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Gene therapy is morally and ethically good

The benefits of biotechnology have far outweighed any risks

Ronald Bailey (staff writer, Forbes; subsequently award-winning science correspondent for Reason magazine) and Bruce N. Ames (Prof. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of California, Berkeley), “Raining in their hearts,” National Review, December 3, 1990, p. 35

“Despite the fears of Andromeda strains being cooked up in biology laboratories, no one has gotten so much as a sniffle from any biotech product. In fact, millions have benefited from the scores of new diagnostic tests (including the diagnostic test for AIDS), and thousands of diabetics now use genetically engineered human insulin.”


Therapy that serves human needs is good

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 169

“Morally, genetic engineering is good when it serves human needs, both health and happiness.”


Therapy will improve the quality of life

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 58

“One of the most exciting possibilities of modern bio-engineering is that of improving the quality of life by manipulating human genes.”


We are morally obliged to aid the suffering

June Goodfield (fellow, British Royal Society of Medicine), Playing God: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life, 1977, p. 65

“So, too, with genetic diseases: we have a moral obligation to work toward more effective therapies for those who are presently suffering, as well as toward supplying the basic research for the applications that are still in the future.”


Therapy fulfills humanitarian goals

Bernard D. Davis (prof. of bacterial physiology, Harvard Medical School), in Manipulating Life, ed. by Gary McCuen, 1985, p. 18

“The term ‘genetic engineering’ is an unfortunate one, when applied to human beings. It carries overtones of a cold attitude toward people, as objects to be manipulated and remodeled. Yet the goal of those working toward human applications of this technique is gene therapy — the replacement of the single defective genes that cause serious hereditary diseases — and this aim is strictly within the humanitarian traditions of medicine.”


The American public accepts gene therapy

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. xvi

“For example, in a Harris poll in 1969 it was found that only 21 percent favored genetics as a way to improve the human species of to produce superior children, but 58 percent favored the use of genetics in uterine diagnosis to help correct the defects in a particular individual fetus. Men were more opposed than women to the new birth technologies — let women please take note. Yet a majority of both men and women rejected the notion that the new methods were morally wrong.”


Medical enhancement is not necessarily unethical

Mary B. Mahowald (professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago School of Medicine), “Drawing lines between extremes: medical enhancement and eugenics,” The Pluralist, Summer 2006, p. 20

“Medical interventions to enhance people’s lives have been with us for a long time and have not always been recognized as morally different from treatment to cure disease or reduce disability.”


Prohibiting human research stifles scientific and medical progress

Ruth Macklin (prof. of bioethics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine), Mortal Choices, 1987, p. 185

“However, to prohibit research on human subjects altogether would be to close off the only avenues that could provide the scientific knowledge and technological capabilities for preventing a curing diseases.”


The ethical problems are similar to transplant ethics

Leslie Roberts (staff writer; deputy news editor, 2000-), “Ethical questions haunt new genetic technologies,” Science, March 3, 1989, p. 1134

“The accepted wisdom is that somatic cell gene therapy, at least in its early stages, poses no more ethical problems than any other new medical therapy. The common analogy is to organ or bone marrow transplants, which introduce not just one foreign gene but a whole host of them, in a crude fashion, to make up for the body’s own shortcomings.”


There is no risk of “curing genius” by gene therapy

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 3

“We sometimes hear the objection and warning that genetic selection and engineering would rule out geniuses because geniuses often have serious things wrong with them. (The same argument is used against therapeutic or eugenic abortions.) A common ploy along this line is to ask, ‘Do you want to lose Beethoven just to get rid of his deafness?’ This is only tricky illogic. If we can weed out Beethoven’s deafness, let’s do it. He was a great composer and pianist in spite of his deafness, not because of it. Dostoievski’s literary gifts were not due to his epilepsy. Wagner was a psychopath and a great musician; there was no cause-and-effect relation between the two things.”


Unknown hazards do not bar us from proceeding

Joseph Fletcher (prof. of medical ethics, Univ. of Virginia School of Medicine), The Ethics of Genetic Control, 1974, p. 89

“They say, for example, that we cannot be sure that eradicating genetic disease will be a good thing; if we succeed, it might have unforseeable and far worse end results. This is hypothetically possible, to be sure, but only in the same way that it is dangerous to be alive. The danger if we do not eradicate genetic disease is far more real and evident.”


Fear of death and aging propels acceptance of genetic tampering

Tom Athanasiou (Executive Director of EcoEquity) and Marcy Darnovsky (Associate Executive Director of the Center for Genetics and Society), “The genome as a commons: through all the trials and tribulations of human history, what binds us in the end is our common humanity,” World Watch, July-August 2002, p. 35

“[A]ll those aging boomers now avidly dropping Viagra and DHEA and Human Growth Hormone are the natural constituency of the techno-eugenicists. Tell them that they’ll live longer, and they’ll follow you anywhere. As James Watson put it in a conversation about how to convince the public that eugenic manipulation of future children is acceptable, ‘We can talk principles forever, but what the public actually wants is not to be sick. And if we help them not be sick they’ll be on our side.’”


Gene therapy poses serious moral and ethical problems

Gene therapy has been a failure

Jeremy Rifkin (President of The Foundation on Economic Trends, Washington DC; fellow at the Wharton School’s Executive Program at the University of Pennsylvania), “Ultimate therapy: commercial eugenics in the 21st century,” Harvard International Review, Spring 2005, p. 45

“Despite years of favorable media reports on various somatic gene therapy experiments and the high expectations voiced by the medical establishment and the biotech industry, the results have, thus far, been disappointing. So disappointing, in fact, that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) itself was forced to acknowledge the results and issue a sober warning to scientists conducting the experiments to stop making promises that could not be kept. After surveying all 106 clinical gene therapy trials conducted over a five-year period, involving more than 597 patients, a panel of experts convened by the NIH reported that ‘clinical efficacy has not been definitively demonstrated at this time in any gene therapy protocol, despite anecdotal claims of successful therapy.’”


Scientists feel it is wrong

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 113

“In spite of the progress being made in gene therapy, many scientists still remain pessimistic about the possibility of gene replacement in humans. They feel that although research with animals is valuable, applying genetic engineering to human embryos is both dangerous and morally wrong.”


Engineering human genes diminished respect for life

Eve and Albert Stwertka (physicians and college instructors), Genetic Engineering, revised edition, 1989, p. 93

“Those who fear it [genetic engineering of humans] disapprove of meddling with the basic processes of heredity. They consider all such experiments dangerous and believe that they diminish the value of human life.”


Biotechnology violates ethics by considering living creatures as mere things

Michael Hauskeller (Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter), “The Reification of Life,” Genomics, Society and Policy, Vol. 3, No. 2 (August 2007), p. 73

“Biotechnology is a human practice that has (and reflects) a tendency to transform living beings into scientific objects and into mere things.”


Enhancing eugenic actions are outside the bounds of medical ethics

Mary B. Mahowald (professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago School of Medicine), “Drawing lines between extremes: medical enhancement and eugenics,” The Pluralist, Summer 2006, p. 19

“Many variables are ethically relevant to the assessment of medical interventions. While considering these variables in the context of genetics, it is helpful to distinguish between interventions that are clearly therapeutic and those that are clearly enhancing, and between ‘bad eugenics’ and ‘good eugenics’ — as descriptive of the outcome or intention of interventions. Both distinctions allow us to draw lines between clear extremes of permissibility and impermissibility.”


Continued scientific tampering with life threatens to destroy all values

Daniel C. Dennett (Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University), “How to Protect Human Dignity from Science,” in Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics, 2008, p. 43-44

“And this is what people fear might happen if we pursue our current scientific and technological exploration of the boundaries of human life: we will soon find ourselves in a deteriorating situation where people-rightly or wrongly-start jumping to conclusions about the non-sanctity of life, the commodification of all aspects of life, and it will be too late to salvage the prevailing attitudes that protect us all from something rather like a failed state, a society in which the sheer security needed for normal interpersonal relations has dissolved, making trust, and respect, and even love, all but impossible.”


Eliminating human suffering will destroy human culture

June Goodfield (fellow, British Royal Society of Medicine), Playing God: Genetic Engineering and the Manipulation of Life, 1977, p. 168

“On the one hand, scientists are perhaps offering the possibility of eliminating pain, suffering, old age, and aggressive behavior, and who could be against that? Yet on the other hand, one could argue that as we eliminate pain and suffering we eliminate feeling; that we would be escaping from the human condition and from human predicaments — those factors which have tempered and molded humanity throughout history, the expression of which has often resulted in great literature, music, and painting.”


Breeding ‘savior siblings’ raises serious ethical issues

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, 2006, p. 14

“There are concerns about the welfare of a child who is born to be a ‘saviour sibling’ .Some people are concerned that once conceived as a ‘saviour’, it is difficult to place limits on the extent to which it is reasonable for the child to be used to benefit another person. Taking blood from the umbilical cord after birth causes no ill effects, but the removal of bone marrow is more controversial as it causes discomfort, although the long-term risk of harm is slight. However, once it is accepted in principle that children can be created to save the life of siblings, perhaps more extensive (e.g. the donation of a kidney) or repeated tissue donations may be seen as equally permissible. We consider that it is difficult to justify preventing parents who have a child with a life threatening disorder that may be cured by a stem cell or bone marrow transplant from attempting to create a saviour sibling. However unlike the use of PGD [preimplantation genetic diagnosis] to avoid having children with a serious genetic condition, it has been suggested that the selection of embryos as HLA [Human Leukocyte Antigen] matches could have negative repercussions for family relationships or the wellbeing of children selected in this way.”


Human genetic modifications would disrupt society in multiple ways

Richard Hayes (executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Oakland, California), “The science and politics of genetically modified humans,” World Watch, July-August 2002, p. 12

“In recent months, leaders of a wide range of civil society constituencies have begun speaking out against the new techno-eugenics. Pro-choice feminists and women’s health advocates charge that high-tech consumer eugenics would commodify and industrialize the process of child-bearing. Environmentalists know that genetically altered humans would have few qualms about genetically altering the rest of the natural world. Human rights and civil rights advocates worry that new eugenic technologies would stoke the fires of racial and ethnic hatred. Disability rights leaders know that a society obsessed with genetic perfection could regard the disabled as mistakes that should have been prevented. Peace and justice activists fear brutal international conflict as countries race to create genetically superior populations.”


Eugenics: the historical perspective

The term ‘eugenics’ has varied in meaning across cultures

Carolyn Burdett (Univ. of Liverpool School of English), “Introduction: eugenics old and new,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 7-8

“By the early decades of the twentieth century eugenics was associated with state policies. These ranged from educational measures aimed at fostering a ‘eugenic conscience’, to forms of taxation and family policy, the segregation of those deemed mentally ‘unfit’, and all the way through to forced compulsory sterilisation. Eugenics proved an immensely flexible idea, taking different ideological and practical forms in different parts of Europe and the United States. In Britain it originated primarily as a means to curb, control and reform an urbanised working class, the social ‘residuum’ associated with city slums, squalid living conditions, and a relatively high birth rate; elsewhere, it found other expressions, centring on mental health in Germany, for example, and closely associated with discourses of race in the United States. This adaptability was no doubt in part a consequence of the way in which eugenics attracted support from across the political spectrum. Its legitimacy and its popularity were only definitively challenged in the wake of the Second World War when the eugenic ideal was generally seen to have come to grief amidst revelations of Nazi atrocities.”


Negative and positive eugenics defined

Mary B. Mahowald (professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago School of Medicine), “Drawing lines between extremes: medical enhancement and eugenics,” The Pluralist, Summer 2006, p. 28

“Eugenics, which literally means ‘good genes,’ refers to efforts to improve the gene pool, either positively or negatively. Negative eugenics means eliminating deleterious traits; positive eugenics means promoting desirable traits. In both cases, the targeted trait is often intelligence, and the practice is directed toward groups rather than individuals, and toward their progeny.”


Eugenics is founded on Darwinian principles

Charles Colson (former special counsel to President Nixon; founder, Prison Fellowship; 1993 recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion) and Anne Morse (senior writer, the Wilberforce Forum; senior writer, Prison Fellowship), “War on the weak: eugenics has made a lethal comeback,” Christianity Today, December 2006, p. 72

“The opening shot in this war was fired when the modern eugenics movement came into fashion some 80 years ago. The first targets were the ‘feebleminded’ and people of the ‘wrong’ race. Leading scientists in the early decades of the 20th century, enamored with Darwin’s theories, became eugenics advocates. Historian Richard Weikart, in From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany, writes that while Darwin wasn’t the first to argue that the strong and healthy have higher value than the weak and sick, or that some races are inferior, he provided a scientific foundation for those beliefs.”


Eugenics predates the Nazi era

Martin Brüne (Prof. of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Preventive Medicine, LWL University Hospital, University of Bochum, Germany), “On human self-domestication, psychiatry, and eugenics,” Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, October 5, 2007, p. 27

“The atrocities that followed during the Nazi regime in Germany are quite well known and summarised elsewhere (e.g., [38, 39], and shall not be repeated here in detail, but several of the inconsistencies of eugenics may be worth a closer look. Advocating negative eugenics in order to exterminate or ‘weed-out’ domestication-induced characteristics had a long tradition in Europe and North America long before the Nazis seized power (regarding the eugenics movement in the United States of America, see for example [40, 41]). On the other hand, much less is known about positive eugenics, i.e., breeding programmes to improve the genetic quality of humans, in which undoubtedly racial selection criteria were applied. By the turn of the penultimate century, Willibald Hentschel, for instance, proposed the foundation of ‘Mittgart’ in Germany, a rural community in which 1000 women and 100 men should mate in order to renew the ‘Germanic race’ on a polygamous basis [42, 43] (a very recommendable critique can be found in Oscar Hertwig’s essay Zur Abwehr des ethischen, des sozialen, des politischen Darwinismus, 1918) [44]. Moreover, at the beginning of the 20th century, scientists even inseminated female chimpanzees with the sperm of black men in order to breed cheap working slaves. These experiments failed, however, since the inseminated chimpanzees died during their transport from Africa to Europe [45].”


The history of eugenic movements

The United Kingdom Human Genetics Commission, Making Babies: reproductive decisions and genetic technologies, 2006, p. 25-26

“Eugenics was a popular movement, a research programme and often a coercive legislative programme which aimed to limit the reproduction of those considered ‘unfit’ and encourage the ‘fit’ to have more children. In Britain, falling birth rates among the middle and upper classes fed eugenic fears. This led to the 1913 Mental Deficiency Act that allowed the incarceration of people who could be described as “idiots, imbeciles, feeble-minded persons or moral defectives” .But there was no legislation about physical disability; eugenicists were much more concerned about character, behaviour and moral qualities, that they believed to be inherited. Elsewhere policies went further and in the USA, Canada and some European countries, laws were created to allow the sterilisation of the ‘unfit’ such as criminals, some disabled people, the homeless, the ‘feeble minded’ and alcoholics. Eugenicists believed all these characteristics were the result of poor inheritance. In Germany, the Nazis pursued eugenic policies through the killing of disabled children and, eventually, the killing of those perceived to be at risk of some genetic disease, together with Jews, gypsies and homosexuals.”


There were six essential characteristics of the atrocities of Nazi eugenic policy

Mary B. Mahowald (professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago School of Medicine), “Drawing lines between extremes: medical enhancement and eugenics,” The Pluralist, Summer 2006, p. 31

“Probably the clearest and most dastardly example of bad eugenics is Nazi genocide. Consider its essential characteristics: 1. Coercive intervention by state or government 2. Directed to born persons as a group, and their posterity 3. Terminating or preventing their lives 4. Avoiding a specific trait or traits 5. Judged by the state to be undesirable 6. Carried out for society’s sake”


The U.S. Supreme Court has wrongly endorsed sterilization for eugenic purposes

Charles Colson (former special counsel to President Nixon; founder, Prison Fellowship; 1993 recipient of the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion) and Anne Morse (senior writer, the Wilberforce Forum; senior writer, Prison Fellowship), “War on the weak: eugenics has made a lethal comeback,” Christianity Today, December 2006, p. 72

“Even the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in. Among the most enthusiastic proponents of forced sterilization was Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote in Buck v. Bell (1927) that ‘it is better for all the world’ if ‘society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind.... Three generations of imbeciles are enough.’ Holmes’s third generation of ‘imbeciles’ was a woman named Vivian Buck, who was no such thing — nor was her mother. As Harry Bruinius documents in Better for All the World, determinations of ‘feeblemindedness’ and ‘imbecility’ were based on little more than pseudo-science and prejudice.” [ellipsis in original text]


Eugenics lived on after World War II

Julie M. Aultman (coordinator for the Bioethics program at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine; assistant professor of behavioral sciences), “Eugenomics: Eugenics and Ethics in the 21st Century,” Genomics, Society and Policy, 2006, Vol. 2, No. 2 (August 2006), p. 33

“Many of those who did not defect from American eugenics in the 1920s, defected post World War II after recognising the slippery slope of eugenics. Edwin Black writes: ‘It took a Holocaust, a continent in cinders and a once great nation bombed and battled into submission to force the issue.’ Nevertheless, even after the Holocaust, some supporters of eugenics advocated to preserve the fit and eliminate the unfit by continuing the development and implementation of sterilisation programs. Black contends that ‘After Hitler, eugenics did not disappear. It renamed itself. What had thrived loudly as eugenics for decades quietly took postwar refuge under the labels human genetics and genetic counseling.’”


Pro-eugenic movements never went away

Carolyn Burdett (Univ. of Liverpool School of English), “Introduction: eugenics old and new,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 8

“In truth, and as many of the essays in this collection testify, eugenic thinking never really went away. Eugenic enthusiasm was certainly muted following the war but eugenic policies were still pursued, especially in European welfare democracies, where they continued until the 1970s. The importance of eugenics to the story of European welfare collectivism across the mid-twentieth century is explored here, with special attention to Sweden, in the informative contribution by Veronique Mottier and Natalia Gerodetti. Eugenics also retained ideological force in the mid-century in relation to the development of the social sciences.”


Culture is once again shifting to favor eugenic policies

Carolyn Burdett (Univ. of Liverpool School of English), “Introduction: eugenics old and new,” New Formations, Spring 2007, p. 8

“In his influential 1990 book, Backdoor to Eugenics, the US-based sociologist, Troy Duster, argued that the seeming triumph of social over hereditarian theories in the 1950s, which for some seemed to consolidate the shift away from a bad moment in European history, was in fact transitory. The latter part of the twentieth century had instead witnessed a marked shift in favour of the genetic paradigm. The increasing deployment of molecular biology and bioengineering in relation to human groups support arguments that seek to assert definitive genetic correlations between race and class and categories such as mental illness, intelligence and mortality. What is remarkable for Duster is how invidious this process has been: it is a shift which includes a tacit, rarely overt, return to eugenics.”

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