Yesterday, the Britain gave the green light to some scientists to edit the genes of human embryos for research. Al Jazeera’s article on it here. The technique being used is called CRISPR. This technology is something, I imagine, most people haven’t heard about and it is something that will change humanity forever. For a layman’s understanding of it, Radiolab had a superb episode on the process.
From the Al Jazeera article:
Niakan plans to carry out her experiments using CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that is the subject of fierce international debate because of fears that it could be used to create babies to order.
To which I say: “And?” Why would we not want designer babies? Babies free of the genetic problems that their parents would have given them? Children that would not have to grow up to adults and be surprised that they’ll live a needlessly harder or shorter life than if their parents had the ability to say “yes” to a simple process that would correct genes?
The debate really focuses on three things beyond “playing God” and removing the genetic faults that I’m supposing these people thing that God is giving their kids.
- Cosmetic choices for children such as hair and eye color.
- Performance choices such as intelligence or strength.
- Gender preference.
The first, I say why not? How is it un-ethical to choose a certain set of features for a child versus leaving it to a absolute roll of the genetic dice? Having the binary choice of either one or the other makes the designer choice the more ethical of the two. Some have taken this further and coupled this one (and the next) with eugenics or Aryan ideals. This is fear mongering at worst, and missing the point at best. If a society or a government decides that a certain physical appearance is desired, that is a choice of that society or government, not of the method of execution of choice.
The second, I say why not? The only argument against that I’ve heard is that children who have been genetically boosted to perform better intellectually or physically would leave other children unable to compete in any understandable arena. This means that there would be a strata of the genetic “have’s” and “have not’s”. This would be true, particularly if we would label those children just people want to label their GMO foods as if they were cigarettes. That would be a ethical issue as well. However, biological evolution desires for every generation to outperform the one before it. Doesn’t every parent desire their children to do better in life than their own life? As for the children who would be “unable to compete”, I’m not sure how to address this, as I’m hard pressed to imagine a America (or really any country) that would permit the genetic “have not’s” to have a substandard life just because they’ll never be scientists, doctors, lawyers, or presidents because those jobs have all been taken by the first generation of super children.
The last unmodified child to be born, on the other hand, would be a curious spectacle, at best, to everyone else.
The third one is the only item on this list that I do have some qualms about. During China’s One Child Policy there were reports that said abortions were rampant in the attempt to get a male child. And since you only get one kid, a male heir would be the better choice. Then there were counter reports that said, sure, it happens, but not that much. So I don’t know which to believe. The problem is: there is precedent for this very behavior, and it would lead to some problems. A society with a majority of males and a traditional view of marriage, family, reproduction, etc., would be a society with some serious internal pressures for reproductive supply and demand. I, personally, have a hard time believing that would occur in God-bless-the-U.S.A., but I could be wrong.
Any way about it- I can’t wait for CRISPR to get opened up for common usage. Problems will come. Crazies will use it for wrong. But these will not outweigh the benefits that will come and save us from our own genetics.