Need help to critically assess arguments relevant to bioethics topics.


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Assignment: Read CAREFULLY the attached article by John
Harris, and analyze it as follows:
Your paper should have two parts. In part ONE briefly lay
out the main argument of the text as you did in assignment one. In part TWO,
choose one or two of the author’s major claim(s). Subject it/them to critical
analysis and offer a well-reasoned and well-supported set of objections (but
not a complete counterargument). What problems (if any) do you see in the
author’s argument(s)? What assumptions is he making? Are these questionable or
problematic? Are the conclusions compelling? Satisfying? Problematic? Why or
why not?
REMINDER: this is NOT a research assignment. You do not need
to (and SHOULD NOT) bring in any outside texts or resources. However, because
Harris does not provide complete details about the technique in question, you
may find useful background here:
Papers should be 12 pt font, double-spaced and approximately
2 pages in length, 1-inch margins. Your name should be included at the top of
the first page. There is no need to cite the Harris article except if you quote
from it.
In order to complete this assignment, it may be helpful to
employ a template for critical analysis. Brief templates are available at
Evaluation: Assessment will be based on
(1) Accuracy of interpretation/evidence of understanding,
(2) Clarity of expression,
(3) Quality of critical analysis.

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Why human gene editing must not be stopped | Science | The Guardian
2/29/16, 2:29 PM
Why human gene editing must not be stopped
John Harris
The concludes tomorrow. This is why they must agree to allow scientists to pursue work on
human DNA
John Harris is Professor Emeritus in
Science Ethics, University of
Wednesday 2 December 2015 11.37 EST
n international summit on human gene editing is underway in Washington DC.
Scientists and other specialists, myself among them, are gathered here to discuss the
potential of powerful new technologies to make changes to human DNA. A major
question for those attending is whether gene editing of human embryos for therapeutic
reasons should be on the table or categorically ruled out.
All of us need gene editing to be pursued, and if possible, made safe enough to use in humans.
Not only to pave the way for procedures on adult tissues, but to keep open the possibility of
using gene editing to protect embryos from susceptibility to major diseases and prevent other
debilitating genetic conditions from being passed on through them to future generations.
Objections to gene editing in embryos are centred on three fallacious objections. The first is
that gene editing is wrong because it affects future generations, the argument being that the
human germline is sacred and inviolable. The second is that it constitutes an unacceptable risk
to future generations. Third, that the inability to obtain the consent of those future generations
means we must not use gene editing.
We should be clear that there is no precautionary approach; just as justice delayed is justice
denied, so therapy delayed is therapy denied.
Unesco (in their Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights) absurdly
endorses the notion of the preservation of the human genome as common heritage of
humanity. Likewise, the Oviedo Convention provides Article 13, which states: “An
intervention seeking to modify the human genome may only be undertaken for preventive,
diagnostic or therapeutic purposes and only if its aim is not to introduce any modification in
the genome of any descendants.”
Page 1 of 3
Why human gene editing must not be stopped | Science | The Guardian
2/29/16, 2:29 PM
How any such modification could be made without having the aim of introducing
“modification in the genome of any descendants” the Council of Europe does not explain.
Sensibly, neither the UK nor Germany have signed up to this nonsense (nor has the US) and
many other states have severe reservations. Many objections to germline interventions
emphasise that such interventions are objectionable in that they affect “generations down the
line”. But this is true not only of all assisted reproductive technologies, but of all reproduction
of any kind.
Every year an estimated 7.9 million children – 6% of total births worldwide – are born with a
serious birth defect of genetic or partially genetic origin. Had sexual reproduction been
invented by scientists rather than resulting from our evolved biology, it would never have
been licensed – far too dangerous!
If the appropriate benchmark for permissible risk of harm to future generations is sexual
reproduction, other germline-changing techniques would need to demonstrate severe
foreseeable dangers to fail.
In his statement on gene-editing in human embryos, Francis S. Collins, director of the National
Institutes of Health stated: “The strong arguments against engaging in this activity remain …
These include the serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering
the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent.”
“Serious and unquantifiable” safety issues feature in all new technologies but consent is
simply irrelevant for the simple and sufficient reason that there are no relevant people in
existence capable of either giving or withholding consent to these sorts of changes in their own
germline. We all have to make decisions for future people without considering their inevitably
absent consent. All would- be/might-be parents take numerous decisions about issues that
might affect their future children.They do this all the time without thinking about consent of
the children.
So far from “absence of consent” being a reason NOT to make decisions for future persons it is
THE reason we must make such decisions – we cannot help doing so. The moral imperative
here is to make the right decisions.
Notice that those who raise issues of consent in relation to non-existent beings, or indeed in
relation to beings incapable of consent, only do so in circumstances when they wish to claim
that the relevant children would not, or should not, have consented rather than the reverse,
and therefore that those potential children should not be, or have been, born.
If there is a discernible duty here it is surely to create the best possible child. That is what it is
to act for the best, all things considered. This we have moral reasons to do; but they are not
necessarily overriding reasons.
Steven Hawking initially predicted that we might have about 7.6 billion years to go before the
Page 2 of 3
Why human gene editing must not be stopped | Science | The Guardian
2/29/16, 2:29 PM
Earth gives up on us; he recently revised his position in relation to the Earth’s continuing
habitability as opposed to its physical survival: “We must also continue to go into space for the
future of humanity,” he said recently. “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years
without escaping beyond our fragile planet.”
We will at some point have to escape both beyond our fragile planet and our fragile nature. One
way to enhance our capacity to do both these things is by improving on human nature where
we can do so in ways that are “safe enough”. What we all have an inescapable moral duty to do
is to continue with scientific investigation of gene editing techniques to the point at which we
can make a rational choice. We must not stop now.
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