The threat of ge­net­i­cally edited ba­bies

The Week (US) - - News - Marc Thiessen

The Wash­ing­ton Post “Gene edit­ing is here,” said Marc Thiessen, and it poses “an enor­mous threat” to hu­man­ity. A Chi­nese sci­en­tist, He Jiankui, last week claimed that he used the gene-edit­ing tech­nique known as CRISPR to al­ter the DNA of two em­bryos to make them re­sis­tant to HIV, and then im­planted these edited hu­man be­ings in their mother’s womb, lead­ing to their live birth. The sci­en­tific com­mu­nity has re­acted to He’s work with out­rage, es­sen­tially say­ing it’s “pre­ma­ture.” But the real ques­tion is “Should we be do­ing this at all?” Un­like gene ther­apy, in which doc­tors use CRISPR to treat in­di­vid­ual pa­tients suf­fer­ing from ge­netic dis­eases, gene edit­ing per­ma­nently changes the ge­netic code of a hu­man be­ing, so that the new code is passed on to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. This opens “a Pan­dora’s box,” in which sci­en­tists could pro­duce “made-to-or­der ba­bies” with su­pe­rior in­tel­lect and ath­letic skills, tall stature, and what­ever color hair, skin, and eyes the par­ents deemed beau­ti­ful. In a ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied fu­ture, the rich could pay to “lock in their priv­i­lege” by buy­ing su­per-off­spring pruned of im­per­fec­tions, while the poor would go “un­en­hanced.” If science con­tin­ues down this road, we will cross “a moral line from which there may be no re­turn.”

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