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Olivia Solverson

Ms. Thomson
AP English Language and Composition
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Is Editing Human Traits Through Genetics Ethical?

Imagine a world in which a parent could choose a child’s gender, IQ, athleticism, or eye

color; a world in which every baby is exactly what their parents want; a world in which everyone

is perfect. Is such a world possible to create and, if so, would doing so be ethical? This concept

may seem futuristic and absurd but that is not the case. While genetic engineering has not been

perfected, it has been tested by many scientists. As a product of in vitro fertilization, I am not

against genetic advancements. However, editing the non-vital traits of a child is wrong,

unethical, and doing so would have serious negative consequences on society. This editing

should never be performed.

The aforementioned ability to edit the human genome comes from CRISPR, which stands

for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. CRISPR systems are found in

bacteria cells and are the means by which cells defend themselves from invaders. CRISPR stores

sequences of DNA that belong to invading bacteria and “serves as a genetic memory that helps

the cell detect and destroy invaders when they return” (“Questions and Answers about

CRISPR”). When the CRISPR recognizes an invasive bacteria, it produces an enzyme called

Cas-9 that then cuts off the target sequence of DNA and replaces the gap with a sequence of

DNA that will make this target cell harmless. CRISPR actually changes the DNA of invading

bacteria. This technique is starting to be used for purposes other than defense against bacteria.

Scientists are learning how to use it to edit out genes that carry genetic diseases or the genes for
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certain traits (“Questions and Answers about CRISPR” ). Traits of embryos could be edited by

this process.

The previous methods may be dangerous because some traits are not controlled by only

one strand of DNA (Stein). For example, as explained by Jon Gordon in his paper “Genetic

Enhancement in Humans,” just one aspect of brain function is controlled by thousands of genes

and alleles. Scientists may control and change strands of DNA that do not have the effect they

believe. Using Gordon’s brain function example, it would be nearly impossible to flawlessly

control thousands of alleles and genes, and attempting to do so could be detrimental and possibly

fatal to a child. Some polygenic traits are affected by the environment, called multifactorial traits

(Stein). For example, genes that affect IQ are controlled by “innumerable stochastic [random]

and environmental influences” (Gordon). This proves that editing some traits, including IQ, may

be impossible and may result in fatal mistakes. Genetic scientist Eleonore Pauwels does not think

editing certain traits will ever be possible, saying, “Until then, we must not let the story get ahead

of the facts” (“Gene Editing the Human Germline: What are the Risks?”). There is also

numerical proof that editing the traits of humans is dangerous. “In the first attempt to fix genes in

human embryos, fewer than 1 in 10 cells were successfully repaired – an efficiency rate that is

too low to make the method practical. A second study published in 2016 also had a low rate of

efficiency” (“First Results of CRISPR Gene Editing of Normal Embryos Released”). This is a

dismal rate of success and demonstrates how the process is not efficient enough to use on

humans. Even if the rates increase, it would be extremely dangerous and could cause

unnecessary deaths.
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Because many scientists believe the prospect of editing the traits of children will be

possible in the future, the ethicality of the situation must be addressed. Editing the traits of

humans through genetics is completely unethical. The traits and inheritance of future generations

would be completely changed and possibly damaged without the consent of said future

generations. “The matter of consent has been raised by Francis Collins, director of the National

Institutes of Health. ‘Ethical issues [have been] presented by altering the germline in a way that

affects the next generation without their consent,’ he has said” (Porostocky). So, by genetically

editing the non-vital traits of human beings, we would be potentially damaging the DNA of

future generations without good reason.

In addition, editing the non-vital traits of humans is unethical from a religious standpoint.

Said editing completely changes what God intended for the child and is essentially parents

“playing God.” There is a similar debate over capital punishment; people dislike the death

penalty because it is “playing God”. Pastor Raymond Davis Jr. even compares the concept of

genetic editing to the fall of mankind in Genesis: “The entire concept [of genetic engineering]

nurtures the pride and arrogance of human nature. Scripturally speaking, man becomes like the

Great Deceiver who said, "Ye shall be as gods" (Genesis 3:5).” (“Is Genetic Engineering Morally

Acceptable?”). Parents would love their engineered child and not celebrate uniqueness. Respect

for a person and human dignity would be completely gone from the world. It states in the Koran:

“Eat and drink of that which Allah has provided and do not act corruptly, making mischief on the

earth.” - Koran 2:60. This shows that Islam is also opposed to genetic engineering since it would

be changing what Allah has made. These examples all prove that genetic editing is against

religion.
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Genetically editing the non-vital traits of humans is morally wrong and would have

serious negative consequences on society. An even greater separation between the socioeconomic

classes would be created. Scientist Marcy Darnovsky said, “we're going to be creating a world in

which the already privileged and affluent can use these high-tech procedures to make children

who have some biological advantages…And the scenario that plays out is not a pretty

one” (Stein). This would cause conflict between the classes and lead to violence and war. If this

method was made financially available to all classes there would still be many issues. It would

cause a disruption of the foundation of society. If the editing of IQ was made available then all

people would have nearly perfect IQs. This may seem like a great idea that would further society,

but in reality, it would have extremely negative effects on society. If everyone was a genius, no

one would take jobs that make less money, such as mailmen or garbage men. Some see these

jobs as “embarrassing,” but they are extremely essential to our society. Imagine a world in which

everyone was a doctor, lawyer or CEO. The jobs that are done in this world that are under-

appreciated would no longer be done and the fabric of society would crumble: mail would go

undelivered, garbage would pile in the streets, schools and public buildings would be extremely

unsanitary. A successful society requires all levels of jobs and work, not just prestigious ones.

For this reason, making all humans equal and robot-like would have extreme consequences on

society and the world seen today would no longer exist.

Another negative consequence of genetic editing would be lack of originality. Everyone

has different strengths and weaknesses, but in a world where traits are edited through genetics,

weaknesses would become strengths. Non-visible traits such as athleticism and IQ would be

uniform. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a novel demonstrating the negative effects of all
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people being equal. Books were burned to avoid independent thinking and thoughts were

controlled by leadership which censored what was seen and heard by citizens. This book is a

great example of the unhappiness that would be caused by everyone becoming seemingly carbon

copies. “People were made to be imperfect and different, that’s why the word ‘original’ was

invented” (Anonymous qtd. in “60 Famous Being Different Quotes And Sayings.”). The genetic

editing of non-vital traits would cause a detrimental lack of originality.

It is important to understand not all genetic advancements are unethical. As mentioned

earlier, I am a product of in vitro fertilization. Without this advancement, my parents would not

have had a child of their own without turning to a surrogate. Another example of ethical genetic

advancements is the editing of vital human traits. If it becomes possible in the future to eliminate

diseases such as Sickle Cell Anemia or Down Syndrome, it would be ethical to do so. As stated

by Porostocky, “Every year, 7.9 million children—6 percent of total births worldwide—are born

with a serious defect of genetic or partially genetic origin.”. If 6% of the population could be

edited so they could live normal lives and have the same opportunities as everyone else, it is

completely ethical to do so. This proves that some genetic advancements actually bring about

life. However, a distinction needs to be made and a line drawn between these vital traits being

edited and the editing of non-vital traits, which is greedy and completely unnecessary.

Editing the non-vital traits of humans is completely unethical and should never be

practiced. It is unsafe, and even if perfected, should never be done because of the negative

consequences brought upon society and the human person. Parents should not strive for perfect

children but instead, as Maya Angelou once stated, “it is time for parents to teach young people

early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength” (Staff, The Root). 

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Works Cited

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. Simon and Schuster, 1950

Gordon, Jon. “Genetic Enhancement in Humans” Vol 283. American Association for the

Advancement of Science, 1999.

Porostocky, Art by Thomas. “Pro and Con: Should Gene Editing Be Performed on Human

Embryos?” National Geographic, 19 Oct. 2017

Stein, Rob. “Scientific Panel Says Editing Heritable Human Genes Could Be OK In The Future.”

NPR, NPR, 14 Feb. 2017.

“First Results of CRISPR Gene Editing of Normal Embryos Released.” New Scientist

“Gene Editing the Human Germline: What Are the Risks?” STAT, 27 July 2017.

“Is Genetic Engineering Morally Acceptable? Biotechnology as Religion.” Organic Consumers

Association

The Koran. Paw Prints, 2015.

The New American Bible. Our Sunday Visitor, 2005.

“Questions and Answers about CRISPR.” Broad Institute, 21 Aug. 2017.

Staff, The Root. “Maya Angelou's Words That Spoke to All Our Lives.” The Root.

“60 Famous Being Different Quotes And Sayings.”