A recent case of apparent genome editing in China has reignited the debate about whether designer babies are ethical, but it’s a lot more complicated than just picking a certain hair colour.
Imagine yourself as a tiny cluster of cells in a dish just waiting to be implanted… on second thought don’t imagine that unless you want to have nightmares tonight. Instead, picture a time where before you have even been born your parents know exactly what you’re going to look like. Not because they are psychic but because they’ve picked the best features of themselves, knowing that you will inherit them. And because they’ve paid an astonishingly large amount of money to make sure that happens. That’s one explanation of gene editing. A much more scientific definition is this: “Genome editing is a way of making specific changes to the DNA of a cell or organism. An enzyme cuts the DNA at a specific sequence, and when this is repaired by the cell a change or ‘edit’ is made to the sequence.”
The CRISPR Babies
The modern world was reluctantly hauled into a new, kinda scary era last week when Chinese biologist He Jiankui announced he had apparently altered the embryos of a couple, one of whom was HIV positive. He has said that by using the editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 he helped the unborn babies resist the HIV infection, however, this claim cannot be substantiated (Jiankui has since gone missing). If his claims are true these twin girls would be the first genetically modified babies to be born. Jiankui was quickly vilified and condemned for his actions and was given the nickname “The Chinese Frankenstein”. Basically, what Jiankui has done is open a can of worms that seems far too sci-fi for a lot of people to comprehend.
The Ethics Behind Designer Babies
The day when you get to choose between your baby inheriting your blue eyes instead of your partner’s brown is a long way off. Mainly because, it’s viewed as just plain unethical and many fear that it’s a slippery slope towards babies being seen as a commodity. Unfortunately, this attitude overshadows the good that gene editing can do. Exactly what scientists want to use gene editing for will inevitably change the world, theoretically it could eliminate diseases and certain genetic disabilities. Specifically, diseases like hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s Disease.
It’s an issue that almost demands an opinion, what’s your take on gene editing and designer babies LiveTribers? Head on over to our forum and tell us your thoughts on the issue.