Earlier in the year, scientists of the world debated the future of gene editing at an international summit – should research be limited? Should it be allowed at all? What are the implications?
Now that British scientists at the Francis Crick Institute have been given the go-ahead to study it, these questions are more than just hypothetical.
But first, an explanation of what gene editing actually is: it’s a technique that scientists can use to remove specific genes from an embryo, which so far has been used to remove inherited diseases by a Chinese research team. This came as a surprise and made a few scientists lose their shit, fearing that this meddling was moving too fast.
Some would say that gene editing will lead to a future of genetic haves and have-nots; the rich holding the keys to healthy genetic heritage, while the poor find themselves barred from it.
Designing babies for certain traits such as appearance or intelligence might be seen as an unfair advantage, or it might eliminate the family’s unique heritage in favour of a prescribed one (we’ve all seen Gattaca, guys).
But you know what? I don’t care.
Gene editing can’t save people suffering from genetic diseases like Cystic Fibrosis or Motor Neurone Disease now, but if you were a parent and knew you could prevent that suffering in future generations of your family, wouldn’t you take that choice?
Wouldn’t you pick a healthier future for your child over one potentially filled with disability, muscular degeneration, or an early death? If only rich people can get hold of the treatment, that’s not the technology’s fault; it’s the healthcare system failing to deliver and regulate it for the good of all.
I certainly don’t have any time for the kind of knee-jerk “shut all research down” reaction the moral establishment seem to have whenever breakthroughs are made, and I hope that’s not how society will act in the future.
Of course there are risks – social ones as well as medical – but what technology doesn’t have those? The benefits outweigh the downsides at the moment, and we owe it to the next generation to try and make their lives better.