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Genetically editing humans before birth should not be allowed under any circumstance - NewViewNews






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Genetically editing humans before birth should not be allowed under any circumstance

NewViewNews · technology · prompt · 11/01/2020

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Background info:
Nearly 8 million people, or 6% of infants, are born with “serious birth defects” annually, and 3.2 million of them will remain disabled for life. Also, birth defects are the leading cause for the 21,000 infant deaths which occurred in the United States. While some of these are preventable, a significant amount are genetically inherited. With artificial genetic editing, it may be possible to eliminate them altogether, saving and improving the lives of millions.

If human genome technology isn’t here yet, it will be soon. In 1974, the first animal with an altered genome, a mouse, was created. Since then, a plethora of mammals have been genetically modified for purposes of research, medicine, livestock optimization, and conservation. Some methods, known as gene therapy, modify the genes of humans who currently have diseases., However, the preventive preparation to avoid these diseases is mostly hypothetical.

In 2018, a Chinese researcher He Jiankui claimed he created the first genetically-edited humans, a pair of infant twins known as Lulu and Nana. Their father was HIV-positive, and Jiankui edited the embryos so they would have an innate resistance to HIV infection; the babies, by Jiankui’s account, were born healthy. After a plethora of ethical and scientific criticisms, He was arrested and sentenced to three years of prison.

While genetic editing could be used to treat diseases, it could also be used for human enhancement. Known as gene doping, this hypothetical use could be used to make humans better. For decades, genetic modifications have been used to make animals stronger, smarter, faster, and more.

There is an intense ethical debate regarding human germline engineering. Some argue that fetuses have the right to remain unmodified as they can’t consent, while others argue that parents have every right to modify their own child. Some think that it is immoral to birth any human with a preventable disease, and others believe that the risks associated with gene editing makes it unethical to perform on a being that can’t give informed consent. Many draw a distinction between preventing diseases and modifying traits; and many argue that both of these, depending on their access to the lesser privileged, will lead to inequality between those who have access and those who don’t, extending class divisions to the biological. And, not at all finally, some have no problem in theory with gene editing, yet they worry it could be used for malicious purposes in the wrong hands.

While there are many reasonable perspectives on every side of this issue, society may have to reach a consensus soon. For the Technology section’s NewViewNovember prompt, we ask you to respond to the following statement:

Genetically editing humans before birth should not be allowed under any circumstance.

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Further reading for this prompt can be found in the sources section.


Birth Defects: Causes and Statistics: https://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/birth-defects-causes-and-statistics-863/

CDC Infant Mortality:

A survey about human germline genome editing of 300 attendees to the American Heart Association conference (see Table 1): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5658039/

Associated Press: Chinese Researcher claims first gene-edited babies: https://apnews.com/article/4997bb7aa36c45449b488e19ac83e86d

Science Mag: The untold story of the ‘circle of trust’ behind the world’s first gene-edited babies: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/08/untold-story-circle-trust-behind-world-s-first-gene-edited-babies

Science Mag: Chinese scientist who produced genetically altered babies sentenced to 3 years in jail: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/12/chinese-scientist-who-produced-genetically-altered-babies-sentenced-3-years-jail

NYTimes: Scientists Can Design ‘Better’ Babies. Should They?: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/10/us/11retro-baby-genetics.html

The Harvard Gazette: Perspectives on gene editing: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/01/perspectives-on-gene-editing/

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