The technology exists to change the genes of human embryos. In 2018, Chinese biophysicist and entrepreneur He Jiankui’s used CRISPR gene-editing technology to alter the genetic code of two human babies, rocking the international scientific community. Chinese guidelines and regulations banned germline genome editing on human embryos for clinical use because of scientific and ethical concerns, in accordance with the international consensus. He lost his university position; he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. Commentaries labeled He, who also goes by the nickname JK, a “rogue,” “China’s Frankenstein,” and “stupendously immoral.”
Other scientists are also experimenting with gene editing. Russian biologist Denis Rebrikov has started gene editing in eggs donated by women who can hear to learn how to allow some deaf couples to give birth to children without a genetic mutation that impairs hearing. A U.S. committee convened by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) concluded that human trials of germline editing “might be permitted” if strict criteria were met. The group of scientists, lawyers, bioethicists, and patient advocates spelled out a regulatory framework but cautioned that “these criteria are necessarily vague” because various societies, caregivers, and patients would view them differently. The committee notably did not call for an international ban, arguing instead for governmental regulation as each country deemed appropriate and “voluntary self-regulation pursuant to professional guidelines.”
Consider your thoughts on the issue. Discuss the following issues : Where do you think we should we draw the line around designer babies for parents interested in giving their children a competitive edge, however they define that – greater intelligence, height, or whatever characteristics? Should gene editing be limited to medical conditions? How does your conclusion about where the line should be drawn connect with your personal values and beliefs? Would gene editing distort family and other relationships by encouraging notions of human beings as biologically perfectible artifacts?
Would it lead to a future society of genetic “haves” and “have-nots,” with new forms of inequalities and biological discrimination on top of already existing ones? e.g., How would you feel if your child was competing with a child who was given a competitive edge through gene editing, but you were unable to afford the procedure? Whose responsibility is it to determine the law and regulations around gene editing? Scientists, lawmakers, religious authorities, the common people? Why? Make sure you draw upon your personal values, experiences or ideas to come to your conclusion.