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Reprogenetics and the Ethics of Genetic Modification

Question:

Discuss about the Reprogenetics and Social Inequality.

Reprogenetics is the discipline that combines genetic and reproductive technologies to allow modifications to the embryonic genome with the intent of inducing enhancements. It can also be understood as a technology that allows the development, use, modification and storage of embryos and gametes. Reprogenetics involves developments in different types of technologies, such as technologies that interprets the different expressions of DNA, harvesting embryos, identification and patenting of genes, designing genes and making clones as well as screening for certain genes (de Melo-Martín and Inmaculada). These technologies can facilitate modifications of the human genome at the fetal stage, inducing ‘controlled’ changes, and can be even used to eradicate disease genes being transmitted to the children. However, such technology also draws significant amount of controversy, and debate on its ethical use. Critics have analyzed the social issues raised by reprogenetics. Knowles, Lori and Gregory (2007) have pointed out that eugenics is the central concern for reprogenetics. Even the modification of the human genome to treat disease or to enhance mental of physical attributes of human is a slippery slope. Many skeptics believe that adaption through random mutation is a long process of evolution through natural selection, and incorporating artificial changes in the genome can only disrupt the natural mechanism of accumulation of changes, and can cause inadvertent results. Similar opinions have been voiced by most of the opponents of Genetically Modified Organisms or GMOs used as crops (Klümper et al.). Critics also believe that modifying the genome of the fetus entails an unacceptable risk of a distorted parent child relation and can exerbate social inequalities. More importantly, many see the focus of reprogenetics in the enhancement of human attributes as a form of eugenics itself.


Even though scientific technologies of reprogenetics have allowed new ways of managing human fertility and create families, and also have helped many to grow their families, such technology can also lead to class and gender inequality (Jarman). According to Billups (2016), in-vitro fertilization and surrogacy procedures are rather very expensive and not easily available for everyone across their socioeconomic backgrounds. Thus, the framing of infertility is done as an individual problem instead of it being related to the structural constrains or existing socioeconomic inequalities faced by the individuals, and places stigma on the childless woman. Even though such factors have led to the subsequent development in the market for assisted reproductive technologies and the science for freezing and storage of gametes have allowed the development of sperm banks, the process of recruitment and marketing of their services are different between men and women, as the women are more likely to be recruited to provide an ‘altruistic service’ donating their eggs to infertile women, and the egg bangs have been known to capitalize on the social construct of egg donation as a type of gift exchange. Due to this, there has been a higher participation of women compared to men in such type of service, even though for males, this technique is far less invasive. These points out towards an inequality in the services expected from the male and female gender, and underlie a possible patriarchal undertone (Billups). Similarly, the latest advantages of the technological developments in cloning, stem cell research and genetic screening are also very expensive, and its services are only available to the highest bidders. This implies that such technologies will remain out of access for individuals from socioeconomic disadvantaged positions. Critiques have argued that such aspects will further shift the focus on science on eugenics. Eugenics has been considered as a cause of human differentiation and discrimination. As several proponents of eugenics supports the superiority of one race over the other, the technology of reprogenetics may actually provide the tools to see such inequalities to fruition. The concept of ‘positive eugenics’ where individuals who are marked as ‘superior’ will be encouraged to have more children, while the concept of ‘negative eugenics’ where individuals deemed ‘inferior’ will be discouraged to do the same. As was exhibited by the atrocious acts of the Nazi Germany where 350,000 people were sterilized to prevent them from procreating, shows how the slippery slope of eugenics might lead to gross violations of human rights, and can potentially perpetuate the social, cultural and economic inequalities, already existing in our societies and further the gap between the classes (Shalev). The technology of cloning also raises the question whether, availability of this technology to the public can lead to this being used more by a particular segment of the public, and cause a particular group or groups to make clones of themselves and increasing their chances of perpetuation, and allow children to be born with inborn talents, creating a cohort of ‘super citizens’. In addition of this being disruptive to the nature-nurture interplay, can greatly increase the socioeconomic divide based on the access towards these new and expensive technologies (Islam and MdMonirul).

Reprogenetics and Inequality

With the advent of technology, the ability of humans to send and receive messages have been greatly enhanced. With the latest phase of the continued revolution in communication technologies in the form of internet, mobile phones and social media, the ways we communicate now has been greatly reshaped (Qureshi). However, with such advances also came few challenges and problems, borne out of the effects of these new technologies on our society. For example, the free flow of information that forms the basis of our communication also exposes an inherent risk of the information landing in the wrong hands, and being misutilised, and raises concerns about the security of the information. Such concerns are graver still in context to sensitive information like personal data or intellectual property, and also towards an inequality in the access of the data. These aspects increases the risks of increasing the divide among people, exposes people to the risks of cyber bullying and blackmailing and pose a significant challenge in the management, monitoring and filtering of all the information flowing in these communication media (Hall et al.). The internet was initially developed as an experimental network by the US Department of Defense’s Advanced Project Research Agency (DARPA), initially called the ARPANET, which connected a limited number of computers to allow sharing of information between them (Michael). The span of the computer network further increased with the advent of communication protocols such as Transmission Control Program and Internet Protocol. The internet fully developed with the breakthrough by CERN which allowed computers to access information on the network through hypertext transfer protocol (http) and the later development of the World Wide Web (Segal). And internet has seen massive growth since its early beginning, with only 623 website, to the present times having over a billion sites, a number which nearly doubles every 5 years. This development have far outpaced other forms of communication (like radio broadcasting), involving billions of people by 2015 (Curran). With the growing popularity of the internet, platforms like the social media also became popular. As a result of which companies like Facebook, Linked In, Twitter has millions of subscribers across the globe. These platforms have allowed individuals to communicate seamlessly with a potentially unlimited number of people, and use the vast user base of these platforms to broadcast messages (Perrin). The open access nature of these platforms, and the free flow of information of the users of the platform have also materialized acts of cyber bullying and hacking, resulting in the theft of personal information, impersonation and fraud, spamming of sites and cyber attacks (Olweus). This shows the potential benefits as well as liabilities imposed by these platforms on the individual users. These platforms (internet and social media) have allowed individuals to connect on the basis of common interests, work relations and political agendas, completely bypassing the geographical gap (Perrin). However, this has also resulted in the person-to-person relationships to be undermined, making it easy for the digital relationships to take precedence over the physical ones. The technological development has also made up more dependent on them, due to their ability to give ‘constant companionship’. This have also instilled in us a belief that out opinions will be constantly heard (creating an illusion of out centrality), and we have the freedom to invest our attention wherever we want (creating an illusion of freedom) and that we will never be alone (giving us an illusion of company). Such aspects have led to online relations slowly replacing the old face-to-face relations (Rainie et al.). However, the most affected aspects of the new advancements of communication have resulted in lesser time being spent on physical activities, sleeping or eating (Cs.stanford.edu). Few critiques have argued that social media and the internet did not lead to a reduction in our social life, but made them more intense and much larger. The advancement in mobile technology, with smart phones and GPS, being connected to the internet and social media has become even the easier. It have helped individuals to stay in touch with others across geographical and political boundaries, and maintain family ties and even helped in the providence of medical assistance. In many countries, mobile phone users are able to use the communication technology breakthroughs to save money, transfer funds, make payments and manage their finances. One very significant involvement of the social media and internet in our society is the indolent of these platform and technologies in various social movements. These tools have been used to promote stability in a society as well as to undermine existing ones based on strengthening the relationships between individuals. It has allowed individual grievances to be snowballed into mass movements, and have allowed the voice of many to be heard across all social, political and economic boundaries. Incidents like the Arab Springs of 2011 have shown how social media can also act as a platform for free journalism, overcoming oppressive regimes and sold out or distorted media, allowing the public voice to be heard (Aouragh). At the same time, these technologies can be turned against its own users, allowing strategic divides to be implemented, preventing the free flow of information and bypass ‘net neutrality’ as seen with the system of ‘great firewall of china’(Shen; Castells).

Challenges of Communication Technologies

Technological progress can lead to social progress is considered as a popular view. This is particularly prevalent among individuals in the government and those with heavy investment in technology, however is hardly justified by them (Goldman). However, few critiques think that such progress mostly benefits only those who promotes these advancements, such as large corporations who heavily invests in advertising campaigns and also to encourage the governments to promote this message to the masses. Some governments can also benefit through the technological advancements, giving them the edge over other nations, as was in case of the US during the early developmental stages of information technology (Nolan). The relation of technological advancements with social progress can be analyzed by first understanding what social progress is. As per Theodore Roszack, ideal progress is characterized by improvements in the quality of life instead of the quantity of goods (Roszak). The social progress on account of the technological advancements is mostly in the forms of an increase in leisure time, possibility of cleaner environment, availability of better education and healthcare, reduction in unemployment, reduction in crime and more equal standards of living for everyone in the society (Crowley; Panayotou). However, such aspects can also be considered to be affected by human effort and political change, rather than just being the products of technological advancements. In the last two centuries, technology has played crucial role in the society. From the early invention of the industrial age, in the form of steam engine to the developments in computing technology in the form of microprocessor chips technology has travelled a long way (Hakansson). Since then our societies have also be greatly reshaped, partly due to the new advancements of technology as well as due to influences which are unrelated to technology. Technology has been implicated with an increase in the levels of consumption and the growth of wealth in the developed world by some critiques (Nolan).

On the plus side, advancements in technology have allowed several benefits such as increasing accessibility to educational and recreational material in the form of printed and digital media and materials, and technological advances such as the internet and mobile communication have provided opportunities for individuals to exchange ideas, debate with each other, share/contradict their viewpoints and even organize around political agendas (Parasuraman). Moreover, technology have also allowed us to be free of menial duties such washing clothes or dishes, or reduced the use of shovels or picks through the usage of machineries (David). At the same time, processes such as storing and preparation of food have become easier and less time consuming than it used to be before. This have resulted us being left with more time on our hands, which we can utilize for more constructive purposes. Automation of processes have aloe allowed risky and difficult tasks to be done with minimal human involvement, thereby increasing the safety of the workers, as well as increasing the reliability of the work (done by machines). Immense advances in healthcare was also made possible by the advances in communication and diagnostic and treatment techniques (Øvretveit)

Advantages of Communication Technologies

The disadvantages of technological show certain darker sides of the progress. Technological advancements in warfare have resulted in the development of destructive weapons, with devastating potential. Even the advancements in the automobile industry, which allowed automobiles to be move at ever faster speeds, have greatly increased the number of fatalities due to accidents and injuries (Sachs). This highlights the potential burden of these technological advancements on human lives. Another aspect can be drawn from advancements in chemistry and chemical manufacturing, which have been used in the production of synthetic addictive drugs such as Crystal Meth, which ruins millions of lives globally (Kish).

It is important therefore to handle technological advancements with utmost care, as the same advancements which can be used to benefit society can be used as a source to inflict immense harm. Two significant examples of such advancement are the development of the first dynamite and the first theoretical explanation for the conversion of mass into energy. The dynamite developed by Sir Alfred Nobel, was intended to help humans move the immovable objects, allowing the construction of human civilization, but has also been used extensively as a weapon of destruction (Fant). Similarly, Einstein’s E=MC2 was aimed to provide a potentially unlimited source of energy to power humankind, but have been used to develop the nuclear bomb (Bodanis).

However, despite the several potential darker sides that have resulted with the advancements of technology, it has the potential of changing our society as well as our ways of live in a significant manner. Increased automation of our jobs have resulted us having more leisure time, which we have used for other activities. This has significantly contributed the development of art, as well as further breakthroughs in science, knowledge and technologies. The potential of technology to shape our society is now higher than ever before, as we see a continued development in the process of transmission of information which has allowed us to be connected in a way we never experienced before. Advancements in computing technologies have given us the power to accurately predict the weather, or diagnose diseases, thereby improving and increasing human lifespan. Such aspects are bound to affect the very nature of our social structures at the most fundamental levels.

References:

Aouragh, Miriyam. "Social media, mediation and the Arab revolutions." Marx in the Age of Digital Capitalism (2016): 482-515.

Billups, Sarah Catherine. "Reproductive Technologies And Social Inequality - There's Research On That". Thesocietypages.Org, 2016, https://thesocietypages.org/trot/2016/11/03/reproductive-technologies-and-social-inequality/. Accessed 15 Apr 2018.

Social Progress and Technological Progress

Bodanis, David. E= mc2: A biography of the world's most famous equation. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2005.

Castells, Manuel. Networks of outrage and hope: Social movements in the Internet age. John Wiley & Sons, 2015.

Crowley, David, and Paul Heyer. Communication in history: Technology, culture, society. Routledge, 2015.

Cs.stanford.edu. "Stanford SIQSS Study". Cs.Stanford.Edu, 2018, https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs201/projects/personal-lives/stanford.html. Accessed 15 Apr 2018.

Curran, James, Natalie Fenton, and Des Freedman. Misunderstanding the internet. Routledge, 2016.

David, H. "Why are there still so many jobs? The history and future of workplace automation." Journal of Economic Perspectives 29.3 (2015): 3-30.

de Melo-Martín, Inmaculada. Rethinking Reprogenetics: Enhancing Ethical Analyses of Reprogenetic Technologies. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Fant, Kenne. Alfred Nobel: a biography. Arcade Publishing, 2006.

Goldman, Steven L., ed. Science, technology, and social progress. Vol. 2. Lehigh University Press, 1989.

Hakansson, Hakan, ed. Industrial Technological Development (Routledge Revivals): A Network Approach. Routledge, 2015.

Hall, Joseph L., and Deven McGraw. "For telehealth to succeed, privacy and security risks must be identified and addressed." Health Affairs 33.2 (2014): 216-221.

Islam, Md Monirul. "Posthumanism: Through the Postcolonial Lens." Critical Posthumanism and Planetary Futures. Springer, New Delhi, 2016. 115-129.

Jarman, Michelle. "Relations of abortion: crip approaches to reproductive justice." Feminist Formations 27.1 (2015): 46-66.

Kish, Stephen J. "Pharmacologic mechanisms of crystal meth." Canadian Medical Association Journal 178.13 (2008): 1679-1682.

Klümper, Wilhelm, and Matin Qaim. "A meta-analysis of the impacts of genetically modified crops." PloS one 9.11 (2014): e111629.

Knowles, Lori P., and Gregory E. Kaebnick, eds. Reprogenetics: Law, policy, and ethical issues. JHU Press, 2007.

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Nolan, Laura. "The Belief That Technological Progress Leads To Social Progress". Scss.Tcd.Ie, 2018, https://www.scss.tcd.ie/~tangney/ComputersAndSociety/99/StdPapers/P2-Popular/ln.html. Accessed 15 Apr 2018.

Olweus, Dan. "Cyber Bullying." Aggression and Violence: A Social Psychological Perspective (2016): 225.

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Panayotou, Theodore. "Economic growth and the environment." The environment in anthropology (2016): 140-148.

Parasuraman, Raja, Thomas B. Sheridan, and Christopher D. Wickens. "A model for types and levels of human interaction with automation." IEEE Transactions on systems, man, and cybernetics-Part A: Systems and Humans 30.3 (2000): 286-297.

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