Biotechnology has the potential to transform our lives in many positive ways, by the use of its distinct advantage of producing more predictable and more rapid results. However, there are risks involved with this new technology, but provided that it is appropriately regulated, its potential benefits outweigh its harms. Although scientists say that genetic engineering poses a few short-term threats to the environment, the long-term threats must be considered as we move forward with research and genetic technologies.
Biotechnology, specifically genetic engineering, is a beneficial resource, employed in medicine, manufacturing, and agriculture. Many people are reaping the practical rewards of genetic engineering such as increased crop yields and new medical therapies. Only a few instances of measurable harm have resulted from genetic engineering. Genetic engineering has the potential to improve our health and well-being dramatically. However, despite its potential benefit, biotechnology has raised some ethical concern among many people. There are several significant moral implications that ought to be taken into account as we go forward with genetic engineering. The medicines, therapies and other products of genetic engineering present ethical challenges. This paper discusses some of these ethical issues in contrast to those given by Dalai Lama in his post, Ethics and the New Genetics.
The ethics of genetic engineering is one of the areas that need to be reviewed in the light of the rapidly expanding science of biotechnology. The revolution taking shape in the field of biology is significant to the wellbeing of people. However, the concept of manipulating human genes has resulted to a considerable public discussion and debate amongst scientists, theologians and philosophers (Dalai Lama, 186). The application of biology in the manipulation of human genes has many ethical implications. This technology is associated with long term and short term environmental consequences. For any future policy and decisions to bear fruits, the potential ethical effects of this technology should be considered. The beneficial aspects of genetic engineering in developing new medicines and protection of plants, animals and humans against diseases are often cited by genetic engineers as they justify their work.
Biotechnologies such as contraceptives and antibiotics have interfered with the natural evolution by preventing the conception of millions of human beings. These technologies have affected both the human populations and other numerous species through the interference of human beings by use of contraception, medicine and selective breeding. For instance, selective breeding can sometimes express genetic traits that are undesirable and suppress those that are desired. Selective breeding manipulates the genome of a species, or subclasses of that species As Dalai Lama suggests, an ethical justification of the use of contraception, medicines and selective breeding, which somehow sets humans and other living organisms from conscious should be provided.
Dalai Lama looks at some aspect of science. He does not complain about genetic studies. Like many other common people, he has some reservations on how the study of genetics could be applied in the real world because of its short-term and long-term effects. Genetic engineering can be a threat to both humans and animals’ welfare. However, the fear of genetic engineering by people is often associated with a perception of the threat to the authentic human existence. Risk factors which are associated with genetic engineering are brought about by the power of the technological advancement to bring about some irreversible changes in the hereditary material of human beings, plants and animals (Dalai Lama, 188). For instance, it is now possible for scientists to genetically produce crop plants that can resist chemical herbicides. This has allowed farmers to control weeds in crops that are normally susceptible to the herbicide. However, public consultations are ignored prior to the decision made by scientists. Therefore, the risk factors are highly enhanced since the environmental consequences of this scientific discovery are not monitored adequately.
Many producers of genetically modified products deny that there is a risk associated with the use of these products to human beings and the environment. Many genetically engineered organisms have been released, however, there has only been very few scientific study of the effects of these genetically modified organisms to the environment. Scientists have found out that genetically modified plants are difficult to control since they are resistant to herbicide (Florman, 89). There will also be other indirect risks associated with these genetically modified plants. The development of herbicide resistant plants encourages the use herbicide. Herbicides are a threat to the surrounding natural ecosystem. Scientists rarely consider the indirect risks of this type. The increased dependence on herbicides to control weeds has encouraged the dependence on the hybrid seed, which do not breed well in their next generation.
Moreover, because of the complexity of most genomes in plants, all the consequences of a particular gene’s alteration often cannot be predicted. In particular, how a genetically modified animal or plant might interact with other living things cannot be known for certain until it is placed in the wild, and, at that point, effective control over these interactions may not be possible.
Another risk, which is a characteristic of conservative plant breeding, is the reduction of genetic diversity. In this case, the genetically engineered plants’ uniformity can be easily transferred to other species through transgenic manipulations (Dalai Lama, 200). When a given plant is genetically engineered, it brings the intended increase in yield. However, it also carries a greater risk of susceptibility to disease. While the scientists can speed up the search for resistant crops by use of genetically modified plants, it can eventually lead to a loss of variability for potential change. This loss of variability within the species may be irreversible.
The revolutionary changes within biological science, particularly genetic engineering, have caused a mixed sense of threat and awe. Dalai Lama suggests that the power of DNA technology should give biology a status of ‘ideology’. The application of genetic engineering in biotechnology has raised significant ethical, philosophical and theological questions. The fear of the new biological technologies is caused by the knowledge of the potential abuse of biotechnology as a means of power. On one hand, technology promises immediate solutions to scientific and technological problems; while on the other hand, the indirect effects of this technological advancement can easily be ignored by policy makers who are interested only with the immediate short-term damage limitation.
Dalai Lama points out five ‘key factors’ in finding a moral compass. These factors include:
- Check what is motivating you to have an ethical concern and ensure that its foundation is compassionate.
- Relate the motivating factor to the problem before you. You should take into account the widest possible perspective by looking at the issue within the picture of a wider human enterprise taking into consideration both the long-term and the short-term consequences.
- When you apply your reasoning in addressing the problem, you have to be vigilant by ensuring that you remain unbiased, honest and self-aware. This reduces the danger for an individual to become a victim of self-delusion.
- When faced with a real ethical challenge, you must respond to the situation in a spirit of humility. You have to be aware that knowledge has some limitation and you are vulnerable to be misguided by the rapidly changing reality.
- Both scientists and the society at large, should strive to ensure that whatever new course of action an individual takes, the primary goal of well-being of humanity and the planet we inhabit is kept in mind.
The key factors that should be applied in addressing the issue of biotechnology include;
- The researcher should be aware about the current issues relating to biotechnology. These issues drive him to have an ethical concern. The issues should have a foundation.
- Also, the researcher should relate the motivating factors to the current problem facing biotechnology. He should take into account the widest possible perspective by looking at the issue within the picture of a wider human enterprise taking into consideration both the long-term and the short-term consequences.
- Both scientists and the society at large should ensure that whatever new course of action is taken in addressing the issue of biotechnology, the primary goal of well-being of humanity, plants and animals is kept in mind.
The best possible approach to ensure a proper balance between technological advancement and ethical oversight is by ensuring that scientists not only look at the short term benefits of genetic engineering, but they also consider the long term consequences of this technological advancement. Also, biotechnology developed products should be tested sufficient by the relevant regulatory agencies, such as the department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration.
Despite the ethical issues raised, the benefits associated with advancement in biotechnology far outweigh the risks. For example, in India wheat production was doubled within six years. However, due to mechanization in farming there has been a reduced the need for human labor and thus, increased overall poverty (Florman, 72). Genetic engineering has been producing breeds that complement the traditional breeding methods. Nowadays, instead of taking years to develop a new type of crop, it only takes months. In this respect, biotechnology can be seen as liberation from the slow growing crops.
However, genetic engineering can lead to a loss of a particular capacity and other positive attribute of plants and animals. This is because deletion of various sections of genetic materials can result to a certain character attributes. In some cases such deletion can be lethal and thus, can produce other unwanted side-effects (Florman, 75).
In conclusion, biotechnology has the potential to transform our lives in many positive ways use of its distinct advantage of producing more predictable and more rapid results. However, there are risks involved with this new technology, but provided that it is appropriately regulated, its potential benefits outweigh its harms. Therefore, legislators should not implement regulations that unduly restrict the use of genetic engineering. Mechanisms of ensuring the safety of testing protocols should be sufficient. A better coordinated effort among relevant regulatory agencies, such as the department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration should be encouraged to ensure there are no gaps in the regulatory framework. Enhanced organisms should be rigorously evaluated and tested in isolated conditions prior to their release in the wild.
Genetic engineering can provide immense benefits provided it is used prudently and carefully regulated and controlled.
In spite of the noble intentions of scientists, the future of man and mankind is radically threatened. Their discoveries have been and will continue to be exploited to the prejudice of ethical imperative which seeks to end destruction and death. This causes unimaginable ravage to mankind. While the accusation of scientists by the public aloneseems a bit misplaced, in reality it is true that the potential abuse of the power of genetic engineering represents a colossal threat to the quality of life and human survival. Therefore, there should be adequate control and restraints which, should not be left purely to public.