have fair competition in society, said Dr.
Juengst. Getting top grades, or pole vaulting with
pharmaceutical help is cheatingand exclusionary based on cost.
The countrys leading legal and theological experts and top
cancer researchers convened recently to discuss these and other
moral, ethical, religious, and scientific questions at the
Ethical Boundaries in Cancer Genetics symposium hosted by