For several years now, there has been a vigorous and ongoing debate in this country regarding the ethics of gene editing on human embryos. While many people argue that the practice will lead to incredible advancements in technology and could even one day save lives, others decry gene editing as an immoral procedure that humans should not be experimenting with. Regardless of which side of the debate you find yourself on, one thing that we know for a fact is that scientists are beginning to come out in opposition to gene modification, which they say should only be taking place inside of laboratories for the time being.
Recent technological achievements have allowed us to tap into an embryo’s DNA code and “fix” whatever health problems they may experience in the future, from fibrosis to breast cancer. It is a process similar to hacking into a computer and modifying the coding to prevent it from getting viruses. But while this technology may be an incredible breakthrough for science and biology, some scientists have very real concerns. (Related: Genetically modified humans are now a reality in China.)
According to a statement made by international experts that was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, work on gene modification technology should continue, but not on embryos that are to be implanted in the womb, a practice that is illegal in both the United States and in the United Kingdom.
The experts went on to warn the scientific community against “playing God” in an effort to create a society with only the “best children” science can create. Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that says that human beings should not be going out of our way to make an impact on the natural order of things. Humans were created a certain way for a reason, and it is not our place to change or alter it.
The statement concludes: “At this time, given the nature and number of unanswered scientific, ethical and policy questions, it is inappropriate to perform germline gene editing that culminates in human pregnancy.”
Although the debate over gene editing and modification is relatively new, the importance of maintaining a sense of morality is something that has been discussed since the birth of our country. The Founding Fathers made it explicitly clear that the Constitution was written for a moral people, and that once those ethical standards start to erode, so too will the Constitution and all of society. That is why it is so important that we as a country always strive to do the right thing, not just on an individual basis, but also with regards to the law and legislation coming out of Washington DC.
But when it comes to gene editing, it’s not just issues of morality that people are concerned about. According to a 2015 article published in The Telegraph, British scientists were among 150 experts who made a unified call to end the practice of genetic editing on embryos, claiming that it would “irrevocably alter the human species.”
“Permitting germline intervention for any intended purpose would open the door to an era of high-tech consumer eugenics in which affluent parents seek to choose socially preferred qualities for their children,” the scientists explained. “The implementation of heritable human genetic modification could irrevocably alter the nature of the human species and society. Experiments could lead to miscarriage, maternal injury and stillbirth. Genetically modified children who seem healthy at birth could develop serious problems later in life. We must not engineer the genes we pass on to our descendants.”
Between the moral issues and the potential health risks, gene editing on embryos is not something that we should be experimenting with. Human beings are not God, so why should we pretend to be?