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Chapter 40 : Analyzing Ethical Dilemmas in Gene Therapy
In the first approved human gene therapy experiment, W. French Anderson attempted to use genes to treat the genetic disease called severe combined immunodeficiency disease. The need for a standard review procedure for proposed human gene therapy experiments was made clear by an incident in 1979-1980, when a University of California-Los Angeles researcher tried a human gene therapy experiment on two patients without getting approval from the appropriate review committee at his institution. Leroy Walters, of Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Bioethics, divided gene therapy into four possible categories. The categories are somatic-cell gene therapy for the cure or prevention of disease, germ line gene therapy for the cure or prevention of disease, somatic-cell enhancement, and germ line enhancement. One of the ongoing issues concerning gene therapy is whether any or all of the four types of manipulation are ethically acceptable. At present, only somatic-cell gene therapy for the cure or prevention of serious disease is considered ethically appropriate, even by researchers like Anderson. In considering any application of gene therapy, basic respect for human dignity is, as always, the underlying moral principle. Like any other experimental medical treatment, gene therapy should be used to benefit the patient. Three case studies have been discussed at the end of this chapter.