Genetically modified humans are no longer a science fiction tale, but rather a rapidly approaching reality as a result of advances in genome/gene editing, which give scientists the ability to change an organism’s DNA. These technologies allow genetic material to be added, removed, or altered at particular locations in the genome. The most prominent technology currently is CRISPR-Cas9, which stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats and CRISPR-associated protein 9. CRISPR-Cas9 has created a lot of excitement and is important because it is faster, cheaper, more accurate, and more efficient than anything used before.
CRISPR-Cas9 is used to edit DNA which allows scientists to reprogram the genetic code of a living organism. Thus, it could be used to cure genetic diseases or even prevent disease entirely. By correcting faulty genes in human embryos, this could be a reality. These incorrect genes can be read like a typo in our DNA and scientists can program CRISPR to find the typo and correct it, and thus thousands of diseases could be treated. Therefore, genome editing is of great interest in the prevention and treatment of human diseases. If this treatment can be perfected and scaled, the quality of life for humans around the world will be vastly improved.
However, ethical concerns arise when CRISPR-Cas9 is used to alter human genes. The concept of designer babies is not yet a reality, but with new technologies being developed parents could theoretically choose to have their children genetically modified to be smarter, stronger, taller, and healthier. Questions surface surrounding the implications of this new technology and because of the complexity of the topic there is no clear answer. In this film, I will explore different possibilities for policies surrounding gene editing by outlining pros and cons and deriving the bigger impact of that policy on society as a whole.
Policy 1: No restrictions on gene editing
The first policy I will explore is where there are no restrictions on gene editing. More specifically, the ability for parents to be able to genetically modify their children, before they are born, without restriction. The parents would be able to make their child free of disease, super intelligent and athletic, and with perfect features. This new generation would be able to do things never before done and be more advanced because of their superior abilities and possibly the future leaders in different fields. As a result, the world would benefit, and society would theoretically be more advanced. Additionally, from a parental perspective, who wouldn’t want the perfect child?
However, although this sounds great, there are many issues with this policy. If it were adapted there would be a significant danger for a dystopia of super people and designer babies only for those who can afford it. Unless this technology can be accessible for all, it could create a “rich get richer” type scenario where those who are already privileged will be given an even greater advantage. Yet, it could be argued that giving a baby superior intelligence or athletic ability would not change anything. That this is similar to sending a child to a private school, which already exists. I would argue that there is a difference. When sending a child to a private school it does not give them a genetic or inherent advantage over the next child. The child would still need to work hard in order to take advantage of the opportunity, there is no guarantee of success. Conversely, being given superior ability allows the child to be naturally more successful without any hard work behind it. Biomedical innovations should not create inequities in society.
Another aspect to consider is that, like any product, this will become more accessible over time as competition increases, which will drive costs down. Which means that in the future everyone could have this choice of a genetically modified baby, but it will come only after potentially generations of upper class designer babies. Moreover, if accessible this controversial policy has the possibility dramatically improve the human race, but if not, could create a dystopia that could increase the gap between classes for the worse.
Policy 2: Health reasons + aesthetics
The second policy would restrict gene editing to only allow parents to edit genes for health and aesthetic reasons. For example, a parent could choose to have their child without disease and with a certain eye color and no balding. This policy is the most complicated in my eyes, because there is no obvious inequality created by choosing an aesthetic feature, such as eye color. Additionally, people can change their eye color or hair color non-permanently currently, so what is the problem with having it done at birth? At first glance, there is none. There would not be a huge issue with parents choosing to have a child with certain aesthetic characteristics, it does not harm anyone and does not give one child an inherent advantage in trying to be successful over another.
However, I think this policy could have dire social consequences that can be easily overlooked. In our age of trends, what if aesthetic traits in babies become fashionable. For example, in the year 2034 it is trendy to have a baby with green eyes, but in 2037 it is no longer in fashion. It is not ethical to treat babies like clothing or objects, and this possibility should have society consider whether having the ability to change aesthetics is worth the potential cost. Kids could be bullied in school for not having trendy traits, something that they could not control, and their parents could not afford. This is something I do not think we could control and the possibility for this unnecessary technology to get out of hand is very possible. Thus, this policy, although seemingly not harmful, should be considered very cautiously because of its potential negative social ramifications.
Policy 3: Only for health reasons
The third policy is one that is the least controversial, to edit genes to make sure babies do not have genetic diseases. The benefits of this is that the child would grow up with a significantly higher quality of life because they would not only be free of severe diseases, they would also be healthier in general. Also, this means that their cost of health care would be significantly reduced which benefits not only the family, but also the government because they would have to spend little to no money on the persons healthcare.
I believe it would be unethical to outlaw genome editing to remove faulty genes for health reasons. If scientists have discovered something with the ability to improve quality of life it is only right to make sure it is put into practice safely.
There is only one issue with this policy. When removing and replacing faulty genes, we do not know what the consequences will be, if any. There could be a potential for another unknown side effect to develop or if you get rid of one disease another one appears as a result. People must sort out how to deal with these dilemmas and prioritize what is more important. However, even with the potential of further complications. I feel that this policy is only unethical if we do not attempt to put it into practice.
Policy 4: Gene editing illegal
The fourth policy is where all forms of gene editing are illegal. This means parents would not be able to change anything about their child. The benefits of this would be that there would be no super class of babies and there would be no traits in babies which would be trendy allowing every baby born, no matter the background, to not have an inherent advantage based on money paid for “upgrades”. Additionally, some people feel by gene editing we will be “playing God,” which is in itself unethical.
However, these arguments are too sophomoric. To poses new technologies that could better the human experience and not to use them is wrong. We should always be striving to be more advanced as a society and innovate. Although some people do not like change it is for the better and although transitions will not be perfect we must try if the outcome could change human lives for the better. Additionally, the idea that we would be playing God is also not valid. We already have so many medical innovations and drugs that improve our quality of life, how would this be any different. So, to those who say we will be playing God: God gave us brains for a reason, and if we use them to help our state of being that is not unethical, but rather utilizing what God gave us to our advantage.
In conclusion, this is a very complicated issue with many questions surrounding not only the technology itself but also the social implications that come with it. As of right now I do not believe there is a clear right answer in which policy is the best. Nevertheless, if I had to choose one policy today, it would be policy number three. I feel this is the most ideal option as we would be able to make sure babies do not have diseases and improve quality of life in the most dramatic way out of the four options. Additionally, not many social issues would arise as a result. Although there are some risks with not know the side effects of editing the disease out of the baby’s DNA, we will learn as we move forward, and the potential reward is massive. The first two options are too complex to implement now, as we do not understand what will come as a result and if it will cause social harm. The fourth policy is unethical because I believe if we have a method to improve the quality of life for people, it should be implemented if it does not have largely negative consequences. I do not believe by gene editing we are playing God, but rather using our minds to derive a solution for improving life on earth.