In our current era, where technology advances at a rapid pace, genetic engineering emerges as one of the most fascinating and controversial modern technologies. This article sheds light on this amazing technique and its complex details.
Through it, we explore how human, animal, and microbial genes are manipulated to achieve various purposes such as improving the understanding of gene functions, increasing the production of substances resulting from gene expression, and correcting genetic defects. We will learn about the technical mechanisms used in this field and how these technologies have impacted various sectors from medicine to agriculture and biopharmaceuticals.
Additionally, we delve into the ethical debate surrounding genetic engineering, which is an integral part of this topic. We will explore how these technologies face ethical challenges, especially in terms of intervening in the biological nature of living organisms and the potential impacts on the biological future of humanity.
What is Genetic Engineering?
Genetic engineering is the technique that deals with:
- Human genes.
- Animal genes.
- Microbial genes.
- Genetic units found on chromosomes by separating, connecting, or inserting parts of them from one organism to another with the purpose of:
- Creating a state that enables understanding the function of a gene.
- Aiming to increase the quantity of substances resulting from its expression.
- Aiming to supplement what is missing from it in the target cell.
The most common form of genetic engineering requires isolating and copying the related genetic material, generating a construct that includes all genetic elements for the purpose of obtaining a correct genetic construct, and then introducing this construct into the host organism.
Mechanism of Genetic Engineering Techniques
Genetic engineering techniques have been applied in several fields including:
- Currently, drugs such as insulin and human growth hormone are produced in bacteria.
Test mice have been used for scientific research purposes and for producing crops resistant to insects or tolerant to herbicides, which are commercially marketed.
Genetically engineered plants and animals capable of producing less expensive drugs than current methods using biotechnology techniques (also known as biopharming or animal pharming) have been developed.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of a therapeutic protein called Antithrombin, produced from the milk of genetically engineered goats.
Ethics in Genetic Engineering
What are the main challenges and responsibilities?
Medical and biomedical professionals face ethical dilemmas that confuse them and push them to seek answers to their questions, with these ethical dilemmas intensifying due to medical and biological advancements.
After scientific and technological progress allowed doctors to contribute to solving various previously insoluble problems, such as infertility through in vitro fertilization, and controlling genetic genes to obtain different types of medicine (like insulin), and identifying many genetic diseases that were unknown in earlier times, ethical questions inevitably arose.
These developments prompted the emergence of the concept of “medical ethics” in our present age, imposing itself on the human thought arena.
Hundreds of volumes, thousands of articles, and lectures have made it difficult for philosophers, ethical thinkers, and medical professionals to ignore this topic or overlook the fact that “medical ethics” constitutes an important aspect of their study field in genetic engineering.
Doctors, for the first time in a long time, are interested in finding solutions to the ethical dilemmas they face, after a long period of practicing their professions quietly and without obstacles, strictly adhering to medical codes.
New problems have arisen that clearly conflict with old codes and previous ethical customs; what is known so far as medical ethics rules in their traditional form cannot apply to them.
Medical Ethics and Islam
Muslims have been interested in medicine from an early time and have translated known medical books from other nations, leading to the flourishing of medical study among Muslims, especially since Islam itself encourages this study.
The Prophet Muhammad said, “Allah has not sent down a disease without sending down its cure, known by those who know it and unknown by those who are ignorant.” Thus, it was not surprising that doctors were influenced by Hippocratic and Galenic medicine, among others, but they did not just transmit this heritage; they studied, analyzed, criticized, added to it, and integrated Islamic ethical principles with medical principles.
Ibn al-Nafis criticized Hippocrates’ book on human nature and had unpublished works on the duties of the surgeon and his relationship with his assistants and patients.
The most important work on medical ethics in the Islamic world was by Ishaq bin Ali al-Ruhawi, who wrote his famous book “Adab al-Tabib” (The Physician’s Etiquette), a unique work focused on practical ethics in medicine, influenced by Hippocratic and Platonic thought, in addition to relying on Islamic ethics.
Islam’s ethics interacted with ethical rules from other civilizations to present rules imbued with the spirit of Islam.
Islam emphasizes the concept of physicians maintaining the confidentiality of patient information.
Medical Ethics in the Current Century
Workers in the field of biological and medical sciences have entered the current century carrying with them ancient intellectual roots and residues, along with ideas calling for liberation and radical change.
Moreover, this century has been characterized by notable features, as science has gained importance since the early twentieth century, surpassing any other achievement throughout human history. Indeed, humanity takes pride in its philosophy, literature, and arts, acknowledging the benefits these achievements have provided in shaping the human mind and spirit. However, the status that science has acquired in this century and the impact it has managed to exert on human life (regardless of whether this impact is positive or negative) undoubtedly makes science the grand truth of our present age and thus in all ages.
This, of course, includes medicine, whose new problems presented in the arena of human thought have varied as its technological development advanced.
These issues have aroused public interest and reflected the ideologies, beliefs, and values of diverse societies.
While a stream of ideas has spread—despite the intense variance between intellectual currents in the world—this does not seem apparent in the field of medical ethics; this is because the ethical problems in the field of medicine are the same in any society or in general human society.
However, three problems have jumped to occupy the central axis of people’s thinking in the current century, which are:
- Human experimentation.
- Advanced medical and biological technology.
And you, dear reader, what do you think? Should science remain restricted by ethics and religion, or should there be a broader space for scientific experiments?
Author: Samer Al-Aloosh, Science Teacher at Masarat Initiative