The Instigator
Con (against)
7 Points
The Contender
Pro (for)
0 Points

Gene Therapy

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 10/22/2008 Category: Science
Updated: 8 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,983 times Debate No: 5779
Debate Rounds (5)
Comments (4)
Votes (2)




The Pro would be arguing the side

"It should be acceptable for parents planning on having a child to perform gene-selection upon embryos."


Thank you immensely for inviting me to this debate!

Firstly I feel I must point out that there is many potential different subjects for debate with the topic stated as "gene therapy". Since in the first post the statement is made: "it should be acceptable for parents planning on having a child to perform gene-selection upon embryos" I intend to take the topic to mean performing gene therapy on embryos.

There is a clear distinction between gene selection in embryos, and that of our topic- gene therapy in embryos. The first option is scientifically sound, and relatively ethically mute (another name for the technique is in vitro-fertilization), whereas our topic-gene therapy is much different. Gene therapy involves harvesting eggs, fertilizing them, raising them into embryos, then sequencing the genes of each embryo harvested. At this point gene selection ends because we simply choose the best (best is a subjective term- as is the choice) and then implant the embryo into the mother. Gene therapy (if it is our topic) involves taking the genetic sequence of the embryos and altering them before implanting them in the mother.
The potential results (I make no claim towards benefit or fault in any of these yet) of gene therapy are as follows:
1) Removal of diseases
2) Choice of gender
3) complete control over immediate genetic lineage
-(the following choices are unfounded in terms of the science- they are fantasy results)
4) Control of appearance of children- ranging from simply making them attractive to giving them animal parts
5) control over intelligence of offspring
6) control over sexuality of offspring

-One point I stress- that needs to be made clear is that any medical genetic technique (gene-selection, gene-therapy) can ever be used to control the entire genetic population. Both techniques are and will always be highly invasive and not popular in terms of actually having the procedure done. Undoubtedly the expensiveness- the limited amount of control that the techniques will actually give us, and the invasiveness (to the female body) will lead people to avoid using the techniques mainstream unless there is actual fear held by the parents (in terms of passing on genetic diseases).

By now I imagine you have might be confused as to the actual position where in stand, so I will clarify it:
Gene therapy, raises little ethical issue and thus should be an acceptable practice. We can say that Gene therapy is of little ethical significance because human and genetic biology imposes severe limits on what actually can be done with genes (remember the fantasy results). Secondly the cost, invasiveness, and limited amount of real results means that gene therapy would only ever get used on occasion, and would primarily be used to control genetic diseases. thus gene therapy should be acceptable.
Debate Round No. 1


symphonyofdissent forfeited this round.


Is there truly no argument here? Perhaps this is a clear demonstration of scientific illiteracy (or perhaps religious ignorance, but I imagine the former is more true)- regardless my position still stand firm.
Debate Round No. 2


Thank you for allowing me to post this argument and for agreeing to continue the round as a three round debate. Judges should ignore Round 2 and pretend that this is the start of the debate.

1) Gene therapy has much inherent danger

The danger inherent to Gene therapy is actually similar to that we find with vaccinations only much more extreme. Most gene therapy requires the use of vectors typically viral or bacterial. We are therefore exposing embryos or human replication lines to disease particles that are not actually inert as in the case of normal vaccination, but actually successful in infiltration and replication. Thus, even if we can successfully identify and change genetic traits, there is a risk associated with the conscious infection of embryos. We do not claim to fully understand viral mutations and their spreading of virulence factors. Indeed, we have seen by our attempts to eradicate disease that what often happens by our attempts is that viruses and bacteria become immune and even more deadly. Moreover, we know from viral behavior in diseases such as HIV/AIDS that viruses are very good at laying dormant for years. Gene Therapy has the potential to introduce new and immune disease that breed and grow through the vulnerable embryo. When parents are able to perform gene therapy on embryos, they are putting these embryos and the future children at unconscionable risk.

2) it is precisely because of the cost gradient associated with gene therapy that allowance of gene therapy would produce unimaginable and unjust social consequences.

Both sides agree that at least at first gene therapy would be so expensive as to prohibit mass utilization by many individuals. However, where we disagree is in the statement that such therapy would only be used for the curing of diseases and not for enhancement or social policy. I will tackle each of these in turn.

Enhancement- In society today we find that those with money are at an advantage in terms of social environment. However, we have to realize that when advantage comes from genetically bought distinctions, that we are in a completely different ballgame. When individuals have permanent and ingrained genetic advantages that if put into germ-line cells can be passed on to and enhanced in their offspring, we are at the dawn of a new era of super and subpar human beings. Advantage and advantageous traits can be bought and can create an irrepressible social hierarchy. Today those of various non-white races in America are at a disadvantage because they come of ethnic or racial groups that tend to offer worse social environments, in the future that could emerge from the allowance of the pro side, there could actually emerge a true bell curve based on the purchase of intelligence or other enhancements. Even small boosts such as increased testosterone production or other hormone production. Princeton Geneticist Lee Silver has written extensively on this topic. Silver in Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World, predicts that in 2350:
"The GenRich who account for the 10 percent of the American population all carry synthetic genes. Genes that were created in the laboratory...The GenRich are a modern-day hereditary class of genetic aristocrats...All aspects of the economy, the media, the entertainment industry, and the knowledge industry are controlled by members of the GenRich." (Silver 1997)

Social engineering- Even though it is unlikely that individuals could afford massive scale social engineering it is entirely possible that on a large scale interest groups could invest networks for cheap and reliable genetic engineering. Churches could use their vast pooling of resources in order to severely pressure parents to eliminate traits such as ones that may be identified that contribute to homosexuality. Look to what was done by the jewish community to pressure breeding to eliminate Tay-Sachs for a model for how this can work.

3) The race to the bottom/top in terms of what is truly normative.

The truth is that once a large portion of a population decides that one trait is desirable ( be it something like tallness or shortness), these traits become generally necessary for social advantage as well as the ability to attract mates and etc in terms of sexual selection. There is adverse pressure to race to the top in terms of the development of these outrageous traits. Imagine a society in which peacock tails are bought and in which only those with the best enchantments have chances to advancement. Even though a parents direct offspring can benefit from these traits, we are dealing with a situation in which as this becomes normative more and more alterations are needed in order to keep up with the status quo. Thus, it is similar to the leaders of a nation building bigger weapons and being sucked into a permanent and difficult to cease escalation and allocation of resources into weapon building. Cross apply what I said earlier about the potential risks for population wrecking diseases and you can see why this escalation and push for bigger and better enhancements can imperil mankind.

4) We have limited knowledge of what advantages diseases may bring.

Compounding all of this is our absolutely limited knowledge of how things we now view as deficient actually enhance our adaptability in many areas. For instance being a carrier of sickle cell genes gives immunity to Malaria which was very important in the African continent. When we eliminate diseases we can surely not be sure of what benefits and immunity we are destroying. Again, we could be letting in killer disease and destroying our immunity to them without realization.

5) Generational non-consent

When we change germ-lines we are permanently altering the destiny of future generations that we should not ethically be able to control. Most choices we make impact our direct offspring and future generation indirectly and give them control over their future. When we convert into a different religion for instance, we do this impacting our offspring but always giving them the chance in the future to undo or alter this choice. On the other hand germ-line therapy eliminates this ability.

6) Child's right to privacy

Since gene therapy must be done in labs there will be a record of all alterations done and those not chosen for the perusal of insurance companies, politicians, police and etc. This violates their integral right to privacy of their own genetic code.

There are a lot more arguments out there but I think these suffice for now.


Imagine you suffer from Cystic Fibrosis, the most common genetic disorder found in Caucasians. CF causes your lungs to fill with mucus- making breathing increasingly difficult. There is no way to stop this from happening because the disease is genetic. A person with CF either lacks, or has a slightly mutated version of the piece of chromosome required to create a specific amino acid- used to break down that mucusy build up in their lungs.
However gene therapy can fix it. First a sample of DNA is taken and sequenced. the strand of code containing the CF gene is then spliced and a healthy version of the gene is inserted into the strand. Then this healthy strand of DNA is put into an inert virus (similar to how a flu-shot works), and the virus is cloned. With CF the patient then simply breathes in this viral vector and the virus goes to work inserting the healthy DNA into the corrupt lung cells still carrying the CF DNA. Within a short period of time the virus has spread the healthy DNA throughout the lungs and proper amino acids begin to be produced. This is the potential of gene therapy, suffers of genetic disorders can be cured from their deliberating illnesses.

-Response to point (1):
I agree with my opponent on one small bit- that the current form of adult gene therapy is a relatively unstable process, involving some live risks. However I need to point out several key things. Firstly that the technology is in its infancy still- and as with any medical procedure the early techniques faced numerous problems. When heart transplants were first being performed in the late 60's a majority of the patients tended to die within the first 30 days. With the advancement of technology and technique some clinics like that of NZTI have had over a year of 100% success with heart transplants:
The same could be said for gene therapy. the Human Genome project (HGP) finished mapping the human genome in 2002- now the human Genome Diversity Project has got underway- with this they are attempting to realize the medical and social potential of the information learned from the HGP. Before the HGP only a handful of diseases were understood in terms of genetics (Cystic Fibrosis being one)- Since the HGP has bore fruit scientists have recognized over 500 genetic diseases, and the whereabouts of each of them. The diversity project will hopefully bring medical science into the fold and new technology and techniques will hopefully come to light. This means that gene-therapy is about to get a huge upgrade, and stands to become a hugely viable solution for people suffering from genetic dysfunction.
Also as for the current method of doing gene therapy, almost all viruses used for vectors are inert (no bacteria is used at-all, it is done with viral vectors- i point this out because you flop between saying virus and disease, large difference). The reason viral vectors are as follows:
* Safety: Although viral vectors are occasionally created from pathogenic viruses, they are modified in such a way as to minimize the risk of handling them. This usually involves the deletion of a part of the viral genome critical for viral replication. Such a virus can efficiently infect cells but, once the infection has taken place, requires a helper virus to provide the missing proteins for production of new virions.
* Low toxicity: The viral vector should have a minimal effect on the physiology of the cell it infects.
* Stability: Some viruses are genetically unstable and can rapidly rearrange their genomes. This is detrimental to predictability and reproducibility of the work conducted using a viral vector and is avoided in their design.
* Cell type specificity: Most viral vectors are engineered to infect as wide a range of cell types as possible. However, sometimes the opposite is preferred. The viral receptor can be modified to target the virus to a specific kind of cell.
As the list points out viral vectors are used for gene therapy because they are safe. You claimed that viral vectors could spread HIV/AIDS virus. This is impossible because the AIDS portion is removed and replaced with the healthy DNA the patient requires.
On your note about embryos- they need not be exposed to viral vectors at-all. To remove a genetic disease from an embryo we can simply either pick one that doesn't have a disease, or splice out the corrupted parts and splice in healthy ones in their place.

-Response to (2):
As stated above in time the technology involved in gene therapy will advance. These advancements will make gene therapy more and more cost-effective and also a more viable solution. I agree that if we abuse the technology it could be used by people in positions of advantage to further inequalities. However this is a nightmare situation- only possible in the United States. I'm in Canada where "socialized medicine" is the way, if something like gene therapy became available it would be available to everyone equally- not just elites, same as in Britain, France, China, India, Germany, Australia, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Netherlands, Singapore, Thailand, Cuba, and more. Health care for the rich is truly an home-grown American experience which has far bigger problems than gene therapy to deal with. As for third-world being left-behind, this is a slightly more possible problem. the major solution to such inequality would be an international effort, like what has been done with mumps, polio, whooping cough, small-pox- and with diseases that are currently being removed like malaria and guinea worm. There is no reason to believe that an medical team (doctors without borders, the red cross, ect...) couldn't go in and treat genetic diseases in the third world with safe and effective viral vectors.
You also mentioned Jewish groups attempting to stop Tay-Sachs (one of the most horrible and painful diseases ever- the infant lives in extreme pain until the age of 3). If gene therapy had been available that instance of eugenics performed by the Jewish community could have been averted completely.
You also mention the possibility of groups attempting to promote of remove a behavioral trait like homosexuality. This is an impossible scenario. First because behavior is linked heavily with environment- little of it is from genes (this is not nature vs. nurture- these are the facts):
"Despite publicized claims, no genetic variant has been shown conclusively to influence any of these (behaviour, sexual-orientation)" (Dr. Bob Hepple).
"Genes are very poor predictors of behaviour because behaviour is complex" (Dr Helen Wallace).
-sorry i lost the links....

-Response to point (3):
The problem you suggest in point 3 is a more social oriented view of what was suggested in point 2- abuse of gene therapy. Thus I promote my previous defense of why abuse is unlikely and limited.
Also, what is wrong with society placing a high value on the eradication of genetic disease?

-Response to point (4):
Perhaps when America has finally destroyed the atmosphere and earth is a toxic hell- people with Cystic Fibrosis will be the only people able to breathe. I apologize for the crude humor- anyways genetic diseases pose a threat right now- if we really believed that stopping disease whether through vaccination, surgery, gene therapy, anti-biotics, ect, would create a huge risk for the inception of new problems we would not bother curing cancer or AIDS. gene therapy in specific does not weaken the immune system as to promote disease susceptibility- all that is occurring is corrupt DNA is being replaced with healthy and properly operating versions of it. Although it is good to think about long-term consequences- being Nostradamus gets us nowhere. appears that i've ran out of word space.....I look forward to my opponents' response and the debate in the next round
Debate Round No. 3


Thanks for the response and for the vigorous debate thus far. I think I can very easily respond to most of your arguments, however.

So basically the only argument you make is that gene therapy can cure diseases. My argument is not that this is not true, but that even if it is true, it is something that both on a personal level and a societal level we should prohibit because despite potential benefits it is a dangerous field with lots of unintended social and scientific consequences. Many things that could potentially be beneficial on a scientific level such as private organ donation markets, for instance, are banned by our society and condemned specifically because of such negative externalities. When we consider whether a specific scientific endeavor is ethical and should be utilized, we can not ignore all of these external double effects and consideration.

Rebuilding my arguments

1) First of all, let me just take a couple of quotes from the wikipedia article on viral vectors my opponent quoted.

"Some viral vectors, for instance lentiviruses, insert their genomes at a seemingly random location on one of the host chromosomes, which can disturb the function of cellular genes and lead to cancer. In a severe combined immunodeficiency retroviral gene therapy trial conducted in 2002, two of the patients developed leukemia as a consequence of the treatment.[3]"

"Since humans commonly come in contact with adenoviruses, which cause respiratory, gastrointestinal and eye infections, they trigger a rapid immune response with potentially dangerous consequences"

While what my opponent says is true in that research in general advances and leads to safer technologies, that this is not necessarily true in this regard. Vaccines has been made "safe" over hundreds of years and yet we still have fears of contamination and the cause of diseases such as Down Syndrome. Viruses are even more tricky and difficult to understand and predict. Even if we understand our human genome fully, which is questionable, we certainly do not fully understand all of the potential harms viruses can cause. I mentioned HIV/AIDS not to say that viruses we are using for gene therapy could infect individuals with AIDS, but only to imply that viruses often insert themselves into the genome and do not express themselves for years or decades later. The other difference I mentioned between most treatment (including vaccines) and gene therapy is that with gene therapy using viral vectors we are actively letting viruses integrate into our genome and potentially insert other non related genes or make other alterations. Moreover, when we are using these viral vectors on vulnerable embryos that do not have reasonable immune systems built up yet, we are dealing with an even more problematic course of action.

2) First of all, if these harms come about in even one industrialized or third world country that should be enough to take away the legitimacy of this course of action. Especially, because what tends to happen with medical research is that once it is available anywhere those whom are rich and have money will be able to get the treatment. They can fly to the U.S and get treatment or to any other large monied country with looser safety standards.

While Homosexuality and other social traits certainly have environmental components there is also overwhelming evidence of a genetic component Moreover, Homosexuality is but a single example and you do nothing to deny my major point which is that interest groups can form that will use genetics as a wedge issue and as a way to terrorize individual that do not genetically conform.

3) The thing is that even if traits are complex, it is likely that as research advances we will be able to do many things that will effect human performance. Things such as alteration of telomere sequences can easily impact aging. We have the potential for limb or other forms of regeneration in our genome but that it lies inactive. Once these types of traits are expressed, we really will fine a race to overexpose such traits which will carry a heavy cost.

4) Actually, with the reemergence of old threats a constant in the world of bio terrorism, it is very likely that we fill find our current conditions may give us immunity in ways we could not predict. The truth is that stopping disease through our current methods is fundamentally different than altering the genetic sequence in the sense that our genetics is by the pro's own admission not fully understood and has many impacts we can not fathom on immunity. The pro is the one thinking like Nostradamus in that he is arguing that our actions can lead to all of these untold benefits. Con is the side of caution that says that we can not predict the impacts of our actions and so we should be weary and prohibit alterations that could lead to disastrous consequences.

5) Because my opponent does not get to respond to this point, he does not really debate with my on a philosophical level. While one has the right to impact ones own body and that of ones immediate offspring ( though only really while in the womb), what gene therapy also does is impact the lines of descendants down the line. You are denying your children and their children the right of genetic self expression and choice and imposing your own genetic vision down the line. This is morally unjustified

6) Moreover, as I said in my 6th point this puts your kids at risk for discrimination and problems. What you alter and do not will be recorded and this will compromise our right to genetic privacy. Once we allow this kind of gene therapy to exist in society we can say goodbye to any notion of privacy and our right to not know what lies in our genome. This point is also not responded to and I think pretty significant.

Gene Therapy has the potential to break down our notion of the individual and individual rights. Moreover, it has the potential to weaken our immune system, inject dangerous viruses into us while we are in our most vulnerable state, unintentionally remove viable and useful traits from our genome and ultimately eliminate notions of justice and equality at birth that form the basis of our great American nation. I am proud to oppose.


asyetundefined forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4


symphonyofdissent forfeited this round.


asyetundefined forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 5
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by Sedylitz 8 years ago
How did SymphonyofDissent WIN? he certainly shouldn't have!
Posted by symphonyofdissent 8 years ago
Are you still there?
Posted by asyetundefined 8 years ago
No problem!
Posted by symphonyofdissent 8 years ago
Sorry I've been really busy for the past few days.. I guess we can try to make this a 2 round debate instead. I will post tomorrow.
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Vote Placed by asyetundefined 8 years ago
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