Is Opposition to Genetic Engineering Moral?

December 4, 2012

Genetically engineered products, which are only a microcosm of what is possible, offer tremendous promise for public health, especially in poorer countries. Nonetheless, this wave of scientific progress faces opposition from anti-science and anti-technology groups. Consider these examples that have been hampered by activism, say Henry I. Miller, the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and Drew L. Kershen, the Earl Sneed Centennial Professor of Law (Emeritus), University of Oklahoma College of Law.

Biopharming. This is a new way to fight diarrhea, the number two killer of children under the age of five throughout developing countries, accounting for around 2 million deaths per year.

  • Since the 1960s the standard care for diarrhea was the World Health Organization's formulation of a rehydration solution. However, this treatment does not lessen the severity.
  • Research reflects that reinforcing oral rehydration solution with two proteins, lactoferrin and lysozyme, decreases duration and recurrence of diarrhea.
  • Biopharming synthesizes the large quantities of necessary proteins.

Dengue fever.

  • A British company, Oxitec, uses genetic engineering techniques to create new varieties of the mosquito species that transmits the disease.
  • Oxitec's approach introduces a gene that produces a protein that stops mosquitoes' cells from functioning normally.
  • The modified males, once released, survive long enough to mate with wild females, but the offspring die.
  • This approach has reduced the infected mosquito population by 80 percent in the Cayman Islands and by 90 percent in Brazil.

The third example is the medical breakthrough called Golden Rice.

  • Rice, a staple for billions of people, lacks specific micronutrients needed in a complete diet.
  • Vitamin A deficiency is prevalent among poor people whose diet consists largely of rice.
  • Every year, about half a million children go blind as a result of the deficiency, and 70 percent of those die within a year of losing their sight.
  • The introduction of Golden Rice -- rice groups that are biofortified by the introduction of genes that construct vitamin A -- holds promise for public health.

Although genetically engineered solutions hold promise for improving public health, challenges remain. Activism intended to delay progress toward life-saving products and technologies should be kept in check.

Source: Henry I. Miller and Drew Kershen, "Is Opposition to Genetic Engineering Moral?" National Review Online, November 26, 2012.

 

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