Technoethics in Healthcare
As society progresses at an ever-increasing rate, companies focus their time and resources on staying just one step ahead of the competition through better, more effective products that solve every problem from foot pain to skincare. However, with the rise of new technology comes the inevitable ethical questions about future technology, particularly in regards to impactful industries like healthcare.
Given the increasingly large social impacts of new technology like CRISPR-Cas9, this article provides a broad overview of ethical dilemmas regarding future development through this example. The CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats)-Cas9 (CRISPR-associated protein 9) system is a relatively new breakthrough in technology that enables the precise modification of genomes (sections of DNA). The potential medical applications of this promising technology are seemingly limitless; proven in clinical trials around the world, it helps in the prevention and treatment of numerous human diseases ranging from cystic fibrosis and haemophilia to more complex diseases like cancer and
HIV infection. The controversy lies in the DNA-editing capacity of CRISPR-Cas9. Due to the limitations of CRISPR research, there are concerns about possible side-effects of the technology. For example, issues like incomplete editing or inaccuracy have considerable consequences, especially with the modification of key germline cells (egg or sperm cells) as potentially undesirable traits can be passed down through countless future generations. In light of this, current government regulation in most countries limits the application of this technology to somatic cells, all cells other than the aforementioned egg and sperm cells. In other words, this means that the changes introduced with genome editing are made only to specific tissues and will not be passed down from generation to generation. This being said, however, expanding the application of CRISPR-Cas9 to such cells could actually open many doors in biomedicine to offer quick and inexpensive–relative to current medicine–cures to diseases; as such, are the benefits worth the risk of altering these genes?
Furthermore, another major controversy surrounding CRISPR-Cas9
emerges from its application and experimentation on human embryos. Despite being at such an early stage of development, are embryos considered human in the sense that they should not be subject to experimentation? Do such semi-formed humans hold the same moral rights as a human? These questions are essential and relevant in the scientific community today as further development of CRISPR-Cas9 relies heavily on experimentation on human embryos. Ultimately, do the potential advantages of altering the genes of embryos outweigh the moral cost of experimenting on embryos?
Indeed, similar ethical dilemmas are echoed in countless more developing technologies at smaller scales. From issues of privacy with personal health monitoring to the dangers of self-driving cars, there is much to consider in the Age of Technology as we strive to perfect every aspect of our lives.
Author: Suki Yeung, Canada