The film “Still Alice,” like the publication of the same name upon which it was established, centers on a brilliant and realized 50-year-old lady who develops early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It is a hereditary condition, and Alice is introduced using a 50-50 chance that each of her three kids may eventually experience the exact same deterioration. In the film as in real life, there’s absolutely no cure and, if any of the children test positive for the genetic flaw, currently no expectation.
But while the fictional characters in “Still Alice” has to face their genetic destiny, science offers hope to people who suffer with the genetic defect but still haven’t developed full-blown Alzheimer’s. Advancements in genetic manipulation have increased the possibility of therapies or cures for Alzheimer’s and other hereditary conditions, allowing patients to prevent the worst consequences. Perhaps more importantly for many, advances may soon allow carriers of risky genetic markers to prevent passing such dangers on to their kids.
Gene therapy can broadly be broken into therapeutic methods that influence somatic, or non-reproductive cells, and the ones that impact reproductive, or cells that are cancerous. Somatic gene therapy was a focus of research for decades, and normally faces no more resistance than another medical procedure. But, it merely helps the particular patient undergoing the treatment; any future children would still be in danger.
The next type of chemical therapy, frequently called “germline modification,” is different. Changes created successfully to reproductive tissues or developing embryos could pass on – or prevent the transmission of – particular genes to children and later descendants. Not only is this type of treatment possible, the mechanics behind it aren’t described as horribly complex. The leading technology, called Tebu Bio: Gene Editing, serves as a sort of search-and-replace function for editing DNA. Jennifer Doudna, a biologist at the University of California-Berkeley that co-discovered the technique, stated, “Any scientist with molecular biology skills and knowledge of how to work with [embryos] is going to be able to do this.” (1)
It appears to be a miracle. Yet a few in the scientific community and many external it would prohibit this therapy, either permanently or temporarily, on the basis of “ethics.” A lot of those who oppose such therapies argue that humanity should not play God with its own genetic endowment.
Such arguments are merely thoughtlessness and arrogance, with the negative effect of inflicting needless suffering.
(2) A group of biologists writing in the journal Science was tempered in its recommendation, urging fundamental research to proceed in a bid to determine “what clinical applications, if any, might in the future be deemed permissible.” Until then, however, they still call for a global moratorium on such clinical applications. Some countries already have legal counsel on these treatments; the U.S. doesn’t, though they are subject to approval from the Food and Drug Administration before use in humans, as with other sorts of clinical therapies.
1 group attempts to balance benefit and risk. The other “sets up inherent limits on how much humankind should alter nature.” (2) Scientists who want to hold off clinical programs in favor of more study may just be especially risk-averse members of the first class. People who would like to ban germline treatment in all circumstances, forever, are clearly members of the second. However, their position isn’t only harmful, it defies logic.
For most of history, “God’s will” was used to justify all kinds of suffering and premature death. But because anybody, for instance, self-proclaimed “ethicists,” risked falling prey to the disorders these advances handled, such objections were later consigned to the fringes that increased them. Most of humankind has benefited greatly as a outcome.
Why is the reversal of this deoxyribonucleic acid, commonly known as DNA, that is encoded in living organisms any different? Mankind has manipulated DNA in plants and livestock throughout all of human history through agriculture and husbandry, however there’s an irrational backlash against doing such alterations in a laboratory to increase food yields and quantities and to reduce the amount of pesticides we need to use to our subjects.
That backlash is bad enough on its own. But to consign millions of prospective folks to preventable suffering and death, or to watch their kids inherit ailments that might have been averted, is the precise reverse of integrity. It is cruelty of amazing proportions.
Might someone change their genetic endowment in harmful ways, or for trivial or arguably improper motives? Surely. No technology ever invented has been free of abuse or abuse. Should we outlaw wheels because they can be employed by invading armies? Ban cosmetic surgery because individuals need to use the noses and cheekbones by which they were born? Eliminate cars to prevent motor vehicle deaths?
The type of genetic manipulation that could stop hereditary Alzheimer’s is years away from implementation, and much farther than that out of being available to some casual non-medical user. Simply because we have the capability to modify DNA doesn’t imply we know yet exactly what to change and how to change it. There’s space for regulation over what sort of uses will eventually be made available and how they’ll be handled and funded.