GENETICALLY CONTRIVED HUMAN EMBRYOS: AN ETHICAL HORROR WAITING TO HAPPEN
How close are we to editing out all our genetic imperfections – and should we even try to do so? The purpose of this report is to present ethical arguments against changing the genome of human embryos with a focus on social implications, unforeseen genetic defects and lastly the ethical problems that could be brought about by the germline genome editing.
Germline genome editing is a method that gives scientists the ability to alter an organism’s DNA using the new gene editing technique CRISPR-Cas9. This enables genetic material to be added, removed and/or developed. With this at hand scientists hope to bring about change on the early embryo development by modifying disease-causing genes in embryos brought to term, this intensified work could lead to safer and more successful fertility treatment. But, “modifying human embryos is dangerous and unnatural, and does not take into account the consent of future generations.”
Editing the germline genome of human embryos has “social inequality written into DNA” (King, 2017, no pagination) because wealthy people that could afford the procedure will be at the top of the social scale and their children will be at an advantage over their peers. Lower class will not be able to afford the procedure, so their children will be at the bottom of the social scale. This could create a gap in society that differentiates the designed babies from those that are not, leading to discrimination whereby the designed humans feel that they are superior to those that are not. Genetically modifying the human embryos would make future generation to become outcasts, lack individuality because most people will seek out good-looking, intelligent babies with other favourable characteristics, everyone will be almost similar and lastly they will feel rejected because of they will think that their parents never wanted them for who they really were.
The technology that is used for CRISPR- Cas9 is still at the experimental stage and until now all the alterations in humans using the genome editing has been performed in somatic cells; therefore “modifying genomes is inherently dangerous because we cannot know all the ways in which it will affect the individual” (Harris, 2016, no pagination). Genetically modifying human embryos in the name of wiping out diseases could introduce brand new diseases which could be even more dangerous. Additionally if scientists edit a human embryo, that procedure could lead to complications such as miscarriages (early on), premature birth or even stillbirth and unforeseen genetic defects. Genes often have multiple functions so changing a gene could adverse or even have fatal effects for example one would want to edit a gene that controls the baby’s height which in turn may also controls the baby’s body hair. So, if you choose to keep that particular gene, it will mean that your baby may turn out to be tall and be extremely hairy or have no hair at all.
Genetically altering human embryos “amounts to playing God” (Harris, 2016, no pagination) because one controls the genes of his or her child, and lastly the babies will have no consent in what’s being done to their bodies before birth, and consequently will have to live with the consequences of the genetic alterations.
I am opposed to contrived human embryos because of the social, health and ethical implications. If this practice becomes accepted, it will create a gap between the wealthy that can afford the procedure and the poor who can’t. Modifying human embryos could have unknown effects on the gene pool, also many people will choose too similar traits which will reduce the amount of genetic diversity. Lastly, an embryo can’t give consent to the changes that would be made to its genome. Genes often have multiple functions and so taking out or implanting genes for certain traits could have undesired results and could also disrupt the function of another gene that is crucial for survival.
List of references
Future Tech Report (2017) “Designer Babies Pros and Cons of Human Gene Editing,” 29 October. Online Available at: http://futuretechreport.com/designer-babies-pros-cons-human-gene-editing/ (Accessed: 10 August 2018)
Harris, J. and Darnovsky, M. (2016) “Pro and con: Should gene editing be performed on human embryo?” August. National Geographic Online. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2016/08/human-gene-editing-pro-con-opinions/ (Accessed: 20 August 2018)
King, D. (2017) “Editing the human genome brings us one step closer to consumer eugenics”, 4 August. The Guardian Online. Available at: hhtps://www.theguardian.com/2017/aug/04/editing-genome-consumer-eugenics-designer-babies (Accessed: 8 August 2018).
Krishan, K., Kanchan, T. (2016) “Human genome editing and ethical considerations”, Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 22, (Issue 2), pp 597–599, SciEng EthicsOnline. DOI: 10.1007/s11948-015-9675-8 (Accessed: 9 August 2018)
Lanphier, E., et al. (2015). Don’t edit the human germ line. Nature, 519(7544), 410–411. doi: 10.1038/519410a. Available at: http://www.nature.com/news/don-t-edit-the-human-germ-line-1.17111 (Accessed: 9 August 2018)