Loading...
BYH to the city Public Works department for paying for an expensive public input session on sidewalks and not telling...

Gene editing is here. It's an enormous threat

MarcThiessen

Marc Thiessen

Loading…

Sunday, December 2, 2018

A Chinese scientist's claim to have created the first genetically edited babies has evoked widespread condemnation from the scientific community. "This is far too premature," one American genetic scientist told the Associated Press. But here is a larger question: Should we be doing this at all?

The Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, used a gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to alter the DNA of two children in a petri dish and attempt to make them resistant to HIV. This is not what has American scientists up at arms. In fact, researchers in the United States have done the same thing. The difference is that He implanted his edited embryos. The American researchers killed theirs.

The prospect of genetically eliminating crippling diseases is certainly appealing, but this promise masks a darker reality. First, there is a difference between genetic engineering and the extremely promising field of gene therapy, in which doctors use CRISPR technology to repair the DNA of defective nonreproductive cells — allowing them to treat cancer, genetic disorders and other diseases. In gene therapy, the genetic changes affect only the patient. In genetic engineering, scientists alter the entire genetic structure of the resulting human being — changes that are then passed on to future generations.

Playing with humanity's genetic code could open a Pandora's box. Scientists will eventually be able to alter DNA not just to protect against disease but also to create genetically enhanced human beings. The same techniques that can eliminate muscular dystrophy might also be used to enhance muscles to improve strength or speed. Techniques used to eliminate dementia may also be harnessed to enhance memory and cognition. This would have profound societal implications.

Only the wealthy would be able to afford made-to-order babies. This means the privileged few would be able to eliminate imperfections and improve the talent, beauty, stature and IQ of their offspring — thus locking in their privilege for generations. Those at the bottom would not. This could be a death blow to the American Dream, the idea that anyone who is willing to work hard in this country can rise up the economic ladder.

Indeed, genetic engineering could actually eliminate opportunities for those at the bottom. For example, one path to higher education for those at the bottom is scholarships for athletic or artistic talents. But in a world of genetic engineering, those scholarships will disappear for the unenhanced poor — and with them the opportunities to improve their economic prospects in life. 

If we begin to create perfect children in labs, over time society will begin develop an intolerance for imperfection. If your children have an illness because you didn't genetically eliminate it, or if they can't keep up because of their unenhanced cognitive abilities, then that makes them an unjust burden on the rest of us. As we are separated into the enhanced and unenhanced, respect for the dignity of every human life will be diminished.

So will personal responsibility. If we don't make it in life because we are unenhanced, it's not our fault. And if we do because we are enhanced, we don't get the credit. As Harvard University professor Michael Sandel once wrote, "It is one thing to hit 70 home runs as the result of disciplined training and effort, and something else, something less, to hit them with the help of … genetically enhanced muscles." Genetic engineering could rob Americans of the obligation, and the joy, of earning their own success.

Then there is the threat to women's equality. If genetic engineering can offer the promise of eliminating disease, it will also allow parents to choose the sex of their child. That could lead to greater sex discrimination. Just look at China, where the one-child policy led to mass infanticide of girls. If you believe that gender bias exists, then that bias will be expressed through genetic engineering — with potentially disastrous implications.

It will also lead to an explosion in the number of discarded children. For every child born via in vitro fertilization, there are multiple fetuses which are created but never used. Today, the Department of Health and Human Services reports, there are more than 600,000 cryogenically frozen embryos in the United States. If genetic engineering through in vitro fertilization becomes common, that number will skyrocket, sparking a profound moral crisis.

Here is the bottom line: We should not be playing God. Genetic research holds the promise to prevent, cure and even eliminate disease. But when it is used to create made-to-order "super children," we have crossed a moral line from which there may be no return.

Marc Thiessen is an author, columnist and political commentator. He served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Op Ed

May 19, 2019

The Washington Post

The prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, has said she does not think anyone would argue that the perpetrator of the Christchurch massacre should have been able to livestream mass murder. Maybe that question elicits something close to unanimity — but in trying to…

May 19, 2019

Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes, adding his voice to calls to "break up" the social media giant, calls it a "powerful monopoly, eclipsing all of its rivals and erasing competition." In recent years, we've seen similar claims, and heard demands for similar remedies, aimed at Google, Amazon, and…

Knapp

May 19, 2019

With a competent president in the White House, the escalating confrontation with Iran would not rise to the level of crisis. With President Trump calling the shots, we should be afraid. Very afraid.

A rational president, of course, would not have abandoned the landmark deal that halted Iran's…

Eugene Robinson

May 18, 2019

I’ve been watching the emerging election for North Carolina’s Senate seat and wonder if we are seeing symptoms of a larger trend. Our traditional tribalism — Republicans and Democrats — has morphed into contentious sub-tribes within each party. Instead of a sure re-…

Tom Campbell.jpg

May 17, 2019

Tom McCuin served two tours as an Army public affairs officer in Afghanistan and worked closely with local nationals hired by American forces.

"They were not only our language interpreters, they were our cultural interpreters," McCuin wrote on clearancejobs.com, a site that lists openings for…

Steve and Cokie Roberts

May 16, 2019

Congressional elections in odd-numbered years? Odd is certainly one way to describe what many North Carolinians are experiencing right now. But in some ways, the special elections of 2019 are confirming rather than breaking the political rules.

Those elections are in the 3rd District, which spans…

john hood.jpg

May 15, 2019

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Economics at Ohio University Richard Vedder's new book, "Restoring the Promise," published by the Independent Institute based in Oakland, California, is about the crisis in higher education. He summarizes the three major problems faced by America's colleges and…

Walter Williams

May 14, 2019

We were hopeful that this would be the year North Carolina changed the way it does redistricting for congressional and General Assembly seats. After all, we’ve been slapped by the courts so many times we’ve lost count. Our record is so bad that the U.S. Supreme Court, which has long…

May 14, 2019

Amid the hoopla surrounding educational inputs in North Carolina, it's nice to hear some state lawmakers focusing attention on educational outcomes.

A couple of outcome-focused bills caught this observer's attention last week. Those bills attracted far less scrutiny from reporters and pundits than…

Mitch Kokai

May 14, 2019

On May 7, voters in Denver, Colorado narrowly approved a measure de-criminalizing "magic mushrooms" — mushrooms containing the consciousness-altering compound psilocybin. The measure, National Public Radio reports, "effectively bars the city from prosecuting or arresting adults 21 or older…

Knapp
256 stories in Op Ed. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 26
        Next Page»   Last Page»