Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Oct 1 Ridley Ch 18, 19, 20 (Cures, Prevention, Politics)
At the very end of his chapter on using genetic testing to develop and administer cures, Ridley states, “Genetic diagnosis followed by conventional cure is probably the genome’s greatest boon to medicine.” (257) I think I have to agree with him here. At this time I cannot wholeheartedly say that I support using genetic engineering to modify humans so they are resistant to particular afflictions. The effects of genetically modified crops demonstrate why we should proceed with caution. As Ridley declares, “Roundup-resistant rape may be eco-unfriendly to the extent that it encourages herbicide use or spreads its resistance to weeds.” (253) I think most genetic engineering is just a short-term solution to one or two specific problems rather than looking at long-term alternatives. The effects of genetic engineering are still largely unknown, and even if you can make an organism resistant to one particular malady, that just exerts pressure for co-evolution of the parasite or virus or what-have-you such that you will only have another problem down the line. Ridley urges against conservative stances such as my own saying, “I believe we are in danger of being too squeamish and too cautious in using knowledge about the genes that influence both [coronary heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease], and we therefore stand at risk of committing the moral error of denying people access to life-saving research.” (259) To combat this front though, I again question Ridley – at what point do we draw the line? People are not meant to live forever. I think these are difficult questions indeed because on the one hand, we are ethically driven to care for one another and save lives, etc. At the same time though, we must acknowledge that all things eventually die. It is the natural order of life. Given reproduction, the world’s resources cannot sustain unlimited population growth if every organism suddenly has the ability to sustain life forever. Thus I return to my original claim in this post – we should use genetic diagnosis to adopt conventional cures, or treat the symptoms I might add. We should use extreme caution though, in adopting genetic engineering to modify organisms to make them resistant to a particular pathogen.