Ethics of Gene Therapy.

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Gene therapy is a powerful science that allows humans to change the fundamental building blocks of their bodies and minds. Consequently there are many moral and ethical considerations to be taken into account, as well as laws and boundaries set for this new technology.

The first thing to be known about gene therapy is that it has the huge potential to cause harm to the human race whether it is intentional or not. Currently all legal gene therapy is strictly somatic which means that no reproductive cells are modified and therefore any changes made to a single human through therapy are isolated and cannot be reproduced to affect the rest of future humanity. We must understand though that through mistake or intention it is entirely possible for harmful mutant genes to be spread among the gene pool. It is also possible and quite likely that we as humans will advance this process into germline modification in the aim of human enhancement. Germline is the altering of eggs and sperm, inserting a gene that will reproduce and replicate itself to be spread generation by generation. Obvious goals such as enhanced memory and intelligence would be made in effort to improve the human condition. One must consider that it is likely to that these positive modifications will not fall equally into the varied hands of humanity. The rich and the powerful would be likely to be the first and most to benefit. There may also be preference between ethnic, cultural, racial or even religious groups.

Currently, the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications research program (ELSI) that is part of the US Human Genome Project and is in part responsible for administration of ethical uses of gene therapy in the United States. There are long and stringent requirements and levels of approval that a new gene therapy must go through to become active. Historically, however, ethical committees and approval boards have not been entirely effective in the complete moral use of new and exciting technologies; for example, the atom bomb.

Gene therapy is a tool and represents humanity's ability to change itself. We know that in the natural world species survive through adaption to new and extreme environments. Humans however, face a slightly different challenge; for us, our challenge is to change and adapt to our own creations. We will always make mistakes, but let us hope that we will learn from them.

Also see Barriers in Gene Therapy

And Gene Therapy