When we refer to genetic engineering, we also include such things as cloning; xenotransplantation (the transplant of tissue from one type of organism to another); transgenics (the insertion of genetic material from one type of organism into another); directed molecular evolution (where scientists conduct multiple iterations of forced genetic mutation on various types of proteins, in an effort to get the proteins to evolve extremely rapidly, and, potentially, to produce something useful); the biotheft of genetic material; and the patenting of genetically-modified life.

“These are issues with great existential implications. It is immoral to steal life (it should be made criminal), and to manipulate it without its approval. Indeed, the latter is as bad as killing it.

This is actually the starting point for the analysis. While we have the ability - the power - to manipulate life, we do not have the right. Power does not imply or infer right! We do not have the right to manipulate other individuals and species, for any reason. The Supreme Court ruling in 1980 which allowed the patenting of life forms “made by the hand of man,” was an atrocious decision. It must be reversed.

It is worth noting that “anytime a government or corporation is ‘mapping the genome’ of a species, it means it is doing so to eventually manipulate the genetic make-up of that species.” (Militants Splice Animal Geneticists in Twin Cities, Earth First! Journal, September - October 2000, page 23)

As another example of such manipulation, we do not have the right to use other species as “living factories.” Currently, a number of species are being genetically modified and then used as organ or drug factories. In addition, “the animals are killed when their useful lives are over.” (Cures of the future are growing on 'pharms' today, Andrea Knox, Philadelphia Inquirer, June 4, 2000, bold added)

Is this what we want: to extend rather than reverse the carnivore “precedent,” and use it to justify what really does constitute a crime against nature?

Furthermore, not only is genetic engineering fundamentally unethical, it also entails the greatest of risks. And the first of these, regarding humans, is that it will degrade our species gene pool, which has actually already started with the development of effective medicines and vaccines. Such medicines and vaccines enable people to survive, including people with recessive genes who without them would be “selected” not to. Genetic engineering continues this trend, and likely will increase it, although in a different way. In “somatic cell gene therapy,” scientists convey genes into an individual’s blood supply, usually via genetically-engineered viruses. But in “germline gene therapy” (which has not yet been tried with humans - although it has been with monkeys) new genes are spliced into embryos, in the process completely replacing existing genes. Further organism development takes place with the duplication of these new genes. However, the genome is an ecology: most genes have multiple effects, and work together in numerous ways. And we are for the most part ignorant of this, of all of the effects of any particular gene. Therefore, if we change one gene, one part of the ecology, it is likely that there will be other changes as well, changes which (including through the effects of chaos) it will be impossible for us to predict.

We do not know what the long-term consequences of such degradation of our gene pool will be. (Such scientists and corporations are gambling, for their own ends, with our species survivability.)

In addition, all of the hype notwithstanding, research efforts at gene therapy have not lived up to their expectations. For instance, effective delivery mechanisms have not been developed. For somatic cell gene therapy to work, scientists “have to deliver enough healthy genes, one billion or more, to the appropriate spot and get them to stay there long enough to alleviate the disease.” Also, “an NIH committee [National Institutes of Health] set up to review gene therapy concluded that problems remain in all basic areas of the technology.” (Wall Street Journal, October 27, 1999)

Progressing from decoding the genome and understanding some of the functions of some of our genes to developing effective gene therapies for a variety of illnesses will likely be as difficult as moving from putting a person on the Moon to sending someone to Mars.

And then, even if such problems can be solved, there is the consequence of genetic engineering leading to eugenics, the purposeful design of humans, and cloning. Such designs, either “positive” (to improve certain characteristics) or “negative” (to eliminate undesirable traits), will fail. We will not get it right. And this will have catastrophic consequences, starting with the individuals involved. For example, consider cloned humans: it is likely that a high percentage of such individuals would commit suicide. And the reason for this is the issue of personal identity. It is already hard enough trying to think of yourself as being original, much less unique, and having personal value. Think of the problem that would be faced by a clone: you are not yourself; you’re someone else!

In any case, we already have cloning. That’s what happens when form is so strong that stereotypes become accurate. The question is: do we want more?

Also, it is not only clones. Children who receive germline gene therapy will be “born” in test tubes: no sex will be involved. And they will not have parents in the traditional sense: they will not receive a complete set of their parent's DNA. The overall consequence of this is that people will become manufactured “things.” It will be the death of parenthood and individuality, and the creation of a new determinism: a new barrier to free will.

The unethical basis of genetic engineering, not to mention its uncertainties and guaranteed negative outcomes, makes it clear that it must be opposed, although given conditions as they now stand, with corporations in a seemingly invincible position (who is going to police their labs?), it may well be a losing battle.” (FFF, Society)

This is why we need government action - now: laws enacted banning genetic engineering, cloning, other such technologies, and the patenting of life, in all of the countries of the world.

Another perspective from which genetic engineering can and should be attacked is with products, such as foods - from seeds to consumables - which are altered via transgenics. “Genes are inserted, actually substituted - some original genes are lost in the process - to enhance some aspect of the food, such as its resistance to insects or its shelf life. But the consequences of transgenics are largely unknown. Monsanto, which is one of the largest suppliers of genetically-modified food, says the risks are small, but should we believe them? Research has shown that many risks do in fact exist, such as of us absorbing some of these alien genes, but in most cases we are uncertain of their magnitude. Monsanto, in effect, is telling us to take a bet, for a short-term gain, and their profit, and to ignore any long-term consequences. But we have heard this (and are still suffering from it) many times before.

Some of the risks that have been identified for genetically-engineered products include:

- Inadequate screening: as has been demonstrated with Aventis' StarLink corn, genetically-engineered products which are not meant for human consumption are inadequately segregated, such that they are used in food. (This shows that the food industry is unable to screen its products for genetically-modified ingredients, and it also highlights the need for labeling.)

- Reduced nutritional content: genetic modification causes some plants to lose part of their nutritional value.

- Allergic reactions: people may be allergic to the genes which are spliced in. (In 1989, thirty-seven people died from allergic reactions after taking a genetically-engineered drug.)

- Antibiotic resistance: the addition of certain antibiotic “marker” genes can cause some bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics.

- The destruction of small-scale farming. “Genetic engineering promotes large-scale agriculture and monoculture. This leads to further industrialization and export orientation of agriculture.” (From an anti-genetix communiqué, Earth First! Journal, September-October 2000)

- Superweeds and superpests: crops which have genes added making them resistant to herbicides can cross-pollinate with wild plants, creating superweeds. Also, crops with resistance to pesticides can prove to be only a temporary fix: insects may adapt to the pesticides and thence to the plants, becoming superpests. (This will also increase the need for pesticide usage, and hence a rise in environmental residues.)

- Trojan genes: as with plants, wild animal females may mate with genetically-altered males, with the consequence that their offspring are unable to survive and the wild population is extirpated. Such an effect is anticipated if genetically-engineered salmon are released into the ocean. (Chaos theory demonstrates that if genetically-engineered salmon are commercially-farmed, such a release is inevitable.)

- Genetic pollution: such effects, as well as the consequences of “terminator seeds” (seeds which grow plants which themselves are unable to produce seeds which can germinate - farmers must buy new seeds each growing season), lead to the elimination of native plant varieties, other wild plant species, the insects and birds which are dependent on these plants, and the animals higher up the food chain which are dependent on them. As an example of this, Monarch butterflies are killed by the pollen of genetically-modified corn.

- Broader ecological effects: genetic engineering is not a tightly controlled process. For example, there are frequent post-recombinant mutations, the consequences of which are impossible to predict. Moreover, through our understanding of ecology, and chaos, we know that there have to be additional, unexpected changes, and also that some of these changes will be destructive. In summary, there is no way to anticipate what the overall effects, on human health, and species biodiversity, will be.” (FFF, Corporate Activism)


© Roland O. Watson 2001-3