‘Playing God’ needs ethics
THE Crispr/Cas9 technique of editing DNA is, by the standards of earlier methods, astonishingly quick and easy. It is not entirely reliable or accurate, but it places enormous potential power in the hands of ordinary scientists.
Reckless and unethical experiments were only to be expected; nonetheless, last week’s announcement by a Chinese scientist that he had altered the germlines of twin girls to modify a gene involved in the transmission of HIV was profoundly worrying for several reasons.
The most important is that there is no medical reason for what he did.. He took
Scientists must take responsiblity for evolution
embryos which were — so far as we know — entirely normal, but whose fathers were suffering from HIV, and altered one of their genes with partial and patchy success. These babies were not otherwise in any greater danger of catching the virus than anyone else. Their mothers are not infected.
It’s very difficult to understand this story as anything other than a piece of scientific hubris. But although it has been roundly condemned by genuinely distinguished scientists, it is unlikely to be the last such experiment. Gene therapy used once to be denounced as “playing God”. That is no reason to abandon it. But if humans are to play God, they need to behave in a morally better way than unaided nature does.