Mainstream undertaking public research, had announced that
Mainstream media frequently reports on the issue of genetically engineered babies after the announcement of the first human genetically engineered embryos by a Chinese University.
The Guardian reported the huge development in the world of science in January 2017, putting many scientists in shock. Researchers from Sun Yat-sen University, a well reputed university engaged in undertaking public research, had announced that the creation of genetically modified human embryos using CRISPR technology. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, which are the hallmark of a bacterial defense system that forms the basis for CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology. CRISPR technology helps scientists to alter DNA sequences and modify gene functions to attain an embryo to their satisfaction. It uses the protein cas9 that acts as a molecular pair of scissors to cut strands of DNA. It is an enzyme. The researchers were targeting the HBB gene that causes ?-thalassemi, an inherited blood disorder. This experiment did not work perfectly.
Unfortunately, the editing of the gene sometimes occurred in the wrong place in the DNA and did not occur equally in all embryos. When modification is done and equal gene modification does not occur in all embryos, it leads to mosaicism. It is the disorder where there are two or more populations of cells with different genotypes, it leads to mental retardation, severe growth and development delays. There is still need for great development in this field. This announcement of this growth created a great stir in the scientific world due to the ethical dilemma of genetically modified babies.
Genetic engineering is mainly used for two reasons. One, to create a child to the satisfaction of the parent by choosing the child’s eye color, height, intelligence , athletic ability of the child etc. It can also be used to reduce chances of a child getting a disease that commonly occurs in the family. In this essay, I will discuss whether parents should be given the opportunity to have genetically engineered children. Is it ethical to have the ability to create the “perfect” child?First, let us consider the perspective of genetic engineering of babies being unethical. A source that agrees with this perspective would be American biologist, Paul Knoepfler; he is one of the leading voices that speaks about the risks of using CRISPR technology to create designer babies.
He is a professor of cell biology and anatomy at UC Davis School of Medicine in California. He had written a book called GMO Sapiens: The Life Changing Science of Designer Babies published in 2015. In February 2017, TED talk invited him to talk about his book in Vienna, where he commented, “But I think even though it’s focused on trying to improve people, it could have negative consequences and it really worries me that some of the top proponents of this new eugenics, they think CRISPR is the ticket to make happen.”Paul Knoepfler’s main argument against the process is the danger of using such powerful technology when we do not know everything about it. As discussed previously this was also reflected in the inconsistent results shown through the experiment is China conducted by the Sun Yat-sen University. Consequently, we can say that there are chances that it could accidently worsen the disease. He argues that tampering with the human brain to prevent autism or other diseases could have negative effects as the brain is one of the most complex parts of the human body.We can take into account his opinions due to his credible scientific background as a biologist, professor and researcher.
But his opinion is not entirely negative, in his book, he expresses not only his opinion on the negative effects of the process but he explains how it could benefit lives by eradicating a chance to get the disease. He asserts that diseases that babies have high chances on getting because of family history and genes can be prevented through genetic modification. The emotive language used both in his book and in his TED talk is quite compelling, it makes the reader really question whether the process is ethical. He uses his emotive language in an attempt to persuade the reader to speak up about the atrocities of genetic modification. Additionally, he breaks down the science so that the lay man can understand and this provides evidence to back up his emotive arguments. He uses a lot of speculation to explain how the future will look like if we used genetic modification for the next generations.Another perspective on this topic is that after further research and development of the technology, it should be used ethically to help edit diseases after birth.
Paula Amato, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Oregon Health and Science University Hospital. She holds an MD from the University of Toronto, a public research university. Furthermore, her career caring for patients facing issues like infertility during pregnancies make her argument more reliable as she will be concerned about new changes in her field and maintaining her position in the academic world. As reported by the Washington Post, in her opinion, the introduction of CRISPR technology will enable scientist to edit out genes before birth ensuring a healthy baby.
She explains her point through the example of one of her patient that went through three cycles of in vitro fertilization because all the eggs harvested has genes that causes disease. The use of this technology will make in vitro fertilization a one-time process as some embryos possibly might have been saved. She argues that “if proven safe, this technique could potentially decrease the number of cycles needed for people trying to have children free of genetic disease”.
The main pro of her argument is the balance in her argument. While expressing her opinion, she explains the vast benefit that can be achieved. However, on the condition that the process is safe for use which is one of the main concerns for most scientists using this technology on human embryo. Her view is similar to the conclusion formed at the International Summit on Human Gene Editing.
The summit was held on December 2015 in Washington DC to discuss the ethical issue of gene editing. The conclusion reached at the end of the conference was that it was recommended to refrain from gene editing of embryos used for pregnancies as a myriad of health and safety issue must be resolved before extensive use of this technology. Nonetheless, they recommended to not stopping research on gene editing in humans. In her argument she fails to help readers understand how much research is required and how this research must be conducted. Why her perspective is good? Canada has strict laws against clinical trials on gene modification. Scientists can face fines or prison time under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act. However, a group of Canadian scientist and other academics strongly protest against it as they believe that it is forcing them to lag behind on the race towards technology.
In Austria, any intervention involving human gene modification is currently forbidden. In countries like the US, clinical trials are permitted but is limited to couples that have serious genetic disorder or if genetic modification is the last option. The limitations will be retracted once the technique is safer. India and China have more lax rules in use of this technology in the form of guidelines. Dr Soumya Swaminathan, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research, deputy director-general at World Health Organization said, “Our main concern is that this technology should not be used for human enhancement”. India does not permit trials using CRISPR-CAS9 technology to edit genes in babies. As many Western countries have set restrictions on the technology as they deem it too dangerous to pursue; letting China in the future lead the world in genetic enhancement. However, China’s competitiveness could force other countries to also enter the race and pressure Western countries to relax their restrictions.
After the evaluation of the two contrasting views, I believe that we must take precautions before the use of CRISPR technology on human embryos by researching more on this technology and eliminating the risk factor. I believe that clinical trials must be allowed under the pretense that the embryos used cannot be used for the process of impregnation. I believe that it should not be used for the purpose of genetically modifying feature of babies such as intelligence etc as this will give an idea of a “perfect” child to many which will bring with unrealistic expectations to natural babies. I believe that Paul Knoepfler’s view is more convincing due to his scientific background and his background in genetic engineering. He has brought out the positive effects of gene modification but has explained how it is risky due to the insufficient knowledge on the technology, any clinical trials on human embryos are risky as negative effects can occur as shown in the first genetically modified embryos made in China.
He explains how the negative outweigh the limited positive of the technology. He expresses that he is worried for the future. He would have a vested interest to maintain his standing in the academic and scientific world.Thus, after reflection of the proposed question, both the perspectives have logical and yet rational reasoning to its arguments. Initially, my view on the topic was neutral due to my insufficient knowledge on the topic. However, the perspective of using the technology with precaution changed my personal standpoint due to its sources, perspective and the logical reasoning behind the article.
However, it must be brought to notice that there is limited knowledge and research done on this topic due to the global ban put on using the technology on human embryos. This ban was put out forward by the founders of CRISPR technology when they too began to question the ethical issue of using it on human embryos. Due to this ban, a small percentage of countries are allowed to conduct clinical trials on the following. Therefore in order to strengthen my view further research needs to be done on the topic of genetic engineering on babies by me.
As the topic is scientific in nature, more has to be researched on the topic on the categories of the societal, economic and environmental impact of this technology being used. A majority of the population is unware of the current battle of ethics in the scientific world. So awareness must be spread about these new developments in the world of science, so that the public can also bring in their opinion on the matter.
To conclude, I believe that genetic engineering will have a role in the future as medium of eliminate the risk factor of diseases.