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Scientists Warn About Potential Misuse of Gene Therapy

Scientists Warn About Potential Misuse of Gene Therapy

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 Children’s 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 for misuse.”

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. Anderson’s 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 individual’s 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 cheating—and exclusionary based on cost.”

The country’s 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 St. Jude.

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