This article supports my opinion that genetic enhancement is morally and ethically wrong. The article does talk about the number of human embryos that would need to be disposed of if this were a widespread procedure. The article also talks about genetic enhancement ushering in a new age of eugenics. Historically, nations have shamefully participated in eugenics programs to "cleanse" themselves of certain races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and disabilities. In an age of widespread designer humans, we could be facing a new type of eugenics--a cleansing of anything not deemed genetically perfect. Beethoven was deaf, Einstein did not do well in high school math and science, Matisse had cataracts, Stevie Wonder is blind and the list goes on and on. In a world seeking genetic perfection, none of these individuals would have been born. And our world would have been a much sadder place without them.
Credit: Telegraph.uk multimedia archive. I think that genetic enhancement is ethically wrong for many reasons. First, I would state that I do think every avenue should be pursued to pursue genetic engineering to treat and prevent actual pathology. It would be a huge medical breakthrough if cancer could one day be prevented by inhaling a virus with edited genes to correct its genetic cause. But, I draw the line at enhancement. First of all, it looks like these therapies would need to be done at the early embryonic stages of development. This means that you are actually performing life-altering medical procedures on pre-born humans that do not have the ability to consent. If the parents decide they would like to enhance the embryo for musical ability, the future child's decision to passionately pursue music is negated. Secondly, it looks like many human embryos would be not selected for implantation if they do not express the desired traits. What happens to those embryos that each have the ability to develop into a fully functional human? I also oppose genetic enhancement for socioeconomic reasons. It is likely that this type of procedure would, at least at first, be very costly. Only the "upper" classes would be able to afford it. So, now we have an economic class that is enhanced to be more intelligent, have more sports prowess, etc., while lower socioeconomic classes do not have access to those procedures. I believe this would hasten the development of a permanent underclass divided along socioeconomic lines. Too often, socioeconomic tend to fall along racial lines. I don't believe this would be good for our nation or the world as a whole. What about entire countries that do not have access to these types of procedures? Lastly, I am opposed to genetic enhancement on moral grounds. I do think it is "playing God" to go in and pick out the traits of your children. I think that it could lead to a homogenized society that ultimately does not value diversity. And then, to stand out, we need to re-establish the goal post. So if we have many genetically enhanced athletes, what must an athlete do to excel and rise above the rest? When does it stop? I chose this picture to represent my opinion because I think that widespread use of genetic enhancement to produce designer babies could lead to a society that looks much like this eventually.
This article talks about using gene therapy to preserve memory and preventing dementia in menopausal women. Estrogen plays a role in protecting parts of the brain that make memories. By using gene therapy, scientists have increased the number of estrogen receptors in the hippocampus of mice, therefore preserving memory function, even when estrogen levels are declining. Although this is a very specific function of genetic therapy, the article talks about the fact that it is a first step in developing technology that could lead to using gene therapy to improve memory and IQ for the general population. Genetic enhancement for intelligence is still in the future, but it is probable that a technology could exist within 10 years to improve intelligence. Scientists are still learning about the genetic foundations of intelligence and are still developing gene therapy's efficacy. Once those are developed, using genetic enhancement to improve intelligence is generally seen to be a certainty.
This video explains how the CRISPR-Cas9, the tool scientists are using to edit DNA, works. CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Pallindromic Repeats) is an immune system found in bacteria. It is basically a "library" of viral DNA that has been encountered in the past. The viral DNA pairs is used to make matching bacterial RNA segments. The RNA segments pair with a Cas enzyme, which cuts any DNA encountered that matches the RNA segment. Therefore, if the bacteria encounters the virus again, it has an RNA-Cas complex that will recognize it and cut it, rendering it unharmful. Scientists are using this system and are engineering the RNA sequence that they want to target. They then bind Cas9, a DNA cutting enzyme to it. The engineered guide RNA is then inserted into a plasmid (short bacterial DNA sequence) that is exposed to and engulfed by living cells. This technology can be used to "knock out" or deactivate particular genes, precisely modify target areas of DNA (genes), and turning genes on or off without altering their actual sequence. Applications include making accurate disease models in animals, bringing back extinct species, introducing lethal genes to mosquitoes that spread malaria and growing pigs with human organs capable of use in transplants. Designer pets have already been created, including mini-pigs with certain coat patterns. The video ends by stating that the technology is not ready for use on humans because the CRISPR system sometimes cuts in unintended places and could introduce unwanted expressions of genes.
Scientists are developing ways to edit the DNA of tomorrow’s children. Should they stop before it’s too late? This article, published by MIT Technology Review in 2015, reviews the current state of genetic editing of embryos and germ cells. The article states that most research on human embryo editing is being done in China and that they currently have several papers under review on the subject. (Note: Since publication of this article, validity of much Chinese research has been called into question.) In primate studies, CRISPR technology has been used to insert the SHANK3 gene, which is associated with autism when defective. So far, the results show that while the genome can be edited, expression of the desired trait ranges from 1 in 20 to 1 in 40. Meaning that at times, 40 embryos will need to be engineered, with only one expressing the desired trait. This would have serious implications if human embryos were involved. This technology is in its infancy, with most scientists believing that widespread engineering of human embryos is 10 to 20 years away. But, most scientists also feel that it is a certainty that the genetic engineering of human embryos will happen. Right now, most research is aimed at altering genes associated with disease processes such as autism or Huntington's disease. But, the article does concede that crossing the line between genetic therapy and genetic enhancement would become easier over time. Some scientists are already arguing that we should be working to alter human intelligence with the advancement of AI technologies. The article states that a Pew study concluded that 46% of Americans did thing we should be advancing genetic engineering of human embryos to treat or prevent disease, but 83% believed that crossing into genetic enhancements were taking the technology too far.