Should We Contrive Our Children?

Thomas Howell, Op-Ed Editor

As time goes on, our understanding of the human genome develops rapidly and new ethical dilemmas arise each year. Recently, a new form of gene manipulation has taken form that gives scientists the power to edit a person’s genes. This technique, called CRISPR by scientists around the globe, exploits a natural defense mechanism in bacteria to disable a targeted gene or to insert a desired gene into a person’s genetic code. Since CRISPR works especially well on gametes, the edited genes could be hereditary and passed on from generation to generation. With this technology, scientists could cure genetic disorders like Huntington’s disease and Down syndrome, prevent cancer cells from multiplying, and reverse symptoms of blindness. Many, however, are concerned that this new gene therapy will do more harm than good.

While this technique of genetic modification could improve the lives of millions, it could also have unintended consequences and create a market for “designer babies.” Even though CRISPR is an extremely accurate technique, scientists sometimes miss the targeted gene, altering the human genome in an inadvertent way. This could result in disastrous mistakes in gene therapy that could be inherited by countless generations. Also, people may exploit this technology to tamper with their own or their unborn child’s intelligence, height, eye color, or any other genetically linked trait that could be edited. The unborn child would have no say in the genetic alterations and would be forced to live with whatever genetic modifications their parents chose to impose on them. CRISPR has the potential to do great things, but also to do harm. We now have the technology to engineer our descendants, but should we?