‘Irresponsible’ US scientists back human gene editing

Calls for the genetic editing of human beings by top scientific institutions in the United States have been labelled ‘irresponsible’ by an ethics watchdog.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine issued a report sanctioning medical research that looks to manipulate DNA in human embryos.

Gene editing is currently allowed in research as long as it only involves non-heritable cells. The Academies’ controversial stance seeks to allow wider editing of DNA in the human “germline”, which is passed on to future generations.

‘Designer babies’

Many scientists have warned against editing the human germline, as it could open the door to ‘designer babies’, where children are customised to have certain physical features or character traits.

Dr David King, of ethical watchdog Human Genetics Alert, said the report represented “another step towards eugenic dystopia”.

He accused the scientists involved of wanting “to make having babies part of the industrial machine. If scientists create GM babies, it will be impossible to avoid the ‘designer babies’ dystopia”.

Redefining humanity

Albert Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also spoke out against the calls.

another step towards eugenic dystopia

Dr David King

He said: “Not only are we talking about experimentation on human embryos, we’re talking about experimentation that could change the entire germline for humanity.”

“From a biblical perspective it’s almost impossible to overestimate the impact of this kind of technology, that is, the moral impact. We’re looking at a potential redefinition of what it means to be human – at least genetically speaking”.

Three and four-parent babies

The report follows recent developments in the UK, where scientists have been given the go-ahead to create babies with genetic material from three or four parents.

Three and four-parent baby techniques were developed in an attempt to create children free from mitochondrial disease.

MPs from across the political spectrum criticised the time allowed for Parliamentary scrutiny of the provisions. Former DUP MP Dr William McCrea saying there was “general dismay” that only 90 minutes was allocated for a “decision of such magnitude”.

Related Resources