Ethics of gene therapy
Currently, gene therapy research is focussing on treating individual patients’ bone marrow or blood cells by inserting a normally functioning gene into the body to correct a genetic disorder.
Gene therapy involves making changes to the body’s set of basic instructions. This raises many unique ethical problems, such as:
This type of gene therapy only affects the cells of the body, and not the germ line cells (eggs and sperm). Therefore it is correctly referred to as somatic cell line therapy. Although the cells producing the altered proteins are changed by the therapy, the patient’s basic genome is unchanged. This means that this type of gene therapy cannot be passed on to the person’s children: they would still be at risk of inheriting the original condition.
However, gene therapy could be targeted to egg and sperm cells (germ cells), which would allow the inserted gene to be passed on to future generations. This approach is known as germ line gene therapy. It is controversial and not currently permitted under UK or US regulations.
What might be some additional ethical issues raised by germ line gene therapy?