In February of 2016 a team of scientists led by Kathy Niakan, a biologist at Francis Crick Institute were given the first ever green flag to utilize the highly effective and controversial gene editing technology CRISPR.
Gene editing is a genetic engineering whereby DNA is manipulated in the genome of a living organism. CRISPR now allows for an unprecedented amount of control over this process. The discovery of this new technology has resulted in a resurgence of the debate regarding the prohibition of genome editing. This position is however overly simplistic.
Simply put, genome editing should not be prohibited.The main promise by which proponents of gene editing argue is that it could potentially eliminate genetic diseases, reducing human suffering. This on its own is an extremely salient point as there are approximately 6000 genetic diseases known to date. Those against gene editing assert that modifying human embryos is dangerous, unnatural and from a standpoint of “that which is natural is good” state that one should not “Play God”.
The later argument falls flat when we realize the distinction between natural and unnatural are in fact not as clear cut as we tend to believe. Is the nest created by a bird any less natural than the house of a man? Humans beings are afterall natural, by extension, that which we do can only be natural. Furthermore, diseases themselves which result in deaths of millions yearly are natural. In simple terms that which is natural can be either good or bad and should be treated and manipulated accordingly.The majority of the arguments regarding genome editing center around germline editing.
This is understandable as changes made to the germline affect all proceeding generations the effects are long lasting and have greater implications. The team of scientists recently given the go ahead to undergo experimentation on an embryo will “attempt to edit out bits of DNA that prevent an embryo from developing properly—which may answer important questions about infertility.”() This research has great potential payoffs as 6 percent of children born worldwide are born with a defect of genetic origin.Recently the Oregon Health & Science University team successfully edited the DNA of dozens of embryos to correct for a genetic mutation that often leads to heart failure.
Those who propose moral and religious objections against gene editing should realize that the main argument for gene editing is in its proven track record of success in a short span of time.Gene editing promises both very practical and unimaginable future benefits for humanity and animals as there is potential of bringing back endangered species from the brink of extinction. Understandably there are those who caution pointing to negative future possibilities. Ideas such as the the use of germline editing creating biologically superior classes exacerbating the disparity in the one percent are generally the most argued. Whilst it would be dishonest to admit such possibilities as ludicrous they are hardly strong reasons to completely prohibit the use of gene editing as practically speaking the benefits gene editing promises for the general public far outweigh the benefits they may grant the one percent.In conclusion the words of Terrence Mckenna ring true to my ears”I believe in what I call a forward escape, meaning that you can’t go back and you can’t stand still, so you’ve got to go forward and technology is the way to do this.
Technology is an extension of the human mental world, and it’s certainly where our salvation is going to come from; we cannot return to the hunter-gatherer pastoralism of 15,000 years ago.”- Terence MckennaThe solution to the humane gene editing debate is not prohibition but careful changes and regulatory oversight of its use as scientific knowledge advances and societal views evolve.