Unlike the situation in human animals, inheritable genetic modification (IGM) is currently implemented in non-human animals. Targeted mutants (transgenic animals) and random mutants are widely created in medical research. A number of animal species have already been cloned, with plans underway to clone many others, including pets, species on the verge of extinction, and species that are already extinct.
Genetically-modified non-human animals (hereafter, “animals”) are used in basic and pre-clinical research as well as in product development and agriculture research. They are used as disease models, as sources of organs for experimental xenotransplantation, as bioreactors for the production of therapeutic proteins (“pharming”), and as test animals for vaccines and toxins. Thus, while we might hope to be designers in human IGM, we are already designers in animal IGM.
Although animal IGM deserves ethical consideration in its own right without necessarily referring to human IGM, it can be instructive for human IGM, as some of our fears and hopes for human IGM might already be realized in animal IGM. Indeed, the major concerns in animal genetic modification are similar to those voiced in connection with potential human IGM technology, namely concerns about animal welfare and risks to human health and the environment. For example, there are fears that genetically-modified animals might escape into the environment and alter evolutionary balances or be somehow involved in the modification of the human genome.