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An Argument For and Against Germline Editing

1200 words

In the past few weeks, talks of genetic modification have increased in the news cycle. Questions of whether or not to edit the genes of future people constantly arise. Should we edit genes and or the germline? If we edit the germline, what types of problems would occur? Is it moral to edit the germline of future people (babes are included in this as well) when they have no say? Is it moral to edit the genes of a baby that cannot consent to such editing? I will present one argument for and against editing the germline. This is a really big debate in current contemporary discourse; the argument for editing the germline rests on wanting the best for future people (which of course include our children) while the argument against editing the germline rests on the fact that said future people cannot consent to said germline editing so we should not edit the germline.

An argument for editing the germline

Germline editing is editing the germline in such a way that said edit is heritable—the modification to the germline is then acquired by the next generation of progeny. The rationale for editing the germline could be very simple:

Parents want what’s best for their children; since parents want what’s best for their children, then parents should edit their germline to rid their children of any disease and/or make them the best person they can possibly be, as is the job of all parents; therefore parents should edit the germline so said heritable changes can pass to the next generations since parents want what’s best for their children.

One may say that a babe has no choice in being born, naturally or artificially, and so since parents are able to choose the modifications, then this does consider the babe’s rights as a (future) person/human since it is, in theory, giving the babe the best possible chance at life with little, to no, diseases (that are noticed at conception). Parents can use new, up-and-coming genetic technology to attempt to give their child a head-start in life. They can edit their own germlines, and so, each change done to their germline would pass on to future progeny.

An argument against germline editing

Ethicist Walter Glannon articulates two great arguments against germline editing in his book Genes and Future People: Philosophical Issues in Human Genetics (2002). Glannon (2002: 89-90) writes:

Among other things, however, germ-line genetic alteration may not be desireable from an evolutionary perspective. Some genetic mutations are necessary for species to adapt to changing environmental conditions, and some genetic disorders involve alleles that confer a survival advantage on certain populations.

[…]

This raises the risk of whether or not we have a duty to prevent passing on altered genes with potentially harmful consequences to people who will exist in the distant future. It may recommend avoiding germ-line genetic manipulation altogether, which is supported by two related points. First, people existing in the future may be adversely affected by the consequences of a practice to which they did not consent. Second, because of the complex way in which genes interact, it would be difficult to weigh the probable health benefits of people in the present and near duture generations against the probable health burdens to people in the distant future. Because their interest in, and right to, not being harmed have just as much moral weight as those of the people who already exist or will exist in the near future, we would be well-advised to err on the side of caution. Indded, we would be morally obligated to do so, on the grounds of nonmaleficence. This would mean prohibiting germ-line genetic manipulation, or at least postponing it until further research can provide a more favorable assessment of its safety and efficacy.

I largely agree with Glannon here; though I will take his argument a step further: since future people literally cannot consent to germline genetic modificaitons then we should not edit our germline since we would be passing on the heritable changes to our descendants who did not ask for such changes.

The argument against germline editing is very simple:

(1) People should have a choice in whether or not their genes are modified.

(2) Since people should have a choice in whether or not their genes are modified, they then should be able to say “yes” or “no” to the modifications; though they cannot consent since they are not present to consent to the germline editing they will acquire in the future since they are not alive yet.

(3) Therefore we should not modify the germline without consent from future people, meaning that we should not edit the germline since there is a strong moral imperative to not do so since the future people in question cannot consent to the editing.

This argument against germline editing is a very strong moral argument: if one cannot consent to something, then that something should not be done. Future people cannot consent to germline editing. Therefore we should not edit the germline.

Another thing to think about is that if parents can edit the germline and genes of their children (future people), then it can be said that they would be more like “commodities”, like a handbag or whatnot, since they can make choices of what type of handbag they have, they would then make choices on what type of kid to have.

Hildt (2016) writes:

It is questionable whether there would be broader justifiable medical uses for germline interventions, especially in view of the availability of genetic testing and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Gene editing can give us “designer babies” (though my argument presented above also is an argument against “designer babies” since they are future people, too); it can also put an end to many diseases that plague our society. However, there are many things we need to think about—both ethically/morally and empirically—before we even begin to think about editing our germline cells.

Conclusion

So, on the basis of (1) future people not being able to consent to said germline modifications and (2) us not knowing the future consequences of said germline editing, then we should not edit the germline. We, in fact, have a moral imperative to not do so since they cannot consent. The argument “for” germline editing, in my opinion, do not override the argument “against” germline editing. I am aware that most people would say “Who cares?” in regard to the arguments for or against germline modification, because people would “Just do it anyway.” Though, if there are laws against the editing of the germline, then germline editing cannot (should not) go through. Just because we *can* do something does not mean that we *should* do it.

We should not modify the germline because future people cannot consent to the changes. The moral argument provided here against germline editing is sound; the argument is a very strong moral one and since it is sound we should accept the argument’s conclusion that: “we should not modify the germline without consent from future people, meaning that we should not edit the germline since there is a strong moral imperative to not do so since the future people in question cannot consent to the editing.

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An Argument For and Against Abortion

1350 words

Abortion is a touchy subject for many people. There are many different arguments for and against abortion, including, but not limited to, the woman’s right to do what she wants with her body on the pro-abortion side, to the right of a fetus to live a good life if there is little chance of the fetus developing a serious disease. In this article, I will provide two arguments: one for and one against abortion. The abortion debate is an ethical, not scientific, one, and so, we must use argumentation to see the best way to move forward in this debate.

An argument for abortion

Michael Tooley, in his paper Abortion and Infanticide, provides an argument not only for the abortion of fetuses, but the killing of infants and animals since they cannot conceive of continuing their selves. He argues that an organism only has a right o life of they can conceive of that right to life. His conclusion is that it should be morally permissible to end a baby’s life shortly after birth since it cannot conceive of wanting to live. The conclusion of the argument also includes—quite controversially, in fact—young infants and (nonhuman) animals. Ben Saunders articulates Tooley’s argument in Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy (2011: 284-286):

P1. If A has a morally serious right to X, then A must be able to want X.

P2. If A is able to want X, then A must be able to conceive if X.

C1. If A has a morally serious right to X, then A must be able to conceive of X (hypothetical syllogism, P1, P2).

P3. Fetuses, young infants, and animals cannot conceive of their continuing as subjects of mental states.

C2. Fetuses, young infants, and animals cannot want their continuance as subjects of mental states (modus tollens, P2, P3).

C3. Fetuses, young infants, and animals do not have morally serious rights to continue as subjects of mental states (modus tollens, P1, C2).

P4. If something does not have a morally serious right to life, then it is not morally wrong to kill it painlessly.

C4. It is not wrong to kill fetuses, young infants, or animals painlessly (modus ponens, C3, P4).

Of course, most people would seriously disagree with C4, since a babe’s life is one of the most precious things in the world— the protection of said babes is how we continue our species. However, the argument is deductively valid, and so one must show which premise is wrong and why. This argument—along with the one that will be presented below against abortion (of healthy fetuses)—is very strong. Thus, if a woman so pleases (along with her autonomy), she can choose to abort her fetus since it is not wrong to kill a fetus painlessly. (I am not aware if fetuses can feel pain or not, however. If they can, then the conclusion of this argument does not hold.)

Tooley’s argument regarding the killing of infants is similar to an argument made by Gibiulini and Minerva (2013) who argue that since fetuses and newborns don’t have the same moral status as actual persons, fetuses and infants can eventually become persons, and since adoption is not always in the best interests 9f people, then “‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled” (Giubilini and Minerva, 2013).

An argument against abortion

One strong argument against abortion exists: Marquis’ (1989) argument in his paper Why Abortion Is Immoral. Women may want an abortion for many reasons: such as not wanting to carry a babe to term, to finding out that the babe has a serious genetic disorder. Though, what matters to this argument is not the latter, but the former: the mother wanting an abortion of a healthy fetus. Marquis’ argument is simple: killing is wrong; killing is wrong since killing ends one’s life, and ending one’s life means they won’t experience anything anymore, they won’t be happy anymore, they won’t be able to accomplish things, and this is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered; abortions of a healthy fetus cause the loss of experiences, activities, and enjoyment to the fetus; thus, the abortion of a healthy fetus is not only ethically wrong, but seriously wrong. Marquis’ (1989) argument is put succinctly by Leslie Burkholder in the book Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy (2011: 282-283):

P1. Killing this particular adult human being or child would be seriously wrong.

P2. What makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of this individual’s future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered.

C1. Killing this adult human being or child would be seriously wrong, and what makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of this individual’s future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered (conjunction, P1, P2).

P3. If killing this particular adult human being or child would be seriously wrong and what makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of all this individual’s experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered, then anything that causes to any individual the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments is seriously wrong.

C2. Anything that causes to any individual the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments is seriously wrong (modus ponens, C1, P3).

P4. All aborting of any healthy fetus would cause the loss to that individual of all its future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments.

C3. If A causes to individual F the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, then A is seriously wrong (particular instantiation, C2).

C4. If A is an abortion of healthy fetus F, then A causes to individual F the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments (particular instantiation, P4).

C5. If A is an abortion of a healthy fetus F, then A is seriously wrong (hypothetical syllogism, C3, C4).

C6. All aborting of any healthy fetus is seriously wrong (universal generalization, C5).

In this case, the argument is about abortion in regard to healthy fetuses. This argument, like the one for abortion, is also deductively valid. (Arguments for and against the abortion of unhealthy fetuses will be covered in the future.) Thus, if a fetus is healthy then it should not be aborted since doing so would cause the individual to lose their future experiences, enjoyments, activities, and projects. Thus, the abortion of a healthy fetus is seriously and morally wrong. This argument clearly establishes the fetuses’ right to life if it is healthy.

Conclusion

Both of these arguments for and against abortion are strong; on the “for” side, we have the apparent facts that fetuses, infants, and (nonhuman) animals cannot want their continuance of their mental states since they cannot conceive of their continuance and want of mental states, so if they cannot want their continuance of their mental states they do not have a morally serious right to life and it is, therefore, morally right to kill them painlessly. On the “against” side, we have the facts that aborting healthy fetuses will cause the loss of all future experiences, enjoyments, activities, and projects, and so, the abortion of these healthy fetuses is both seriously and morally wrong.

I will cover these types of arguments—and more—in the future. However, if one is against genetic modification, embryo selection, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and ‘eugenics’, then one must, logically, be against the abortion of healthy fetuses as well. These two arguments, of course, have implications for any looming eugenic policies as well, which I will cover in the future.

(I, personally, lean toward the “against” side in this debate; though, of course, the argument presented in this article on the “for” side is strong as well.)