Calls for the Government to legalise research on genetically modified human embryos amount to promoting a “form of eugenics”, a retired surgeon and professor of Practical Theology has said.
Prof Donald MacDonald, also a former moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, criticised research bodies who “use early human beings as a means to an end”.
Earlier this month, two Government research councils and three medical research groups said there should be an international debate about genetic modification of human embryos.
Prof MacDonald responded: “While the aim of eradicating genetically determined diseases seems attractive, there are several reasons for opposing this research in embryos.”
He described the idea as using “early human beings as a means to an end. They would be experimented upon and destroyed.”
He added, “this is a form of eugenics and could be abused by attempting to produce individuals with certain desirable characteristics rather than to prevent disease”.
This would be to use early human beings as a means to an end. They would be experimented upon and destroyed.Prof DonaldMacDonald
Prohibited by law
In a statement, the groups advocating GM embryo research said there may be “future potential to apply genome editing in a clinical context using human germ cells or embryos, though this is prohibited by law in the UK”.
At the beginning of September, critics warned against legalising such research, saying that it would effectively condone designer babies.
Dr David King, Director of Human Genetics Alert, warned that these UK groups are essentially condoning genetically modified babies, despite global opposition.
“The public must raise its voice in support of the strong international consensus against crossing this line. If we don’t, it is almost inevitable that we will end up in a market for ‘enhanced’ GM designer babies”, he said.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, science writer Michael Hanlon warned that allowing the genetic modification of embryos could lead to a society where people with Down’s syndrome and autism are eliminated.
“A world free of genetic disease, full of the super-bright, the beautiful and the fit may sound like heaven. But in reality it could resemble another place altogether”, he said.