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There has been much discussion surrounding the ethical implications of germline editing in the world of science over the years, which refers to the process used to create genetically altered children or as many are now calling, “designer babies.”
This long-term controversy among those in the science community has recently seen a dramatic increase along with an uproar from the public on the topic.
These discussions began to heat up November of last year when Chinese researcher and scientist He Jiankui came forward with the claim that while using a gene-editing technique called CRISPR in an experiment he stated was intended to create a gene therapy so that the babies would be resistant to the HIV and AIDS virus, which he unintentionally ended up creating the world’s first genetically customized humans with the birth of these twin girls.
Jiankui publicized his announcement by posting several videos online and to the media showcasing the experiment and discussing the details and ‘world-changing’ results.
He almost immediately was faced with a local investigation surrounding the scientific and medical ethical implications of the experiment. It did not take long before discussions about the various other ethical ramifications began among scientists across the globe.
Outrage among the scientific community ensued stating that Jiankui blatantly disregarded the global consensus made on the ethical boundaries of gene editing, referring to his actions as fraudulent human experimentation, reckless, irresponsible, a violation of human rights, and the list goes on.
The public details of the experiment led to close examination by other researchers in the field resulting in highly alarming results. According to NPR, he not only did not succeed in protecting the twin girls from HIV but made one of the girls’ genes more superior than the other as well as created mutations in their DNA that may potentially harm their health.
The circumstances and findings of the experiment have led a group of prominent scientists and bioethicists from several countries to call for a global moratorium on this type of gene experimentation. In other words, they are asking that any and all activity of editing the genes of human sperm, eggs, or embryos for the purpose of personalizing or enhancing any traits in humans traits to be put on pause because it is not ethical or justified, and has the potential of harmful side-effects.
This request has not yet been put into effect and is being investigated. In the meantime, Science Magazine reports that the group is asking for the opinions of the public because this type of experimentation has the potential ability to ultimately alter the human species. More specifically, they want nonscientific perspectives on the issue, which leads me to this:
The primary focus of the conversation about this experiment and editing the genes of human babies have been based on whether or not this violates the code of ethics in the scientific and medical communities, but what about whether it violates individuals’ moral values?
Each and every one of us have our own belief system that includes our moral values, essentially our view on what is right and what is wrong. With that said, do you believe that using scientific technology to personally design our babies to be ‘better’ is morally correct or sound? Or is it okay to suggest that the babies we create on our own based on each of our own individual genes and biology are not good enough? Moreover, do you believe this practice of gene-editing makes that suggestion?
This is one of the few, if not only, times that we are being asked for our opinions on whether or not something should be allowed that will have a definite impact on our lives. That our voice is actually being taken into consideration, so why not let that voice be heard?
Written by Megan Kuehl
The Washington Post: Group of World’s Top Researchers Call For an Urgent Moratorium on Gene-Edited Babies
The Washington Post: Chinese scientist’s claim of gene-edited babies creates uproar
Science: New call to ban gene-edited babies divides biologists
NPR: Chinese Scientist Says He’s First To Create Genetically Modified Babies Using CRISPR
NPR: Outrage Intensifies Over Claims Of Gene-Edited Babies
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Epigenetics | National Human Genome Research Institute’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License