Genetic Engineering: Is It Ethical?

Genetic engineering is one of the most popular and controversial topics of our time. What are the pros and cons of genetic engineering, and do its achievements contradict ethics?

Dec 10, 2022By Viktoriya Sus, MA Philosophy

genetic engineering pros cons


At present, genetic engineering is one of the most advanced technologies related to the scientific study of the living world. It enables us to interfere with the genetic code of organisms (including humans) and change it.  As a result, genetic engineering has become a topic of heated discussions among specialists in various fields, the general public, international organizations, and legislators in different countries.


Its achievements, on the one hand, can save humanity from dangerous diseases, the threat of hunger, and chronic malnutrition. Still, on the other hand, genetic engineering gives rise to several moral, ethical, and philosophical problems. So, what are the pros and cons of genetic engineering, and do its achievements contradict ethics?


The Pros and Cons of Genetic Engineering: How Does It Even Work?

genetic engineering mice
2006 photograph of a normal mouse next to a genetically engineered mouse, via Wikimedia Commons


Genetic engineering is the process of manipulating genes in a living organism to change its characteristics. It can be done by introducing new DNA or deleting or replacing existing genes. Genetic engineering aims to create organisms with desirable traits, such as resistance to disease, tolerance of extreme environments, or increased yield.


Genetic engineering is a relatively new technology, and as such, it is still being perfected. For example, scientists have had some notable successes, such as the creation of “golden rice,” which is enriched with Vitamin A to help prevent blindness in developing countries. However, there have also been some controversial failures, such as the attempt to create a “Frankenstein” mouse by inserting human genes into its DNA.

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Pros of Genetic Engineering for Crops and Humans

unknown author genetic engineering graphics
Genetic Engineering, Author unknown, via


Genetic engineering is a powerful tool that can be used to improve the quality of our food supply. By modifying the genes of crops, we can make them more resistant to pests and diseases. We can also create new varieties of crops that are better suited to our climate and soil conditions.


In addition to improving the quality of our food supply, genetic engineering can also be used to create new medicines and treatments for diseases. By modifying the genes of cells, we can make them resistant to diseases, prevent them from spreading, and even cure them. For example, genetic engineering has already had a major impact on the treatment of cancer. By engineering immune cells to attack cancer cells, we have dramatically improved survival rates for many types of cancer. We are also using genetic engineering to develop new treatments for HIV and other viruses.


By understanding how genes work, we can create new drugs that target specific diseases. We can also use genetic engineering to produce vaccines and other medical products. This technology has the potential to save countless lives.


Transhumanism as a Profound Challenge to Traditional Ideas About the Human Condition

unknown artist transhumanism graphics
Transhumanism, Author unknown, via


Due to the active development of genetic engineering, the concept of transhumanism has gained increasing traction in popular culture. Once relegated to the fringes of society, transhumanism is now being mainstreamed by tech giants like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. But what exactly is transhumanism? And what are its philosophical implications?


Transhumanism is a philosophical and social movement that seeks to use technology to enhance human physical and mental capabilities. Proponents of transhumanism believe that by using technology to augment our bodies and minds, we can overcome many of the limitations of the human condition, including disease, aging, and even death.


While transhumanism may initially sound like a far-fetched concept, it is actually rooted in a long history of human aspirations to improve ourselves. For centuries, we have used technology to enhance our physical abilities, from the invention of the wheel to the development of artificial limbs. In recent years, we have also begun to use technology to enhance our mental capabilities with devices like smartphones and smartwatches.


Still, transhumanism represents a profound challenge to our traditional ideas about the human condition. As we continue to develop new technologies that have the potential to change who we are, we will need to grapple with some tough philosophical questions about what it means to be human.


“Designer Babies”: Genetically Modified Humans

Aart Jan Jenema designer babies illustration
Illustration of Creating Designer Babies, Aart-Jan Venema, via


Designer babies are a controversial topic in the world of genetic engineering. Some people believe that parents should be able to choose the traits of their children, while others argue that this could lead to serious ethical issues.


The term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genes have been artificially selected to produce specific traits. This process can be done using a variety of methods, but the most common method is the preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). PGD is a procedure that is typically used to screen for genetic diseases. However, it can also be used to select embryos with certain eye colors, hair colors, or other desired physical traits.


There are many different ways that parents could create a designer baby. For example, they could use genetic screening to select embryos with desirable traits or alter their child’s genes after birth. However, there are also risks associated with these methods. For instance, there is a chance that genetic alterations could have unintended consequences or that parents may not be able to control which traits their child inherits.


Some people believe that designer babies are morally wrong because they involve manipulating the genes of a human embryo. Others argue that designer babies could have positive implications, such as reducing the likelihood of genetic diseases.


What Are the Ethical Implications of Creating “Designer Babies”?

unknown author designer babies illustration
Newspaper Cartoon about Choosing a “Perfect Baby,” Author unknown, via


As the technology to create designer babies rapidly becomes more sophisticated and accessible, the ethical consequences of this practice are becoming increasingly apparent. While some parents may see designer babies as a way to ensure their child has the best possible genes, others worry about the implications of playing God with human life.


Designer babies also raise significant questions about social inequality. If rich parents can afford to create genetically-modified children who are healthier and more intelligent than their peers, what does that mean for the future of humanity? There is a real risk that designer babies could further widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots, creating an even more unequal society.


There are also fears that designer babies could be used to create “superhumans” who are stronger, faster, and smarter than the rest of us. It could lead to a new form of eugenics, where only the wealthy can afford to create genetically-modified children, further exacerbating social inequality.


The ethical consequences of designer babies are complex and far-reaching. As we move closer to this technology becoming a reality, we must have an open and honest conversation about the implications of creating genetically-modified human beings. Otherwise, we may find ourselves in the future that none of us wants to live in.


Ethics of Genetic Engineering of Animals and Plants

Sangharsh Lohakare genetic engineering photo
DNA Photo, Sangharsh Lohakare, via


Genetic engineering methods used in animal husbandry also give rise to a number of ethical problems. Scientists actively pursue profits from the intensification of agricultural production processes by applying genetic engineering methods to “improve” some breeds of agricultural animals.


However, such genetic experiments are striking in their cruelty. For example, the human growth gene that was introduced into the DNA of mice led to cancer cells’ appearance. So, there is an affinity between the “growth gene” and the “cancer gene.” Are these methods acceptable from the point of view of ethics?


In the genetic engineering of plants, fortunately, there are fewer ethical problems, but, nevertheless, they exist. In particular, the creation of hybrids of the most diverse organisms causes the anxiety of religious figures, in connection with which many difficult-to-solve problems arise.


For example, is it morally permissible to eat plant food with embedded animal genes during fasting? Is it okay to eat genetically modified products in which human genes are embedded, or should this be considered cannibalism? Is it impossible to consider food into which genes have been transferred, for example, pigs, to be partially pork, and if this is the case, do the prohibitions of some religions apply to it?


Religion Against Genetic Engineering

Michelangelo Creation of Adam painting
Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, 1511, via Sistine Chapel


Religion provides the strongest grounds for protesting genetic engineering. So it is not surprising that most of the resistance to all new reproductive technologies comes from people with religious beliefs. This resistance is deeply rooted in fundamental religious norms.


According to the Judeo-Christian tradition, humans were created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-27), which, according to some interpreters, means both the given nature of man and their perfection, the goal towards which they must strive; and from the point of view of others, “image” and “likeness” are synonymous. Humans are likened to God, first of all, in that they were given power over nature (Ps. 8), and also in that they received from the Creator the “breath of life.” Thanks to this, a person becomes a “living soul.” This concept means a living personality, the unity of vital forces, the “I” of a person. Soul and flesh are characterized by organic unity (in contrast to the Greek philosophical dualism, which contrasted spirit and flesh).


Some people believe genetic engineering is morally wrong because it interferes with God’s plan for humanity. They believe that we are playing with fire by altering the genes of living organisms and that this could have catastrophic consequences for both humans and the environment.


Others argue that genetic engineering is a tool that can be used for good and that it has the potential to help us solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, such as hunger and disease.


Final Verdict: Is It Ethical?

henry fuseli the nightmare painting
The Nightmare, Henry Fuseli, 1781, via the Detroit Institute of Arts


Currently, a wide range of problems is associated with the application of genetic engineering, covering almost all fundamental spheres of human life and activity. Ethical and moral problems come to the fore here, initiating many sharp discussions within and outside of scientific circles.


There are a lot of different opinions out there about whether genetic engineering is ethical or not. Some people believe that it is a helpful tool that can be used to improve the lives of people who have genetic disorders. Others believe that it is morally wrong to “play with God” and change a person’s DNA.


Still, an extensive class of these ethical problems requires a new adaptation to the surrounding reality. At this stage, the main task of genetic engineering is primarily to provide maximum benefits, both in the mental and physical development of a person, and not to harm humanity.

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By Viktoriya SusMA PhilosophyViktoriya is a writer from L’viv, Ukraine. She has knowledge about the main thinkers. In her free time, she loves to read books on philosophy and analyze whether ancient philosophical thought is relevant today. Besides writing, she loves traveling, learning new languages, and visiting museums.