Arguments for and against gene therapy and genetic engineering

Buddhist perspectives

Buddhists will also draw on non-religious reasons when making their decision about the ethics of genetic engineering and gene therapy.

Somatic cell therapy

For

Most Buddhists are concerned with the relief of suffering. Tibetan Buddhists are taught:

quote
The purpose of being born as a human being is to eliminate the sufferings of others and to bring them happiness.Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche
  • The Buddhist view of karma states that all of our actions have consequences. Trying to cure illness and relieve suffering will lead to positive consequences. Ignoring those who suffer from disease is likely to have negative consequences.
  • The concept of karuna states that we should act compassionately towards those who suffer from disease.
  • Healing someone of a disease or condition will allow them to focus on achieving enlightenment.

Against

  • Some Buddhists might feel that disease and illness are a form of dukkha and may be the just result of some former bad action they have performed. Instead of curing the condition they should accept it and focus on practising their religion so they can move closer to enlightenment.

Germ line therapy

For

Most Buddhists are concerned with the relief of suffering and germ line therapy should ensure that future generations do not suffer from genetic conditions:

  • The concept of karuna might be applied if the germ line therapy was to cure disease and conditions for future generations.

Against

The principle of ahimsa might be applied here. If the germ line therapy was to negatively affect future generations then they would consider this to be violence against these people. The Buddha taught:

quote
He who for the sake of happiness hurts others who also want happiness, shall not hereafter find happiness.Buddha
  • The principle of right action from the Noble Eightfold Path would apply here if the germ line therapy has negative future consequences.
  • Some Buddhists might feel that disease and illness are a form of dukkha and may be the just result of some former bad action they have performed. Instead of curing the condition they should accept it and focus on cultivating the qualities of mind necessary to make spiritual progress.
  • Some Buddhists believe that the dukkha is caused by bad actions from a previous life. Unless the effects of the previous bad actions are worked off, they may just be postponed to a future life. Their focus is concentrating on their religion and performing good actions in this life.

Saviour siblings

For

  • The act of being a saviour sibling could be considered to be an act of dana, karuna and metta. It is an act of huge generosity to help someone presently experiencing pain. This would be a good action and contribute towards enlightenment.
  • The relief of the suffering of the sick child would produce positive karmic consequences and would be considered to be right action.
  • For some Buddhists the selection of embryos (and destruction of those that do not match) would be permitted because an embryo does not fully embody the five skandhas.

Against

  • The destruction of embryos that do not match the correct tissue type might be forbidden by some Buddhists because they believe that a new human consciousness arises at conception. From this view an embryo is a person. The destruction of embryos breaks the first Precept and goes against the teaching of ahimsa.
  • There are risks associated with this process, it would be going against right action and ahimsa if harm was to come to the saviour sibling.
  • Many Buddhists are concerned with the relief of psychological harm as much as physical harm. Some Buddhists are concerned that the saviour sibling's psychological wellbeing could be damaged by being a saviour sibling.
  • The child who is sick should be taught to accept his/her suffering. Doing so will enable the child to improve his/her merit.

Designer babies

For

  • Most Buddhists are concerned with the relief of suffering. Technology can be seen as a good thing if it helps to relieve suffering now or prevent it for future generations.
  • The destruction of embryos carrying faulty genes may be permitted because an embryo does not fully embody the five skandhas.
  • Trying to prevent genetic disease is likely to lead to positive karmic consequences and should therefore be encouraged.

Against

  • Some Buddhists do not agree with destroying embryos, even if they carry faulty genes or are the gender the parent did not want. This is because they believe that a new human consciousness arises at conception. The destruction of embryos breaks the first Precept and goes against the teaching of ahimsa.
  • They might also object that the child conceived reflects the parent’s previous actions (karma) and is therefore their responsibility as it is.
  • Buddhists teach that all life should be valued. Violence towards or destruction of embryos on the basis of disease or gender goes against the principle of ahimsa.
  • There could be unforeseen negative consequences in society if one gender was favoured over the other. Many Buddhists believe that all things are connected, and human beings may not foresee the problems that might arise by selecting for certain qualities.

Embryology

For

  • Trying to find cures through genetic engineering is likely to lead to positive consequences and should therefore be encouraged.
  • Some Buddhists would say that in order to minimise waste, embryos not used in IVF treatments could be used in experimentation if it could benefit others.
  • Most Buddhists are concerned with the relief of suffering and genetic engineering could lead to the reduction of suffering for many people. This teaching is key:

Against

  • Some Buddhists do not agree with research and the subsequent destruction of embryos. This is because they believe that a new human consciousness arises at conception. The destruction of embryos breaks the first Precept and goes against the teaching of ahimsa.
  • Some predict that large pharmaceutical companies could take out patents based on human genetic material; this could allow them to make a profit from embryonic research. This could be seen as breaking the second Precept by taking something that is not freely given. It would also go against right livelihood.
  • Some Buddhists would disagree with animals being involved in embryonic research as pain is often caused to them.