The ethical cost of science

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Jade Cohen ’17

As scientific discoveries increase exponentially, scientists are forced to acknowledge the ethical limitations of unchartered experimentation. Although there are numerous experiments that would yield unparalleled insight, such as electronically monitoring brain activity and altering Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) to avoid diseases, researchers must avoid disrupting the natural activity of the human body for the purpose of experimentation.
Ethics in science are standards of conduct that relate to both morality and integrity, according to au.af.mil. The morality of an experiment is described as the “ethics of the topics and findings” and is based on the potential harm that either the research process or results may cause. Ethics are often an issue in the biomedical field or when humans or animals are involved in experimentation. 
Scientists are often drawn to the unethical side of biology because the experiments that fall into this category have the potential to defy scientific boundaries and lead to revolutionary discoveries, according to telegraph.co.uk
If scientists disregarded all ethical standards, then they would have the ability to potentially separate twins after birth, test chemicals on humans, remove brain cells from living organisms, use beams of light to control brain cell activity, and create a hybrid of a human and a chimpanzee. This research could lead to breakthroughs in developmental psychology, toxicology, the relationship between human experience and genes, functions of the cortex, and the origins of the human species respectively, according to telegraph.co.uk. Although all of these experiments would be performed at the expense of human subjects, the results could have the potential to improve human life in unprecedented ways. 

Jade Cohen '17
Jade Cohen ’17

All of these experiments are possible and some relatively simple, but the problem lies in the fact that they inhibit the natural functions of the human body. For example, employing beams of light to control brain cell activity would involve cutting open the skull and inserting electrical tools. By silencing a few cells in the right prefrontal cortex or shining a light into the visual cortex, scientists could cause a person’s self-awareness to disappear or prevent someone from recognizing the face of a friend or family member, according to telegraph.co.uk.
Although this experiment would provide revolutionary knowledge about the operations of the human mind, it would require a temporary shut-down of the natural activity of the brain. Consequently, ethics limit how far scientists can take their research, which proves that science and morality can no longer be two separate areas of study. 
One of the most prominent ethical debates in science today is whether or not researchers should be able to alter human DNA. This ability to edit a person’s genes through insertion, deletion, or replacement is relatively inexpensive and simple. It would also eliminate the mutations that cause many diseases, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. Altering plant and animal genes could also have a positive impact on the environment, such as increasing agricultural production and reducing the spread of malaria, according to cen.acs.org
The hesitation to use this gene-editing technology is rooted in the fact that it would allow scientists to create “designer babies” with desirable characteristics, such as greater intelligence or beauty. It could also negatively impact the human germ line, which is the DNA that is passed from one generation to the next, according to cen.acs.org
Therefore, this topic has grown into an important debate because although it could prevent many life-threatening diseases, it also has the ability to change the traits that parents pass down to their children. I support the side of this debate that is opposed to altering human DNA because it is essentially modifying human imperfections and drawing attention to the flaws of humanity. 
The underlying problem is that scientific research is the “engine for prosperity,” according to scientificamerican.com. The results of experimentation help scientists and engineers improve life on earth for humans whether it is through transportation, education, or medicine.
The potential repercussions either during experimentation or afterwards, however, such as harm from toxicology testing or the knowledge that an individual is not a natural product of his or her parents, can have profound physical and mental effects. Therefore, I believe that the improvements that can be made for humanity may not be enough to compensate for the damage induced by the experimentation. 
Ultimately, I affirm that scientists are responsible for deciding whether the benefits of the unethical experiments they wish to conduct will carry more weight than their toll on humanity. In a world that is making discoveries everyday to advance society and the welfare of humans, researchers must remember to weigh the potential outcomes of their experiments both scientifically and ethically. 

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– Jade Cohen, Opinions Editor