Is Gene Alteration Morally Acceptable?

Amanda Mattesi, Sophomore, Associate Graphics Editor

Have you ever wondered what designer babies would look like? Thanks to current advancements in science, it is possible that our world could be filled with genetically-altered people in the future. Current advancements in genome editing technology for both medical and cosmetic purposes are being expanded upon and may be the beginning of a future filled with people with altered genes. Gene alteration for both types of advancements may be going too far and is likely to fall into the wrong hands.

Any flaws in procedures being performed will be crucified by the media due to the shaky moral grounds genome editing stands on. Should anything bad happen to the people that are being altered genetically, the general public would cause a sizeable amount of uproar.  Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said, “Should such epic scientific misadventures proceed, a technology with enormous promise for prevention and treatment of disease will be overshadowed by justifiable public outrage, fear, and disgust.”

Considering the fact that there are other ways to cure terminal illnesses before birth that don’t include editing genes, such as washing the HIV off sperm before insemination, any seemingly positive outcome of cosmetic genetic procedures would not be worth the amount of backlash that would come with it. By unsettling and disturbing the public, the continuation of research and experimentation are causing an unnecessary amount of distress.

Recently, a Chinese scientist, Dr. He Jiankui, announced that he had performed a procedure to delete the CCR5 gene in two twin girls. This would grant them immunity to HIV using an editing tool called CRISPR-Cas9. However, his work came with many risks that outweigh the rewards. The CCR5 gene is vital to the human immune system. Removal of the gene increases the risk of susceptibility to other diseases such as the West Nile virus and Influenza. The entire procedure becomes irrelevant when the embryos being altered are only becoming susceptible to more terminal illnesses. It appears that Dr. He is valuing the advancement of science over the lives and the futures of the two twins whose genes were altered in his procedure.

Numerous professionals in the field of genome editing believe that it can be incredibly immoral if done incorrectly, without the proper precautions, and for the right causes. A sizable portion of them recognize that a lot of these procedures can potentially open the door for designer children. With the route that genetic editing is going, it is possible that in the future people will be able to edit the genes of their own offspring to possess any traits of their choosing, such as eye color and IQ. These changes in just one embryo impact an entire bloodline of people from that point forward, should that embryo grow up and decide to reproduce for itself. John Evans, associate dean of social science at UC San Diego, said, “Once you start changing people’s offspring, then you open up this whole realm of concerns that are sort of philosophical or theological in nature.”

Science can still afford to hold off on gene alteration for now. The lack of prioritization for the safety of the children being edited, as well as the lack of proof of many successfully edited babies, the current state of genome editing, leaves much to be desired.