The Corner

Politics & Policy

Regulate Embryo Research Before Too Late

Scientists have successfully cloned human embryos using the same technique that created Dolly the sheep, potentially transforming human reproduction into a matter of manufacture and quality control.

Scientists have learned to genetically engineer any organism or cell through a technique known as CRISPR. This may be the most potentially dangerous human invention since the atomic bomb. 

Scientists are pursuing making “three-parent” embryos, toward the purpose of avoiding genetic disease, but also with the potential to create novel family forms.

And now, scientists are making human “embryoids”–cell formations that are not viable organisms–from stem cells, but which may be a step before making human organisms. From the MIT Technology Review story:

Scientists at Michigan now have plans to manufacture embryoids by the hundreds. These could be used to screen drugs to see which cause birth defects, find others to increase the chance of pregnancy, or to create starting material for lab-generated organs.

But ethical and political quarrels may not be far behind. “This is a hot new frontier in both science and bioethics. And it seems likely to remain contested for the coming years,” says Jonathan Kimmelman, a member of the bioethics unit at McGill University, in Montreal, and a leader of an international organization of stem-cell scientists.

Science isn’t the be all and end all. As one scientists notes, ethics matter too:

We decided yes, we are trying to grow a structure similar to part of the human early embryo that is hard otherwise to study,” says Shao. “But we are not going to generate a complete human embryo. I can’t just consider my feelings. I have to think about society.”

Thank you. But at least one scientist insists he won’t stop until he develops a human organism via this means:

Other scientists, however, are determined to see just how far the science leads, up to and including forging the first complete human embryo from stem cells. That’s the case of Ali Brivanlou, an embryologist who leads a lab at Rockefeller University, in New York City. “My goal is to maximize the modeling, in vitro, of human development,” Brivanlou wrote in an e-mail. “Therefore, we would like to be as accurate as possible and as complete as possible.”

These are potentially epochal developments. But where are the democratic discussions about whether and how to regulate these technologies?

They aren’t happening. Nobody outside the biotech and bioethics sectors are even talking about this.

And where is a presidential advisory commission to debate these matters? (I have urged a “populist bioethics commission,” made up of diverse voices, not a “stacked deck” rubber-stamping body.)  It doesn’t exist.

Indeed, President Trump seems not to even be aware that biotech and bioethics are urgent policy concerns.

Every powerful human enterprise needs checks and balances. At present, outside of government funding issues, they almost don’t exist.

That needs to change. Because if we don’t begin to grapple as a society with these embryo-biotech issues soon, it will be too late.

Most Popular

Politics & Policy

Strzok by a Farce

An investigation is one of two things: a search for the truth, or a farce. The House is conducting a farce. That fact was on full display during ten hours of testimony by Peter Strzok, the logorrheic lawman who steered the FBI’s Clinton-emails and Trump–Russia probes. The principal question before the ... Read More

Democrats Are Dumping Moderates

The activist base of the Democratic party is lurching left fast enough that everyone should pay attention. Activists matter because their turnout in low-turnout primaries and caucuses almost propelled leftist Bernie Sanders to victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Last month, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez unseated New ... Read More
Film & TV

Stalin at the Movies

Toward the end of The Death of Stalin, two Communist Party bosses size up Joseph Stalin’s immediate successor, Georgy Malenkov. “Can we trust him?” one asks. “Can you ever really trust a weak man?” his comrade answers. Good question. Last week brought the news that the head of Shambhala ... Read More

‘The Warning Lights Are Blinking Red Again’

One of President Trump’s outstanding appointments has been Dan Coats, his director of national intelligence. Coats is a former House member, former senator, and former ambassador to Germany. He is a Hoosier (i.e., from Indiana). Whether he plays basketball, I don’t know. At Wheaton College, he played soccer. ... Read More