A new medical breakthrough is so controversial it’s being viewed as both an answer to prayer and a potentially frightening perversion of the human race.
It’s called gene editing. The idea is to edit the genes of humans to get rid of sickness. However, it could be riddled with problems.
We all know people who were born with a gene that made them get an awful disease, like Alzheimer’s or cancer. But believe it or not, scientists say they have the technology to get rid of those problem genes, and therefore, the diseases they cause through gene editing.
As the name suggests, scientists remove the bad gene and replace it with a healthy one. They did this at the Oregon Health and Science University by replacing a gene in a human embryo that caused a potentially deadly heart condition. The embryo was later destroyed.
Scientists say gene editing will allow them to prevent a whole host of other inherited diseases. But some, like David Christensen, the Vice President for Government Affairs at the Family Research Council, don’t like the way the process is being tested.
“Concern here is what they did is effectively killed a number of embryos in order to get the genetic change that they want,” Christensen told CBN News, “And we believe that could have been done later in the process to actually treat an unborn child or a child with that disease.”
Another worry is that this could lead to the creation of so-called “designer babies,” where scientists alter an embryo’s genetics, not to save a life or prevent a disease, but to make the person better looking, better in sports and school.
“With this technology we’re talking about altering life,” Christensen said, “Altering the germ-line heredity of people and that creates a lot of concern for us and a lot of other people.”
Many in the scientific community share that concern. Scientists who gathered from around the world in Washington, D.C. last year said gene editing should only be used to save lives and alleviate suffering.
“People start talking about eye color, hair color. Sometimes people talk about memory enhancement and muscle mass and I think we really need to be careful about that,” said Franchoise Baylis of Canada’s Dalhousie University, “Because quite frankly, some of that involves very, very complicated science in terms of the numbers of genes you’d have to manipulate and at least for now that’s not the game.”
Harvard University biologist Chad Cowan said, “It’s difficult to prevent those types of experiments from happening, but what you can do is as a community is set clear guidelines about what is an acceptable experiment and what would be an unacceptable experiment, and to not let those people who perform unacceptable experiments get away without some form of regulation or punishment.”
So while gene editing is in its infancy, most experts in the field agree now is the time to thoroughly consider all of the possible consequences of this new technology, as well as ways to control it.