The Corner

Scientists Want to Genetically Engineer Humans

I first became involved deeply in the debates over biotechnology during the great embryonic stem cell debate.

During that time, I watched in stunned and appalled amazement as scientists lied to legislators and hyped the imminent likelihood of CURES! CURES! CURES! in order to win a political debate and gain federal research grants.

During that experience, I concluded that many in the sector essentially have an arrogant “we decide” what should and should not be done in science ethic–rather than society as a whole determining proper parameters through democratic processes–and moreover, that some have an essentially “anything goes” mentality at odds with the views of the rest of society.

More, these advocates pretend to be willing to accept reasonable limitations. But a close look reveals these restraints are primarily over things they cannot yet do.

Then, after a controversial technology becomes doable, the once “unthinkable” is suddenly moved into the “full speed ahead!” file.

Now, that pattern holds with human genetic engineering. From the New York Times story:

An influential science advisory group formed by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine on Tuesday lent its support to a once unthinkable proposition: the modification of human embryos to create genetic traits that can be passed down to future generations.

This type of human gene editing has long been seen as an ethical minefield. Researchers fear that the techniques used to prevent genetic diseases might also be used to enhance intelligence, for example, or to create people physically suited to particular tasks, like serving as soldiers…

Just over a year ago, an international group of scientists said it would be “irresponsible to proceed” with making heritable changes to the human genome until risks could be better assessed and there was “broad societal consensus about the appropriateness” of any proposed change. No one is pretending that such a consensus now exists.

But in the year that the committee was deliberating, [bioethicist] Ms. [Alta] Charo said, the techniques required to perform this sort of gene editing have passed crucial milestones.

See what I mean?

Know this: It starts with health and that justification is deployed to sway the public and regulators.

But soon, these technologies move to promoting enhancement and eugenic design–already seen in currently deployed reproductive technologies.