Designer babies crawling around

Gene editing technology makes it possible to “customize” babies so that they turn out a certain way.


Twenty years ago, Dolly the sheep became the first ever successfully cloned animal. When she was eventually revealed to the public in 1997, it sparked a storm of controversy. People were uncomfortable with the idea of artificially creating sentient beings. They saw the scientific breakthrough as highly unethical, not to mention unsafe.

When Dolly died comparatively young after developing a medical condition, the anti-cloning movement pointed to health complications as yet another reason to avoid cloning. However, Dolly did manage to give birth to four offspring which became part of a long-term study. Released last week, the study revealed that despite Dolly’s health problems, all four of her offspring with cloned genes have remained perfectly healthy into old age. The results have quieted concerns about the health effects of cloning.

However, there are always new technologies being developed. In fact, cloning appears somewhat antiquated when compared to a breakthrough procedure known as gene editing. This technology is challenging everything we know about human reproduction. So what is it?

Gene EditingParents selecting traits for their designer baby

Hailed as a momentous scientific development by some, gene editing is a process which allows individual genes in a human embryo to be modified. Our genes control everything about us – our eye color, height, intelligence, and even our health. Thus, gene editing technology makes it possible to “customize” babies so that they turn out a certain way. While it’s still in an experimental phase, the process remains highly controversial. Let’s look at some arguments put forward by both sides.

Is It “Playing God”?

Proponents of gene editing point out that it has the power to bring about positive change in the world. For example, many devastating genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease are caused by the mutation of a single gene. Theoretically, this technology could allow doctors to fix that specific gene and thus prevent children from suffering the effects of genetic disease. While supporters admit that gene editing could be seen as “playing God”, they believe the benefits outweigh the downsides. To them, saving children from experiencing lives of pain and misery is worth the moral liability.

Ongoing Concerns

A scientist editing a strand of DNAOn the other side, critics argue that engaging in gene editing is a slippery slope. They concede that preventing diseases would be beneficial, but insist that gene editing would likely not stop there. If the practice were to become commonplace, parents may seek to change other genes in their children. Cynics paint a picture of parents hand-selecting the most desirable traits for their child –attractiveness, athleticism, etc. – and essentially creating ultra-perfect “designer” babies.

This makes people uneasy for a number of reasons. Many see such heavy interference with the natural process of human reproduction as inherently wrong and immoral. Furthermore, one can’t help but see the parallel between gene editing and eugenics, a vile philosophy espoused and practiced by the Nazis.   

Finally, critics point out that gene editing would be incredibly expensive. Only the wealthiest families, whose children need no extra advantage in life, would have access to the technology. If class division is bad now, detractors argue it would get much worse if gene editing were to become accepted practice.

Lingering Mistrust

As humans, we tend to mistrust new breakthroughs in science, especially when they Nothing can stop God's plan signrelate to reproduction. For example, when in vitro fertilization was first developed many people were terrified of the technology. They were convinced that IVF babies would be born with physical or mental damage. Of course, this proved not to be the case.

Religious Influence

A recent survey done by the Pew Research Center showed that the more religious people are, the less supportive they are of artificially enhancing technologies like gene editing. Of those who identified as strongly Christian, only one third approved of it. Contrast this with 75 percent of atheists who said they would want to use the technology for their baby. This isn’t necessarily surprising – a fervent belief in God causes people to be reluctant to use a new technology that may alter His plan.

Takeaways

While there have been many scientific breakthroughs regarding human reproduction over the years, none come close to the potential impact that gene editing may have. Some see a tremendous upside, but others worry it may lead down a slippery moral slope. We’d like to hear your thoughts – Would society benefit from the creation of “designer” babies? If this technology is eventually approved, would you consider using it?

 

17 comments

  1. Miranda Allison Young says:

    I see nothing essentially wrong with it, although it can certainly be wrongfully done. If it is done because a couple wants a child but knows that there is a physical or mental disability that one of them has that they want to be certain that the child does not get, I can see why it might be a good idea. However, just to make sure that the child is smart, athletic, artistic, blue-eyed, etc., then it is a bad idea.

    1. Theo.Klebes says:

      I agree with you Miranda

      1. Ann Wood says:

        I agree that there are arguments both for and against “designer”
        genes. There would need to be; nay, there would have to be, restrictions on its use. It would work only if its aim and stated purpose, as well as its practice, was about doing away with genes that cause disease. This would not only be beneficial to the individual, but would save billions of dollars for society that could be used in more constructive ways than treating people suffering from genetic diseases.

    2. Rev paul says:

      I don’t agree Miranda this borders on eugenics this could produce a super dictator or harm the unborn baby

      1. hsw says:

        There are many technologies that could be used for good or bad – ultimately you have to either trust that people will do the right thing, or live in both literal and figurative darkness.

        You would deny the “cure” for a perhaps deadly condition based on the ability to use the technology wrongly.

  2. clarkmd1 says:

    When this technology proves itself to be beneficial if it can, fear should be the least of human concern. Perfection for an imperfect world, as parents in any category do not know how to raise the children we have now and gene control will not change the world because who will teach the smart ones and what gene now taken from us will really guarantee a happy life in the future.

    The fact that all of the attributes mention adds nothing to what we have now. This is not about science it’s about making money.
    If money is too be made and our mind set is the same greed, vanity, self righteous behavior, I am better than you, God made us first, and the list goes on.
    The pills was going to fix things, but death from medication is still on the rise and corruption controls who gets what.
    Stem cells was a good idea but corruption set it back as one life over another is to great a temptation for me to consider we will get it right by scientific minds. For nature will always do what it was designed to do, man needs to do the same.
    Note: the world is not flat nor has it ever been.

    1. vikaschowdare says:

      Everybody needs to check their spelling and grammar before replying ! I hate it when I have to try and guess what someone is saying !

  3. Kathryn says:

    Every discovery or invention may become a ‘slippery slope’. We either learn to manage the dangers inherent in new technologies or spend our lives in metaphorical (or literal) darkness. Of the overly religious, who would limit man’s quest for knowledge, I would ask this: Why would God create creatures with large brains if He intended their qualified use only?
    Science may well cause problems, but it is through science that those problems and many others have and will be resolved.

    1. vikaschowdare says:

      Exactly Kathryn !

      Why would God ( if there is a God ? ) create us humans with the brain capacity to invent/create amazing things if ” God ” didn’t want us to do so ?

      If ” God ” gave us the intelligence/ability to do certain things , then it’s because ” God ” is okay with it !

  4. Rev.Dr.Yanel J. Laroche Jr. and Priscilla the Chastity says:

    Rev.Dr.Yanel J. Laroche Jr.: Cloning is against the Holy Scriptures as I am spiritually crying over the ungodliness in this world while I am thinking about others that would allow cloning their future boy or girl.

    Priscilla the Chastity:My daddy is never going to marry anybody in this world actually. And even if he did marry a woman really,he would make sure she also agrees in not having children with him in actuality.
    Cloning is not spiritual nor holy at all.And I will never ever write cloning on a wall as I stand tall.Apostle Paul!

    1. hsw says:

      OK that was entirely creepy – like a ventriloquist and his dummy. You talk about not cloning, but you have an imaginary child attached to you? At least that’s what I’m getting from your post.

  5. John S says:

    Playing God?

    Personally, I marvel at the extent of our ignorance of the natural world. I believe that scientists usually recognize the limits of knowledge, but I fear that the boundless optimism of some entrepreneurs and technologist approaches arrogance.

    Nuclear DNA alone does not define an individual.

    Off the top of my head I can think of 3 lines of reasoning that shed doubt on the likelihood that “designer” offspring will produce anticipated results:

    1 Genetic diseases have been clearly identified. However, it is common for people with these “diseased” genes to be quite normal. Genetic makeup does not determine outcome for these people.

    2 Over the last several years the role of nuclear DNA in prediction of phenotype (physical appearance or performance) has been shown to function only with the support of various non-genetic factors: mitochondrial DNA, RNA’s role in suppressing or activating a particular gene, and epigenetics, the effect of environment factors that can activate or inactivate particular genes. Epigenetic effects sometimes persist over generations – same genotype, but a different outcome. Gene activation is modified by environment: both internal, and external. In this modern world, even if alterations in nuclear DNA were predictable and biologically unchangeable, the rapid change in our environment (chemical, social, and cultural), could render today’s desirable trait into tomorrow’s huge deficit.

    3 Finally, we may not be able to even guess what’s desirable. Consider our experience with genetic selection of race horses: Since the 1960s race track conditions, starting gates, and training have all improved. Selective breeding of race horses is a scientific and a multibillion dollar business. This whole endeavor is meant to maximize the ability of horse to run fast and turn to the left – not a very complicated goal. Unfortunately, even this simple goal has turned out to be no modest task.

    Of the 6 fastest Kentucky Derby winners, only one won after the year 2000. The fastest time ever was in 1973. Regardless of our improved race track environment and scientific genetic selection, we have been unable to design a faster horse. In fact, the horses of the 1960s and 1970s generally seemed to be faster. In “horse time”, these 50 years has actually been more than 10 generations. Why so little progress? You can’t just pick a trait to run fast. You need also to select for bones that don’t break, lungs to take in great amounts of oxygen, blood vessels that don’t burst and brains that know how to compete. I suspect I’ve overlooked countless other features needed for a champion horse.

    Compare our equine selection with the performance of non-selected human racers. Of the 15 USATF track events, not a single world record has held up from before 1992 and 8 new records have been set since 2000. In human terms, the improvement has occurred over a single generation.

    I don’t believe we’re nearly smart enough to design high performance human babies. I wouldn’t be surprised if we never become smart enough. Attempts at designer babies may flourish, but it’s difficult to believe that it will blossom into a useful technology. It may flourish for a short time under the promotion of misguided technologist or hucksters who lure wealthy marks.

    My worst fear about designer babies is the unpredictable consequences for the baby and the disappointments of their parents. I’m sure God has little fear of competition from humans.

  6. I.S. Johnson says:

    If you give a child a live hand grenade there is no problem unless it pulls the pin. Most would say it is better not to give a child a hand grenade because the danger is clear. The level of knowledge humanity has in the area of genetics is infinitesimal compared to what we don’t know. Should we then allow this path of inquiry because the danger seems less clear?

    It is always said ” lets do it and see what happens. If its is dangerous we can ban it later.” OxyContin was supposed to be unable to be abused, Wrong. Is it banned now? The internet was the key to freedom, Wrong. Kiddie porn, porn, identity theft, Ransom Ware, Cyberwar, all forms of violent extremism and the list goes on. Is it banned or regulated yet? Supply Side Economics, Tax reform, Private military contractors were supposed to spread wealth and save us money. Clinton left office with a Three Trillion Dollar Surplus now we are 17 trillion in debt 16 years later. Any of those policies been banned, reviewed or rethought in any way? DDT nearly wiped out over a dozen species of birds. A single chemical that really killed bugs good. Can we withstand an unforeseen genetic consequence that gives rise to a disease so lethal humanity ceases to exist on our world? Is any gain worth that very real risk?

    We do not even know how Gravity works. We cannot cure the common cold. Dozens of people contract Staph Infection in the most highly advance operating rooms in the world here in the USA every day. Donald trump is the Republican Candidate for president! The finest Ivy League minds did not see the housing Bubble happening. Do you folks really think we should be playing with Genetics? I have been paying attention and though our technology has advanced, human Social Evolution and Spiritual Evolution is still tribal/ hunter gatherer at best.

    Our unwarranted belief in our own intellect, our myopic focus on the material and our spiritual ignorance has always led to our own downfall. The wise have always cautioned prudence while the young and the undisciplined have run headlong into disaster and then the wise are expected to pick up the wreckage and heal their wounds. Perhaps this is our opportunity to learn the lesson without the fall. If we must err, err on the side of wisdom. The good of the many must outweigh the good of the few.

  7. eliud colbath says:

    I belive that good looks or beauty are not that important.like the old saying beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.you can modify all you want but no matter how smart no matter how good looking or beautiful one is built.there will be many factors to overcome.we live in a complex world.others affect our way of thinking.what we are is the product of our enviorment.no matter what we are modified to be enviorment will trump genes.no matter who we are their will always be hundreds of ways to influence us .so to me no matter how much change their is in their genes God Is the ultimate judge.no matter .let us except Gods plan for our own.

  8. Michael Nunley says:

    First and foremost, thank you ULC for creating this forum.

    With that having been said, as a man who likes to consider himself a “technologist”, this is exciting. Science is finally truly out from under the thumb of religion. Scientist to not try to govern the religious, and thusly I believe, they should be afforded the same amenity. I find it to be exhilarating that science is closer mapping the human genome. It means that we are truly moving forward.

    I believe that fear is a mind killer and has haulted progress for many centuries. Once we allow ourselves to be free of the fear, we will live into our potential as a species, whether it be positive or negative. Let us do what we will. For every great advancement, there is and will continue to be a great movement to stymie it.

    With that in mind, this technology would only truly be great if it were used across the board, in every hospital, for every child, in every country. Without being truly universal, it would eventually serve to widen the divide of the classes. In this man’s opinion at least.

    Ethically, there would have to be a guarantee that the doctors performing the procedure were altering only the genes they were asked to alter, and only in the manner that they were asked to do so.

    Add long as these tenets were strictly adhered to, I believe that it would be of great benefit to humanity as a whole.

  9. eliud colbath says:

    Science is great. No argument but when it ulters Gods plan for a human being that he formed then I disagree.I respect your view and every one is entitled to their own way of thinking. I just fill in my heart that what God wants for us is Gospel.There are exceptions to this.If the child is going to be born with a birth defect and we have the technology to prevent it then we use it.To save the child etc.I definitely agree with technology.No degreating what your views are.God bless you brother.

  10. Steve Portwood says:

    Look what happened on Star Trek with Kahn, a genetically enhanced human being. Yes, it’s science fiction, but it’s one possibility.

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