"your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they didn't stop to think if they should"
Well, I couldn't have a website on genetics without Jurassic Park creeping in there somewhere! This now classic quote from the character Dr Ian Malcom is as relevant today, however, as it was in the movie.
In reality, scientists are constantly debating the ethics of what they do; be it use of experimental animals, human embryo research or the future of gene editing.
Take a look at the following four questions and ask yourself - "what do I really think?". There is no right or wrong answer, and each standpoint can be argued and defended as valid. This is why reaching consensus for creating laws is so difficult!
When are we human?
Take a look at the three pictures above, and ask yourself "during pregnancy, when does the developing embryo become a person?" Is it:
A ball of cells (or even a fertilised egg)?
When the embryo starts to look human?
When we are born?
Your answer will depend on many things including your culture, religion and personal values. This question has huge implications for research into human disease. If a ball of cells should have the same rights as a newborn baby, for example, then should research that uses human embryos be banned?
The laws in different countries (and even different states in the US) vary on at what stage human life is protected.
In European law, the developing embryo is considered part of the mother, but this does not override its member countries' own laws.
Many people do not approve of using animals in cosmetic testing. Animals in research, be it basic research on how life works, or applied research into specific human diseases, is a much more contested area. Everyone has their ideas of what they feel is acceptable. Which of the following groups of animals should experiments be limited to (if any):
All three species (and many others) are used in daily in research, and have contributed hugely to our understanding of biology and breakthroughs in tacking human disease.
But does the end justify the means? What do you think?
The 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement) were developed over 50 years ago as a framework for humane animal research.
In the UK, the NC3Rs organisation works with the Government, academia and industry to promote the 3Rs and ethical research.
Science fiction has been debating the use of genetic engineering for decades, from the eugenics of Brave New World to the genetically improved humans in the movie Gattaca and the whole concept of 'designer babies'.
The CRISPR/Cas9 system is now nudging those scenarios further towards science fact. But how far should we go? What do you think should be the limits of gene editing technology?
Used only in research to answer questions about biology
Treating genetic diseases in individuals (somatic editing)
Creating changes that can be passed on to our children (germ line editing)
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is used today to screen embryos where there is a known serious risk of the child inheriting a genetic disease. Embryos are grown in the lab until the 8-cell stage, and then one is taken for screening. Healthy embryos are then transplanted into the mother.
What should be the limits of gene alteration in humans?
Is there a distinction between treating disease and eugenics, or are they both ends of the same slope? Is treating a genetic disease with gene editing the same thing ethically as choosing the colour of your child's hair, eyes or its height?
What do you think the limit should be?
Fixing faulty disease-causing genes (eg cystic fibrosis)
Changing a gene involved in a risk factor in a multi-gene disease (eg cancer) to a different, lower-risk allele?
Changing any gene we want that can improve the human race?
Or none of the above? Should we just leave it to nature / God to decide?