Described as ‘the greatest ethical problem science has ever had to face’, the debate surrounding genetic engineering has increasingly become more controversial as technology evolves. This potential to fabricate nature to coincide with our desires and needs has conjured a range of arguments against the use of Genetic Engineering; but one common delusion that has always struck me is how it is negatively brandished as unnatural and therefore unethical. Genetic engineering is an unnatural method of science but does it make it immoral and unethical as a result?
Unnatural is a descriptive term not a moral one. However, the word ‘unnatural’ has instant implications of moral wrongness, hence when the word unnatural is coined with a technology such as Genetic Engineering it becomes a moral term and resonates with many people. Living in the 21st century it is hard to be against the unnatural; we continuously rely on things unnatural to enhance our experience of life from cars to phones to televisions. These are no doubt unnatural but acceptable. A particular example demonstrating the acceptance of the unnatural is the contraceptive pill. It may not be a technological device per se, but millions of women worldwide take this pill to control a naturally occurring menstrual cycle so they can engage in intercourse without getting pregnant. But why is this unnatural alteration of a natural process acceptable amongst millions yet Genetic Engineering, which too alters nature, deemed unethical.
Even though it is a technology with a potential to enhance human life and also protect the environment, I believe it is the attitude towards nature that Genetic Engineering employs which is considered unethical. Whilst some unnatural technologies alter nature to produce results we desire, they are still sympathetic to the qualities of natural processes. Genetic Engineering on the other hand, simply seeks to control, change and output specific characteristics depending on our desires, signifying that certain aspects of nature are a constraint- merely a limiting factor.
In some cases however, nature is a limitation. If utilised correctly, genetic engineering can solve a host of natural problems ranging from the eradication of hereditary diseases, such as Cystic Fibrosis, to creating fungal resistant chestnut trees. This method is no doubt an unnatural modification of nature, but if it were to be used to improve life on Earth, to save thousands of children and enhance the quality of the environment, the unethical thing to do is to not proceed.
I am not arguing that we replace nature with all things genetically engineered, but if and when needed, we should utilise this tool for our benefits. This moral wrongness associated with the unnaturalness of Genetic Engineering stems from its supposed disrespect towards nature but nature is not always kind to us. The real ethical thing to do now would be to continue research in this field and not waste time with futile arguments.