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The Ethics Of Gene Editing

December 9, 2015

It is truly a brave new world as gene editing goes from a science fiction trope in movies like Gattaca, to becoming a real world solution to eradicating some of our deadliest diseases. Last week, geneticists, lawyers, ethicists and a few patient groups, joined together at the National Academy of Sciences to discuss the moral implications of using CRISPR 9, an accurate gene editing technique. Will gene editing be regulated and used solely for curing diseases or could it be used to create boutique babies with hand picked traits?

“For a long time, scientists, doctors had said, you know what, we are never going to touch genes that you pass on to future generations it’s too risky, there’s too much danger of eugenics, going back to creating the perfect race or the perfect baby. We’re just going to change genes in the cells of your body. So if you had cystic fibrosis we might try to fix it by changing the genes in your lungs, but that wouldn’t be passed on, Medical Ethicist Art Caplan said on Boston Public Radio Wednesday.

The accuracy of CRISPR 9’s ability to edit genes has made the medical community rethink their position on affecting generational genes, says Caplan. Not preventing inherited disease like breast cancer could be seen as unethical.

“The old principle, we are never going to touch genes that pass on to the future, out the window,” Caplan said.  

“There is no way you’re are going to hold people who have Tay-Sachs disease, passing on cystic fibrosis, or hemophilia, hostage to worries about the future. Whether we go down the eugenics path, I don’t know.”

Caplan believes that it is likely that we will see a future where gene editing is used to make designer babies that have a curated set of traits that the parents have chosen. Despite the troubling implications the proliferation of this technique could mean for humanity, Caplan is hopeful about one aspect of gene editing.

“Let me add, the best thing about this technique is that it is a full employment guarantee for bio-ethicists. It is just like, sign up now kids for your bio-ethics courses because this is going to be the big issue.”

Listen to the entire interview with Art Caplan above. 


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