Cute baby

Engineering the Better Baby

There are justifiable ethical concerns about new scientific tools that could be used to alter the genes of our descendants, but the genetic engineering of humans is inevitable. Public debate should focus on how the technology should be regulated, not on whether it should be deployed.

NEW YORK – There should no longer be any doubt about whether humans will one day be genetically modified. A new tool – called CRISPR – is already being used to edit the genomes of insects and animals. Essentially a very sharp molecular knife, CRISPR allows scientists to carve out and insert genes precisely and inexpensively. It is only a matter of time before it will be used to engineer our descendants – eliminating many dangerous hereditary diseases in the process.

To be sure, this eventuality is being hotly debated. The main arguments against genetic modification of human embryos are that it would be unsafe and unfair, and that modification would quickly go beyond efforts to reduce the incidence of inherited maladies. But, ultimately, none of these reasons is likely to be persuasive enough to stop the technology from being widely used.

Safety is clearly an important factor, but it is unlikely to be a decisive one. The new gene-editing techniques appear to be very accurate. Animal tests and experiments with human embryos that will not leave lab dishes seem to be on track to prove that there is little risk involved in their application.

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