Fifty years ago, the possibilities and potential benefits genetic engineering would have seemed straight out of science fiction. In the past 15 years, however, science has advanced significantly in the study and application of genetic engineering techniques for modifying many basic aspects of our lives, from the supply of food that we eat to our very lives. As Hayes writes in his argument on the benefits of genetic engineering, “A hallmark of the human species is the-ability to intentionally manipulate objects of nature" (16). However, never has our ability to do so been so developed, nor have the implications been quite so significant and profound, involving not only biological and environmental concerns, but moral, legal, and ethical concerns over genetic manipultion and even less invasive medical processes that raise such questions about what lines to draw based on ethics, medical or otherwise, as well.
The possibilities and potential benefits of genetic engineering have the very real potential of “destabiliz[ing] both the biological and the social foundations of the human world" (Hayes 17). In order to comprehend the scope of the implications of, as well as the potential benefits of genetic engineering, it is important to understand what genetic engineering is, what scientific evidence supports and refutes its use and for what purposes, and how various stakeholders debate it as a construct. Ultimately, it will be proven that genetic engineering is not an area of scientific practice that should be advanced without further study. Until approximately 30 years ago, scientists specializing in genetics directed their attention towards cracking the code of human, animal, and plant life by analyzing the components of DNA and identifying the characteristics that correspond to each gene (Shand, Thomas, & Wetter 42).
As this process developed, the focus of genetic engineering began to shift, transitioning from “readingto writing genetic code" (Shand, Thomas, & Wetter 42; emphasis added). Shand, Thomas, and Wetter contend that the values shift that accompanied this practical shift in study reflected a “scorn [for] nature’s designs in favor of made-to-order life forms" (42). One of the earliest examples of genetic manufacturing that was made public occurred ten years ago, when Scottish scientists announced that they had cloned a sheep successfully (Canadian Medical Association Journal 613), thus sparking not only this debate, but questions about the ethics of stem cell research in general. It was at this point that the argument about the benefits of genetic engineering were contested with those of a more ethereal ethical and even religious nature. According to the Canadian Medical Association Journal (613), Dolly’s “birth" was the shot heard round the world for genetic science, and researchers began to imagine all of the applications that such new knowledge and skill could portend, both for human and animal life alike. The majority of the general public panicked about the possibility of cloning human life, and even the United Nations became involved in an effort to spearhead a ban on human cloning (Canadian Medical Association Journal 613).Since Dolly’s arrival in the world the field of genetic engineering has become exponentially more complicated.
Genetic manufacturing and the drawbacks or benefits to genetic engineering is one of the most publicly discussed areas of science and argument outside the field itself, inspiring intense interest and equally passionate debate. One of the areas in which genetic engineering has been applied enthusiastically by scientists is in agricultural production and the manufacture of comestibles. At present, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not monitor or regulate genetically modified foods, although intense debate about the relative merits and dangers of this practice has compelled the FDA to examine the issue more closely (Hayes 10). The agency, which is charged with protecting the safety of Americans with respect to the food they eat and the medicines they take, just closed a public debate period in which it reviewed comments of the public on the subject of genetically engineered and modified food supplies (Hayes 10).