人類本身的情形呢？幾年前美國德州Granada Biosciences向歐洲專利局申請了一項專利––「藥劑女人」，就是用基因工程來培養女性，這樣她們的乳液種含有特定的藥品。在實驗室中生長人乳房的工作正在進展中，它們既可用來做癌症手術後的替代物，也可輕易地活躍在一個尋求「完美」乳房的廣大婦女市場。英格蘭Bath大學的基因學家Jonathan Slack最近建議培養無頭人，來為人類提供器官。一些傑出的基因學家，比如University College London的應用生物醫學的教授Lewis WolPert也支持這一觀點。
What about humans, themselves? A few years ago Granada Bio- sciences of Texas applied to the European Patent Office for a patent on a so-called "pharm-woman," the idea being to genetically engineer human females so that their breast milk would contain specialized pharmaceuticals. Work is also ongoing to use genetic engineering to grow human breasts in the laboratory. Not only would they be used for breast replacement needed due to cancer surgery, but could easily foster a vigorous commercial demand by women in search of the "perfect" breasts. Geneticist Jonathan Slack of England's Bath University has recently proposed genetically engineering headless humans to be used for body parts. Some prominent geneticists, such as Lewis Wolpert, Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine at University College London, have supported his idea.
Gene therapy for replacement of 'defective' human genes that are associated with the risk of contracting diseases involves the intentional introduction of new genes into the body in an attempt to modify the genetic structure of the body. Since genes easily move from one organism to another, introduction of a new gene can have unforeseen effects. Gene therapy is also subject to the slippery slope that leads to 'designer genes.' One indication that the slope is becoming more slippery is the experimental administration of genetically engineered growth hormone to healthy children who are simply shorter than average but whose parents would like them to be taller.
When considering the potential of genetic engineering for curing illness, we should remember that, according to Buddhist teachings, we get sick for one of two main reasons. Our 'four elements' may become imbalanced, which may be roughly interpreted in modern terms as 'we are run-down and our resistance to pathogens is low.' And sickness or a shortened lifespan may in some instances be karmic retribution for the taking of life. As Buddhists, we should be especially sensitive to geneticists' degradation of what it means to be a human being. Do we want a 'cure' at any price? We may want to ask ourselves whether the karma from the harming of life involved in the development and application of the gene therapy is going to cause us even heavier karmic problems down the road. Or how are transgenic animal body parts in our bodies going to affect the human quality of our everyday awareness?
Viruses pose special dangers when they interact with genetically engineered organisms. Plant, animal, and human viruses play a major role in the ecosystems that comprise the biosphere and are thought to be one of the primary factors in evolutionary change. Viruses have the ability to enter the genetic material of their hosts, to break apart, and then to recombine with the genetic material of the host to create new viruses. Those new viruses then infect new hosts, transferring new genetic material to the new host. When the host reproduces, genetic change has occurred. We can presume that ordinary viruses, no matter how deadly, if naturally produced, have a role to play in an ecosystem and are regulated by that ecosystem.
If cells are genetically engineered, then when viruses enter cells—whether human, animal, or plant—this material can also be transferred to the newly created viruses and spread to the viruses' new hosts. Since viruses with genetically engineered material could never naturally arise in an ecosystem, there is no guarantee of natural defenses against them. This alone might lead to widespread death of humans, animals, or plants, thereby temporarily or even permanently damaging the ecosystem. Widespread die-off of a plant species can affect its whole ecosystem, and the possibility of widespread die-off of human beings should command our attention.
The notion that ecosystems can ultimately deal with any threat, however extreme, is without scientific basis. No evidence exists that the life and welfare of human beings have priority in those self-organizing systems. Nor is there any evidence that anything in those systems is equipped to deal with all the threats that genetically engineered organisms may pose.
Genetic engineering can affect the whole of nature, as well. In Buddhist terms, 'nature' refers to the patterns of causes and conditions that reflect the karma of sentient beings. In terms of respect for life, which is the foundation of all Buddhist practice, nature can also be understood as the sum total of ecosystems that support life; it is the essential condition for preserving living beings from harm. Humans, animals, and other sentient beings are dependent upon a wholesome environment for a healthy life. Harming that environment causes those sentient beings to suffer, and, ultimately, to die prematurely. Harming life energy itself, even on the level of microorganisms, can have deleterious effects on more complex organisms because of the interconnectedness of all life.
To be continued