Right to an Unaltered Genome

It has been suggested that every human being has a right not to have their genome altered by other humans. Germ-line gene therapy would alter human genomes (though somatic therapy would not), and therefore germ-line gene therapy is unethical. This argument has the advantage of being rooted in the language of human rights, which is widely recognized as voicing valid ethical concerns (we think of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights as outlining ethically ideal behavior for governments, for example). But this right is certainly not one of the ''traditional'' rights debated over time (for example, the American right to ''life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness''). On what basis do we gain such a right? It is not at all clear. Perhaps it is on the basis of human dignity (see next section). Another difficulty is the idea of a nonexistent person having rights (which is very controversial). While people who complain about their being treated with germ-line gene therapy would be rational beings, the same cannot be said for them when their right was infringed, i.e., just after (or before) their conception. They did not actually have that right at that time, since they did not exist; therefore it is hard for them to complain about infringements of rights they did not have.

The right to an unaltered genome is problematic in other ways since, following the ideas of Derek Parfit, we can say that almost everything we do alters our offspring's genome, the most obvious being our choice of sexual partner. When we choose the person we want to be a parent with, we are automatically making decisions about the genome of our offspring. How is germline gene therapy different? If it is different, then this difference must lie in the actual process of the therapy, rather than in the fact that the offspring's genomes are different to how they might otherwise be. The problem is, can we even describe this as ''altering'' a person's genome? is it not better described as affecting the characteristics that person will have? The same description could be applied to germ-line gene therapy, certainly that type which operates on sperm or ova (i.e., before conception, before any possible person exists), and perhaps, if we do not count a fertilized ovum as a person, germ-line therapy as a whole. Can a person describe themselves as having an altered genome, when in fact what happened was that their parents chose the characteristics that they would have? Does this make an ethical difference? It certainly makes germ-line gene therapy closer to selective implantation and IVF in ethical terms.

100 Pregnancy Tips

100 Pregnancy Tips

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