Genetic engineering: do the risks outweigh the benefits?

The potential improvements of genetic engineering are continually silenced by fears concerning morality and uncertainty. Despite these concerns, genetic modification has a very real capacity to change our future for the better. In the face of an increasingly resource-exhausted world, genetic engineering is a science with vast untapped applications to better the human condition. In regards to human health, the Biotechnology Industry Organization––commonly known as BIO––cites an instance of patients with kidney failure. These patients who were originally given a 10-20 percent chance of survival fully regained kidney function after receiving a genetically engineered bio-hybrid kidney, derived from stem cells that developed into fully functioning kidney cells.

The hybrid kidney did what most did not think possible: it saved the patients’ lives. Moreover, genetic engineering will create better, more effective vaccines for a larger array of diseases—even those currently considered death sentences, like cancer and heart disease.

Genetic engineering can also help human health by modifying other organisms. Food could be engineered with higher levels of vitamins and nutrients. Crops could have greater resilience from ravaging insects or hostile climatic conditions. These are major steps toward potentially eliminating world hunger. How can we refuse to explore such beneficial technology when it could help improve and save so many lives?

The primary opposition to human genetic modification is the risk factor––the fear of the unknown. Genetic engineering is a relatively new and complex process. Therefore, long-term risks have yet to be properly evaluated.

Bernard Gert tackles this issue in his article “Genetic Engineering: Is It Morally Acceptable?” He states that people need concrete proof of the safety of genetic. He also theorizes that genetic engineering––like any new technology––creates intense competition among researchers and scientists to be the first in the field. This can lead to the over-exaggerating of benefits and concealing the possibility of harmful outcomes. To deny a better quality of life because we don’t have a 100 percent guarantee of success, however, is just not acceptable.

The bigger argument against human genetic engineering raises moral and religious questions. When people hear that genetic engineering can eliminate genetic disorders and diseases by modifying genes in unborn children, they associate it with eugenics—a process that promotes the “improvement” of hereditary qualities in a race.

Who exactly determines what is “undesirable?” What could prevent the powerful from politically or financially influencing the idealization of certain ethnic qualities over another? The idea of this “playing God” is unacceptable in many religions and offends others on ethical and social grounds. Rather than allow these fears to stymie further genetic research, we should treat them as hazards to steer clear of as genetic engineering becomes a greater part of everyday life.

As compassionate human beings, we should strive to improve everyone’s quality of life. Rather than fearing the unknown, we should be embracing the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” philosophy while using reason and respect for others. We must remain open to the possibilities of genetic engineering rather than holding back on research because of unfounded fears.