Реферат: Morality And The Human Genome Project Essay

Morality And The Human Genome Project Essay, Research Paper

Morality and the Human Genome Project

Does the Human Genome Project affect the moral standards of society? Can

the information produced by it become a beneficial asset or a moral evil? For

example, in a genetic race or class distinction the use of the X chromosome

markers can be used for the identification of a persons ethnicity or class

(Murphy,34). A seemingly harmless collection of information from the advancement

of the Human Genome Project. But, lets assume this information is used to

explore ways to deny entry into countries, determine social class, or even who

gets preferential treatment. Can the outcome of this information effect the

moral standards of a society?

The answers to the above and many other questions are relative to the

issues facing the Human Genome Project. To better understand these topics a

careful dissection of the terminology must be made. Websters Dictionary defines

morality as ethics, upright conduct, conduct or attitude judged from the moral

standpoint. It also defines a moral as concerned with right and wrong and the

distinctions between them. A Genome is “the total of an individuals genetic

material,” including, “that part of the cell that controls heredity” (Lee,4).

Subsequently, “reasearch and technology efforts aimed at mapping and sequencing

large portions or entire genomes are called genome projects” (Congress,4).

Genome projects are not a single organizations efforts, but instead a group of

organizations working in government and private industry through out the world.

Furthermore, the controversies surrounding the Human Genome Project can be

better explained by the past events leading to the project, the structure of the

project, and the moral discussion of the project.

The major events of genetic history are important to the Human Genome

Project because the structure and most of the project deals with genetics.

Genetics is the study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits

(Congress,202). The basic beginnings of genetic history lay in the ancient

techniques of selective breeding to yield special characteristics in later

generations. This was and still is a form of genetic manipulation by “employing

appropriate selection for physical and behavioral traits” (Gert,2). Futheralong,

the work of Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, on garden peas established the

quantitative discipline of genetics. Mendel’s work explained the inheritance of

traits can be stated by factors passed from one generation to the next; a gene.

The complete set of genes for an organism is called it’s genome (Congress,3).

These traits can be explained due to the inheritance of single or multiple genes

affected by factors in the environment (3). Mendel also correctly stated that

two copies of every factor exists and that one factor of inheritance could be

dominate over another (Gert,3).The next major events of genetic history involved

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA, as a part of genes, was discovered to be a

double helix that encodes the blueprints for all living things (Congress,3). DNA

was found to be packed into chromosomes, of which 23 pairs existed in each cell

of the human body. Furthermore, one chromosome of each pair is donated from

each parent. DNA was also found to be made of nucleotide chains made of four

bases, commonly represented by A, C, T, and G. Any ordered pair of bases makes

a sequence. These sequences are the instructions that produce molecules,

proteins, for cellular structure and biochemical functions. In relation, a

marker is any location on a chromosome where inheritance can be identified and

tracked (202). Markers can be expressed areas of genes (DNA) or some segment of

DNA with no known coding function but an inheritance could be traced (3). It is

these markers that are used to do genetic mapping. By the use of genetic

mapping isolated areas of DNA are used to find if a person has a specific trait,

inherent factor, or any other numerous genetic information. In conclusion, the

genetic history of ancient selective breeding to Mendel’s garden peas to the

current isolation of genes has been reached only through collaborative data of

many organizations and scientist.

The Human Genome Project has several objectives. To better understand

the moral issues that exist the project itself must be examined. Among the many

objectives, DNA databases that include sequences, location markers, genes, and

the function of similar genes (Congress,7). The creation of human chromosome

maps for DNA markers that would allow the location of genes to be found. A

repository of research materials including ordered sets of DNA fragments

representing the complete DNA in chromosomes. New instruments for analysis of

DNA. New methods of analysis of DNA through chemical, physical, and

computational methods. Develop similar research technologies for other organisms.

Finally, to determine the DNA sequence of a large fraction of the human genome

and other organisms. The objectives of the Human Genome Project are carried out

by organizations such as the Department of Energy, National Institutes of Health,

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and various private organizations. These

organizations all have two shared features, placing “new methods and instruments

into toolkit of molecular biology” and “build reasearch infrastructure for

genetics.” Making the directives of the Human Genome Project apparent is

important in making a moral judgment on this genetic technology.

Any attempt to resolve moral issues involving new information from the

Human Genome Project requires direct, clear, and total understanding of common

morality. Subsequently, a moral theory is the attempt to explain, justify, and

make visible “the moral system that people use in making their moral judgments

and how to act when confronting a moral problem” (Gert,31). This theory is based

on rational decisions. With this in mind, the moral system must be known by

everyone who is judged by it. This leads to the rational statement that

“morality must be a public system” (33). The individuals of the public system

must know what morality requires of them, and the judgments and guidelines made

must be rational to them. Just like any game, the players play by a set of

rules and these rules dictate how play is done. The game is played only when

everyone knows how to play. When rules are broken penalties are inforced by the

other players judgment according to the rules allowed. However, if everyone

agrees to change the rules then the game continues without any penalties.

Therefore, “the goal of common morality is to lessen the amount of harm suffered

by those protected by it” and it is constrained by the knowledge and need to be

understood by all it applies to (47). Justified violations also exist in common

morality. Just like in the game, a change in the rules causes acceptance,

morality can be viewed not as an evil by the public perception but as a decision

backed by common morals.

Based on the pattern of common morality the issues of genetic race or

class distinction or any other controversies involving the Human Genome Project

can be put to a set of common moral standards. Just like the moral standard that

says killing is wrong but killing is justifiable in self-defense, the Human

Genome Project can be argued along the same pattern of moral discussion. The

justifiable violations that genetic information is based on depends on the

common morality which is based on the public system which is based on the

decisions of right and wrong. In conclusion, the moral dilemma of genetics is

that will it be an asset to the individuals public perception of common morality

or will it be an evil to the individuals public perception of common morality

based on the right and wrong of the information. This answer is based on the

societies structure. In one time period it may be accepted in another in may not.


Congress of the United States, Office of Technology Assessment, Mapping Our

Genes: Genome Projects: How Big, How Fast?, Johns Hopkins University

Press: Baltimore,1988. Gert, Bernard, Morality and the New Genetics: A

Guide for Students and Health

Care Providers, Jones and Bartlett: Sudbury, Massachusetts,1996. Lee,

Thomas F., The Human Genome Project: Cracking the Genetic Code of Life,

Plenum Press: New York, 1991. Murphy, Timothy F., and Lappe, Marc, ed.,

Justice and the Human Genome

Project, University of California Press: Berkeley, 1994.

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