Depending on your perspective, tinkering with genes to make so-called designer babies is a dream — or a nightmare.
With a couple tweaks to the genome, certain diseases, even ones that aren’t genetic (like HIV), could become a thing of the past. We could usher in the next generation of augmented humans, with lower risks for diseases and extra-strong bones.
Scientists in China have already used a tool called CRISPR to edit human embryos — ones that couldn’t result in live births. (They had only limited success in changing exactly the part of the genome they’d intended to change.)
The technology is at an early and imprecise stage, but it’s plausible that someday we’ll be able to produce genetically modified people. That of course raises questions about whether it’s actually good idea.
Some scientists don’t think so, especially since the science is so new. But bioethicist Dr. James Hughes of Trinity College argues that the decision to create genetically modified designer babies is not so different from other decisions parents already make about having kids.
“Those kinds of choices will become inevitable, and we’ll adapt to them relatively well,” he told Business Insider.
Hughes contextualizes the option to have genetically modified kids as one of many parental freedoms that are widely recognised.
Starting at the most basic level, individuals have long had the right to choose whose DNA they want to combine with theirs to make a baby.
Birth controls means that parents have the ability to choose when they have kids. And with prenatal testing, parents are already able to find out if their children might have defects, he said.
It’s pretty well accepted that forcing people to be sterilized or otherwise preventing them from having kids is wrong. That’s all part of the widespread — if not universal — belief “that people have a right to control their bodies and to control the circumstances of their reproduction,” Hughes said.
Besides, the parents’ decision to change a child’s DNA would often be in the interest of a child, such as making them less susceptible to cancer. Any cosmetic changes, like choosing blue eyes instead of brown, wouldn’t really affect the child’s well-being in the long run, he said.
All of this is mostly hypothetical, of course, until CRISPR can be coaxed to work almost 100% perfectly, which is far beyond its current track record. But if the tool ever can be used to edit genes with acceptable accuracy and low enough risk, granting parents the right to make decisions about their children’s genes might not be such a dramatic break from the past after all.
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