Ethical & Moral Issues of Biotechnology

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Crossing species boundaries raises several ethical concerns.
Crossing species boundaries raises several ethical concerns. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

The science of biotechnology has been the subject of endless ethical, moral and religious discussions, the line in the sand for many political campaigns and the stimulus for a litany of “what-if” science fiction movies and television programs depicting both the pros and cons of the uncertain future that this fusion of biology and technology will provide. It is a future that is both promising and treacherous, beneficial and dangerous, and the central debate is whether we will advance technologically at the expense of regressing morally.

Genetically Modified Food

The production of genetically modified food has been a source of controversy due to the possible threats it poses to both humans and the environment. While it has been hailed as the solution for feeding the world’s ever-increasing population, some scientists caution that the production of genetically mutated food may eventually result in health problems. They also warn that introducing genetically modified crops into the environment may cause undesirable effects in plants and insects, and damage the ecosystem.

Human Cloning

Human cloning is a major ethical and moral issue in biotechnology. Critics argue that it destroys the sanctity of human life, and assert that men are "playing God" when they try to reproduce humans in a laboratory. Also at issue is the idea of manufacturing human beings for the sole purpose of research, or to guarantee matches for organ transplants. Other issues include whether “defective” clones would be destroyed or not, or if clones would be considered equal to other humans in every sense of the word -- which includes affording them legal rights and protection.

Crossing Species Boundaries

The gene of a spider that weaves silk fibers was mixed with the gene of a goat, resulting in goat milk that contains spider silk proteins. These proteins can be used to make bulletproof vests and other beneficial applications. To address the shortage of kidneys and other human organs, pigs have been identified as a suitable replacement in human transplant surgery. However, crossing species boundaries is an ethical quagmire. Linda McDonald McGill, in “Ethical Issues in Genetic Engineering and Transgenics" by the American Institute of Biological Sciences, raises several concerns, including environmental effects, health hazards and the possibility of altering human traits.

Animal Rights

The use of animals in biotechnology has also generated ethical debates. At the center of the controversy is the right of humans to subject animals to experimentation for the good of humankind, and whether it is ethical to treat them as disposable objects when they have the same feelings and emotions as humans. Critics argue that we do not have the right to clone them, inject them with foreign objects, and change their chemical, reproductive and neurological makeup. They also say that the needless suffering of animals is not justifiable under any circumstances.

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