Saturday, November 22, 2008

Nov 24 Kitcher – Ch 11 (Genetalk), McGee Ch 4 (Debunking Myths)

The more that I read about the separation between genotype and phenotype, nature and nurture, genes and traits, the more skeptical I become of science’ ability to predict much about human characteristics through genetic testing. I recognize we have made strides in this field over the past few years, but we still operate under great uncertainty. I don’t know that this means we ought to stop operating, but we should definitely take genetic test results with a grain of salt (as Kitcher suggests in the chapter for today). This means talk of aborting embryos bearing genes which could result in certain diseases ought to cease as well as genetically altering people’s DNA to ‘fix’ their genetic makeup. At the same time, genetic testing can help families prepare for the possibility of bearing children with genetic disorders and hopefully better cope with the hands they are dealt. Since nature and nurture both play key roles in development, why not alter the nurturing environment and leave nature to run its course?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nov 19 Kass – Ch 9 (L’Chaim and Its Limits); Kitcher Ch 10 (Playing God?); McGee Ch 3 (Playing God?)

I am sure I have touched on my views as regards immortality and playing God in the past, but as these were the topics of our three chapters for today, I will briefly run through my perspective. I am shaped by my religious perspective and therefore see cloning and in vitro fertilization as interfering in the reproductive process and therefore condone such technologies. I also do not agree with most genetic technologies because who am I to choose those who should live and those who should die? Furthermore, I have a fundamental problem with the extent of research we pour into prolonging life on earth because we all have to die someday. If we find cures to cancer and heart attack and who knows what else, we will only begin dying of other maladies. I think life is a gift and is thereby neither ours to create nor destroy. To say that the entire medical field is obsolete is an exaggeration though, because I see no harm in treating diseases or symptoms and helping the immune system a little (after all, the people who shared these technologies with humanity may have also been sharing their gifts), but I think we put far more emphasis in achieving extensive longevity here on earth than is necessary (not to mention, could be quite detrimental based on consumption patterns and overpopulation problems).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Nov 17 Kitcher – Ch 8 (Inescapable Eugenics), Ch 9 (Delimiting Disease)

Kitcher’s talk of Darwin brings to mind questions about preserving bio-diversity. If we select for some genetic characteristics ideal for particular conditions, but the environmental factors experience a drastic shift, then is it not possible that all those with the previously ideal genes might no longer be the most fit for their new surroundings? This is no novel question; preservation of genetic biodiversity has been a topic of interest for years. Concerning genetically modified agricultural crops, for instance, if there is a sudden blight but all the seeds carry almost identical genetic material and are not resistant to the blight, then the entire crop will be lost. Yet, with biodiversity comes the hope that some individuals within a population are resistant, and those will live. I think there is too much of a temptation to start selecting for particular genetic characteristics in embryos unless we promote genetic diversity like we promote diversifying a stock portfolio – don’t put all your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Nov 12 Kitcher – Ch 6 (The New Pariahs); Pennock – Pre-existing conditions

The question of health insurance is quite difficult when it comes to genetic testing. This is because I feel health insurance should be provided to all people, not just those who can afford to pay for it. In this way, I suppose I agree with Pennock that we will need to completely re-vamp the structure of the current health care system. Also, I feel you should not be able to charge higher premiums for people whose genetic test results indicate greater risk for disease. I think the CaSE model clearly indicates this would be imprudent in that simply having the genes for a disease may not result in phenotypic expression of that disease unless certain environmental conditions allow for that expression. I would also say that we cannot relate health care to gambling as we currently do, but must instead relate it to a more socialist care for one another. I cannot afford my own roads or police force, nor can most of my peers; yet we all pool our money and pay for these as a social act for the good of our society. I think this should be a better model for health care.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Nov 10 McGee – Ch 5 (Genetic Approaches to Family and Public Health)

I agree with McGee’s stance on the caution with which we should proceed while pursuing genetic testing technologies. In making these tests available, they should not be dispensed without provision of adequate information as regards risk and probability as well as accuracy of the tests themselves. I think the public often knows too little to make informed decisions and simply operates on gut instinct combined with small bits of often excessively biased information. To say that genetic testing ought not be allowed at all makes little sense based on the amount of crucial, perhaps life-saving, data one can obtain from these tests; now that the technology is available, we have a mechanism to proceed but not enough significant rationale to bring an end to genetic testing. Yes, results of genetic tests could lead to decisions to abort fetuses or to pressure children and mold them into “perfect babies,” but if we were to eliminate all genetic testing for these reasons alone, we could miss the opportunities these tests create, such as better preparing for or treating children born with genetic disorders. Guns also have the power to destroy life yet we continue producing these weapons because of their potential for defense, their potential to save lives. Likewise, just because genetic testing offers the opportunity to be used for destruction does not mean it must be a means to such ends. We can continue using genetic testing for the purpose of helping people and maximize efforts to prevent its use in the destruction of human life.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nov 5 McGee – Ch 1 (Landscape of Genetic Technology)

The questions of eugenics and sperm banks raise for me a question of natural selection which McGee touches on slightly here. I do not doubt that as humans, we act like all other animals and choose mates based on some perceived ‘fitness advantage’ based on good looks or intelligence or prestige which we somehow think make them our ideal companions; we do this just as the peacock chooses her fat-feathered friend, etc. Yet, ugly people have sex too! Someone I might see as completely unintelligent or unattractive might seem to be your ideal companion for reasons I deem unfathomable. If then we start limiting which of our offspring live based on the ideals we hold about what their genetic constitution ought to look like, do we not do someone further down the line a disservice? After all, is not one man’s trash another man’s treasure? In addition to ethical objections based on rights to life in general, society has somehow deemed eugenics to be a bad thing – would we risk falling into a form of eugenics if we allow abortions based on genetic ‘flaws?’

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Nov 3 McGee – Epilogue; Pennock – Virtuous Scientist meets human clone

The fact that cloning a sheep caused extreme public upheaval and massive media attention suggests that despite scientific arguments in favor of cloning, this may not be a path to pursue. At some level, society must allow morals and ethics to drive laws and regulations. We have, for example, decided that rape is wrong and ought not be done and rapists ought to be punished if discovered. However, those committing rape do not always see this as an immoral or wrong act but rather a right for them to relieve their sexual desires with another person. How is it that society can decide rape is wrong and punishable and thereby remove the right of people who disagree to continue raping? Somehow enough people agree that rape is inherently wrong that they feel entitled to remove the right to rape from the individuals who do not share their view. In the same way, if enough people feel that cloning is inherently wrong (even if this be for religious reasons, which Pennock so quickly tosses to the wind) then should they not also be able to remove the right to clone from individuals who do not share their view?