Morality and the Human Genome Project


Does the Human Genome Project affect the moral standards of society? Can
the information produced by it become a beneficial asset or a moral evil? For
example, in a genetic race or class distinction the use of the X chromosome
markers can be used for the identification of a persons ethnicity or class
(Murphy,34). A seemingly harmless collection of information from the advancement
of the Human Genome Project. But, lets assume this information is used to
explore ways to deny entry into countries, determine social class, or even who
gets preferential treatment. Can the outcome of this information effect the
moral standards of a society?
The answers to the above and many other questions are relative to the
issues facing the Human Genome Project. To better understand these topics a
careful dissection of the terminology must be made. Websters Dictionary defines
morality as ethics, upright conduct, conduct or attitude judged from the moral
standpoint. It also defines a moral as concerned with right and wrong and the
distinctions between them. A Genome is "the total of an individuals genetic
material," including, "that part of the cell that controls heredity" (Lee,4).
Subsequently, "reasearch and technology efforts aimed at mapping and sequencing
large portions or entire genomes are called genome projects" (Congress,4).
Genome projects are not a single organizations efforts, but instead a group of
organizations working in government and private industry through out the world.
Furthermore, the controversies surrounding the Human Genome Project can be
better explained by the past events leading to the project, the structure of the
project, and the moral discussion of the project.
The major events of genetic history are important to the Human Genome
Project because the structure and most of the project deals with genetics.
Genetics is the study of the patterns of inheritance of specific traits
(Congress,202). The basic beginnings of genetic history lay in the ancient
techniques of selective breeding to yield special characteristics in later
generations. This was and still is a form of genetic manipulation by "employing
appropriate selection for physical and behavioral traits" (Gert,2). Futheralong,
the work of Gregor Mendel, an Austrian monk, on garden peas established the
quantitative discipline of genetics. Mendel\'s work explained the inheritance of
traits can be stated by factors passed from one generation to the next; a gene.
The complete set of genes for an organism is called it\'s genome (Congress,3).
These traits can be explained due to the inheritance of single or multiple genes
affected by factors in the environment (3). Mendel also correctly stated that
two copies of every factor exists and that one factor of inheritance could be
dominate over another (Gert,3).The next major events of genetic history involved
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). DNA, as a part of genes, was discovered to be a
double helix that encodes the blueprints for all living things (Congress,3). DNA
was found to be packed into chromosomes, of which 23 pairs existed in each cell
of the human body. Furthermore, one chromosome of each pair is donated from
each parent. DNA was also found to be made of nucleotide chains made of four
bases, commonly represented by A, C, T, and G. Any ordered pair of bases makes
a sequence. These sequences are the instructions that produce molecules,
proteins, for cellular structure and biochemical functions. In relation, a
marker is any location on a chromosome where inheritance can be identified and
tracked (202). Markers can be expressed areas of genes (DNA) or some segment of
DNA with no known coding function but an inheritance could be traced (3). It is
these markers that are used to do genetic mapping. By the use of genetic
mapping isolated areas of DNA are used to find if a person has a specific trait,
inherent factor, or any other numerous genetic information. In conclusion, the
genetic history of ancient selective breeding to Mendel\'s garden peas to the
current isolation of genes has been reached only through collaborative data of
many organizations and scientist.
The Human Genome Project has several objectives. To better understand
the moral issues that exist the project itself must be examined. Among the many
objectives, DNA databases that include sequences, location markers, genes, and
the function of similar genes (Congress,7). The creation of human chromosome
maps for DNA markers that would allow the location of genes to be found. A
repository of research materials including ordered sets of DNA fragments
representing the complete DNA in chromosomes. New instruments for analysis of
DNA. New methods of analysis of DNA through chemical, physical, and
computational methods. Develop similar research technologies for other organisms.
Finally, to determine the DNA sequence of a