English Discourse Site Menu:

Innovations in Biomedical Engineering:
The Genetic Engineering Controversy
Davina Peter
Academic affiliation: Oklahoma State University
©Read the copyright notice at the bottom of this page
before reproducing this essay/webpage on paper,
or electronically, or in any other form.

Advancements in biomedical engineering have both enhanced and complicated human life. The rapid development of biomedical innovations did not allow people to adapt their culture and ethics to these changes. People in the biomedical field have already accepted the pros and cons of the new technology, but American communities who live by religious and cultural guidelines have not. The controversial issues that surround biomedical engineering associates with whether the research done and technology made is ethically acceptable. The focus of this essay is to elucidate the opposing viewpoints regarding advancements in genetic engineering a branch of biomedical engineering.

Biomedical engineering technology has changed the way clinical practices are conducted. Clinical practices use new age technology when doing the following: diagnosing a patient, giving therapy, and rehabilitating patients. The new instruments have allowed doctors to accurately diagnosis patient, and to provide an improved treatment process (Griffith and Grodzinsky 556). Linda G. Griffith and Alan J. Grodzinsky present information regarding how biomedical technology enhanced the medical discipline in the article "Advances in Biomedical Engineering." The innovations that improve diagnostic measures for doctors include MRIs and ultrasounds. Biomedical engineering also developed therapeutic devices such as the cochlear implant, which helps a deaf person to hear sounds by sending electrical signals to auditory neurons in the brain. Rehabilitation for burn victims has improved with technology of cell and tissue engineering (556). Biomedical Engineering has changed peoples' lives without much controversy, but Griffith and Grodzinsky explain that biomedical engineering now includes controversial studies of molecular and genetic research. The field of biomedical engineering has fused with molecular and genomic medicine, and therefore the biomedical engineering field is under scrutiny for unethical practices (Juengst and Fossel 3180).

Jeremy Rifkin, a strong political activist against bioengineering, voices his reasoning of why genetic engineering is actually more harmful to humans than helpful: "Little or no debate as taken place over the emergence of an entirely new technology that in time could very well pose as serious a threat to the existence of life on this planet as the bomb" (qtd. in Bach 23). Rifkin's ideology that humans will suffer from the results of genetic engineering contrast with the view of Eugene Kaji and Jeffrey Leiden who argue that "Gene and stem cell therapies hold promise for the treatment of a wide variety of inherited and acquired human disease," in the article "Gene and Stem Cell Therapies" (545). Rifkin believes that the human genetic engineering program will not only allow scientist to fix genetic defects but to also perfect humankind with no limits (Rifkin 26). He also explains how "we are more than willing to allow the rest of the living kingdom to fall under the shadow of the engineering scalpel, as long as it produces some concrete utilitarian benefit for us" (28). Rifkin disapproves of how bioengineering will allow people to change their identity, and to replace their original genes with designed replicas. Moreover, Rifkin's main stand for why bioengineering should be stopped is because there is no limit to science and the power that would be given to the engineers who conduct genetic procedures (29). President Carter received a letter from the National Council of Churches, the Synogogue Council of America, and the United States Catholic Conference about the dangers of allow engineers the ability to play God: "Those who would play God will be tempted as never before" (Rifkin qtd. Churches 28). Kaji and Leiden understand the concerns associated with gene and stem cell research, and therefore; assert that "gene and stem cell therapies be based on a solid foundation of basic scientific and animal experimentation and carried out with the highest medical and ethical standards" (Kaji and Leiden 550). Kaji and Leiden clarify their reasoning in the article, "Gene and Stem Cell Therapies." Despite these ethical issues, Kaji and Leiden emphasize the importance for stem and gene research by explaining how the therapies developed would enhance peoples' lives by curing genetic and acquired disorders (545). Within the stem cell research field, embryonic stem cell research is one of the most controversial issues due to the fact that fertilized eggs are destroyed, and the act of cloning is a part of this research (Juengst and Fossel 3181).

Eric Juengst and Michael Fossel rationalize the facts and ethics of embryonic stem cell research in the article "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cells- Now and Forever, Cells Without End." Embryonic cells are parts of a fertilized egg. Some believe that this fertilized egg is considered alive which means life begins at conception. Because of this belief, the destruction of embryonic cells coincides with murdering a human being (3181). This view causes opposition to the study of embryonic stem cell research which requires the process of destructing an embryo so that each stem cell can be studied. Juengst and Fossel makes a point that "Embryonic stem cells currently are collected from the primordial germ cells of embryos that have been aborted for unrelated reasons or from embryos that are left over from in vitro fertilization procedures and that otherwise would be destroyed" (3180). They emphasize the need for embryonic research by clarifying the repercussion of death due to genetic disorders if embryonic stem cell research was restricted: "If any individual would intentionally restrict the development of a life-saving therapy, then he/she must be willing to shoulder responsibility for the consequent deaths" (3181). They also explain that such medical therapy should be done ethically or else "the door may be open to even worse problems" (3182). One specific embryonic stem cell research deals with therapeutic cloning and human transplants. "Therapeutic cloning involves the transfer of the nucleus from one of the patient's cells into an enucleated donor oocyte for the purpose of making medically useful and immunologically compatible cells and tissues" (Lanza et .al 3180). This study would allow human transplants to be more compatible for patients. Despite this innovative and improved form of transplantation, there are many who oppose this procedure. Groups like the Catholic Church, mainline Protestant denominations, and the evangelicals favor organ donation (Hanford 50). They, however, do not necessarily favor cloned organ transplantation as noted earlier in Rifkin's article. These groups are not the only ones who are against embryonic stem cell research. David Ozar wrote the article, "Destroying Human Embryos is Immoral" which expresses the moral conditions of the controversial issue of embryonic stem cell research. He makes clear that "the 'the right to life' position…shall" be called the "'instant of conception' position" (126). Basically these terms means the following: the embryo has a right to live just like any human, and the embryo is considered a human at conception. Ozar personally feels that "the responsible parties have an obligation to preserve the frozen embryos in their frozen state until such time as they can no longer survive implantation" (129). He also believes that "implantation of unused embryos in women who volunteer to bear them" should be promoted by the public and that such women should be located when implantable embryos are available (129). David Ozar is not the only one who believes that human rights should extend into genetic engineering.

People in international organizations associated with bioethics respond to the new advancements of biomedical engineering by creating laws to protect human rights. Roberto Andorno presents information regarding this situation in the article "Biomedicine and International Human Rights Law: In Search of a Global Consensus." There are many international organizations that are trying to create biomedical principles dealing with human rights. The biomedical principles include prevention of human germ-line interventions and human reproductive cloning. The concept of protecting humans is more valuable than money and scientific gain is argued (960). The germ-line intervention allows people to choose what genes their offspring would have and would create the idealistic view "of 'good' and 'bad' human traits" (961). Human reproductive cloning research is done for the prospect of curing degenerative disease, but the ethical issue of destroying life is a concern (961). These organizations have made biomedical laws but it is unlikely that every organization of the world will accept it (962). According to Juenst and Fossel such a law would not be accepted because it would restrict the use of embryos. Rifkin and Ozar, on the other hand, would agree for such laws to be standard all around the world, because it would prevent scientist scientists and engineers from playing God over people's lives. Griffith and Grodzinsky have analyzed what would be accomplished through germ-line intervention and human reproductive cloning. They give details the pros to these studies, which would allow doctors "early prediction of onset of disease…Osteoarthritis might be detected just when cartilage degradation begins and before damage is irreversible; Alzheimer disease might be detected in early adulthood when it is believed lesions might first form and before cognitive decline…For Alzheimer disease, which lacks current therapeutic options, the impact of bioengineering will be extraordinary" (559, 561). The bioethical international organizations have stated their opinion of biomedical engineering through the laws they created, but religious people have their own opinion on the subject matter as well.

Many Protestant are anxious with the advancements that have been and will be made by biomedical engineers. Mark J. Hanson reveals the Protestant perspective of biomedical engineering in the article, "Indulging Anxiety: Human Enhancement from a Protestant Perspective." Hanson believes that there is difference in treating illness and enhancing human life: A "conceptual line between treatment of illness and enhancement of otherwise 'normal' traits, the effect of enhancement technologies over time is an ongoing process of redefining human traits and conditions" (125). Hanson makes clear the Protestant perspective regarding biomedical engineering with the following statements: "A Protestant perspective also recognizes that all aspects of human existence are, in certain respect, defective and in need of treatment. But in contrast, it affirms the inherent goodness of creation, and diagnoses the 'defects' in the human situation in terms of sin…It suggests that enhancement technologies and the values that motivate them must be approached with suspicion" (127). Further, Protestants believe that "the human being is created good and yet limited in body and spirit…These limitations are not evil…" (Hanson qtd. Niebuhr 127, 128). Moreover, to correct limitations like genetic defects is wrong, because God created humans that way: "Enhancing the human being in the image of such ideals of perfection is sin" (Hanson 130). The belief of Protestants against genetic enhancements treatments compare with the beliefs of Rifkin, Ozar, and other church groups. Rifkin and Ozar do not take a religious stand, but they believe that genetic engineering is a danger to humanity. Other authors like Griffith, Grodzinsky, Kaji, Leiden, Juengst, and Fossel would not necessarily fight against the Protestant perspective, but they would explain the benefits of genetic engineering. After all, everyone is entitled to their beliefs.

Everyone has different views towards genetic engineering, but two groups tend to develop: those that for and against genetic engineering. The Catholic, Protestant and other noted religious groups had based their stand according to their religion, which is against embryonic stem cell research. People like Rifkin and Ozar create their stand against genetic engineering on personal belief. Groups that are for the advancements of genetic engineering are groups that are highly educated in the field and wish to save lives with this science. This group can be represented by people like Griffith, Grodzinsky, Kaji, Leiden, Juengst, and Fossel. Every concern that has developed surrounding biomedical engineer is important, and must be analyzed by those who decide the fate of this discipline.

Works Cited

Andorno, Roberto. "Biomedicine and International Human Rights Law: In Search of a Global Consensus." Bulletin of the World Health Organization 80.12 (2002): 959-63.

Bach, Julie S., ed. Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Viewpoints. St. Paul: Greenhaven P., 1987.

Griffith, Linda G., and Alan J Grodzinsky. "Advances in Biomedical Engineering." JAMA 285.5 (2001): 556-61. Reprint.

Hanford, Jack. Bioethics from a Faith Perspective Ethics in Health Care for the Twenty- First Century. New York: Haworth P.-Haworth Pastoral P., 2002.

Hanson, Mark J. "Indulging Anxiety: Human Enhancement from a Protestant Perspective." Christian Bioethics 5.2 (1999): 121-38.

Juengst, Eric, and Michael Fossel. "The Ethics of Embryonic Stem Cells- Now and Forever, Cells without End." JAMA 284.24 (2000): 3180-184. Reprint.

Kaji, Eugene H., and Jeffrey M. Leiden. "Gene and Stem Cell Therapies." JAMA 285.5 (2001): 545-50. Reprint.

Lanza, Robert P., et al. "The Ethical Validity of Using Nuclear Transfer in Human Transplantation." JAMA 284.24 (2000): 3175-179.

Ozar, David T. "Destroying Human Embryos Is Immoral." Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. St. Paul: Greenhaven P., 1987. 121-29.

Rifkin, Jeremy. "Genetic Engineering May Threaten Humanity." Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Viewpoints. Ed. St. Paul: Greenhaven P., 1987. 23-9.

Search English Discourse
WWW English Discourse

Copyright notice: this page will hereafter be referred to as the essay/webpage. All rights to the essay/webpage are held by its author. You may hyperlink to the essay/webpage electronically and without notifying either English Discourse—the e-journal or the author of the essay/webpage, but hyperlinks are allowed only for non-commercial and educational use. The essay/webpage may not otherwise be reproduced in hard-copy, electronically, or any other form, unless the written permission of its author is obtained prior to such reproductions. If you do link to the essay/webpage, part of the text in the hyperlink must contain the words "English Discourse—the e-journal".

You may quote from the essay/webpage, but only if the author and English Discourse—the e-journal are unmistakably cited in parenthetical citations and works cited page, endnotes, footnotes, bibliography page, or references page citations.

You may not otherwise copy or transmit the contents of the essay/webpage either electronically or in hard copies. You may not alter the content of the essay/webpage in any manner. If you are interested in using the contents of the essay/webpage in any manner except as described above, please contact "webmaster" at "englishdiscourse.org" for information on publishing rights, and the editor will arrange contact between your organization and the author of the essay/webpage. English Discourse—the e-journal, suggests that such emails should include a subject heading that reads "editorial contact," or "publishing rights." English Discourse—the e-journal will not act as an agent or accept any fees. The essay/webpage is the intellectual property of its author, who retains sole rights. The author has merely granted permission for English Discourse—the e-journal to publish the essay/webpage.