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The Dope on Genetic Enhancement

Photo By tableatny (BXP135671) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Gene doping.  Many moral, legal, and emotional arguments have surrounded gene doping, also known as genetic enhancement, but is it really the “right thing” to do? There is no doubt that geneticists are seeing dramatic progress within genetic identification and research, but many people are fearful of that progress. Natural law suggests we should not tamper with the Creator’s plan. Others fear that genetic enhancement “limits children’s autonomy to shape their own destinies,” “perpetuates discrimination against the disabled and the ‘genetically unfit,'” and “will lead to vast social inequalities.”1 Still others within the sports realm argue that genetic enhancement is synonymous with performance enhancing drugs, and must be disallowed.

In actuality, genetic enhancement has the potential to serve many positive purposes. Genetic enhancement at the germ level could actually be used to cure diseases and prevent birth defects. These genetic enhancements would be transferred to each new generation, leading future generations to be free from diseases and disabling deformities, leading to both a higher quality of life, reduced stresses on an already burdened healthcare delivery system, and elimination of discrimination against the “disabled and ‘genetically unfit’.” Of course there are other extrinsic and intrinsic factors influencing health, but genetic enhancement would certainly impact health for future generations.

As for sport use, many would say that genetic enhancement should not be used, that it is no different than using performance enhancing drugs which, when used, simply give an unfair advantage to the athlete. They could refer to legends such as Babe Ruth and Larry Bird, setting standards and records without the known use of performance enhancing drugs or gene enhancement. They most likely would also say that the use of genetic enhancement would forever change the sport. In all actuality, genetic enhancement at the somatic level could possibly lead to faster healing and improved outcomes for injuries and diseases related to sports.

Athletes subject their bodies to huge amounts of physical abuse, shortening their career potential. Aiding in the healing of trauma and contusions, genetic enhancement could lengthen a player’s career. When comparing the use of gene enhancement to that of using performance-enhancing drugs, there is actually a stark difference. At the most basic level, the risks of performance-enhancing drugs related to stroke, heart disease, and cancer far diminishes the benefits of using these drugs, and these drugs are illegal in many countries. As for the sport, genetic enhancement could change the sport. Players would become similar in size and abilities, and games should become more competitive. Standouts would be less likely, players would be relatively equal physically, and the sport should become more competitive due to greater equality, and most likely more dependent on skillful management of talent and strategies.

Should gene enhancement be banned as unethical? To argue that it simply gives one group more of an advantage over another group, or to argue that it is unfair because it will not be accessible to all is more of an emotional rather than ethical argument. People are already born short or tall, thin or heavy, black or white, man or woman, fully functioning or otherwise disabled. While a physical or mental advantage can be gained from genetic enhancement, the playing field is already unfair with the way we are created, and genetic enhancement is only one small factor within what may be deemed as “unfair” in the world.

Does the possibility exist that genetic enhancement could be exploited in an unethical way? Of course; Remember that TNT was originally developed as a yellow fabric dye; sarin gas was originally used as an insecticide to help fight hunger; nuclear fusion, and incredible power source, was used to destroy two major cities in Japan. As with any developing technology, the ethical dilemmas lie truly within the ones who control the technology. Genetic enhancement will be no different, but that should not cripple the research that may eradicate diseases and defects, speed healing, and allow for increased quality of life.

1Arguing For and Against Genetic Engineering. (2007). Stanford Review. Retrieved 27 February 2017, from https://stanfordreview.org/arguing-for-and-against-genetic-engineering-f749e3942061#.7grpz4tyh

By John Carmichael, LPN

John Carmichael is a Licensed Practical Nurse, Student Advisor, and semi-competitive bicyclist and obstacle course racer who writes a human interest blog related to living with Parkinson’s disease. He is a decorated Army combat veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm and recipient of the Bronze Star Medal. You can view his blog at https://justbejcarmichael.wordpress.com/.

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