Scientists and Activists Call for Ban on Human Gene Editing

Written by on January 22, 2018 in Sci-Tech, Science with 17 Comments


By Julie Fidler | Natural Society

On Monday, a group of U.S. scientists, The Center for Genetics and Society (CGS), and the activist group Friends of the Earth called for a global ban on gene editing of human embryos just a day before a major international meeting in Washington, D.C., to tackle the policy and ethical issues surrounding the technology.

On the surface, the practice could sound like a potential solution to a myriad of health problems facing the planet. Human gene editing would allow us to create “designer babies” by editing out undesirable strands of DNA. Supporters of the technique say it would allow future generations to be born without genetic predispositions to Alzheimer’s disease. [1]

Related Article: We Can Now Edit Our DNA (with CRISPR-Cas9), So How Can We Do It Wisely?

Earlier this year in China, researchers reported they had used a gene-editing technique called CRISPR to modify an aberrant gene that causes an inherited, life-threatening blood disorder known as beta thalassaemia. The scientists utilized IVF embryos from obtained from fertility clinics. (They were not implanted in women following the experiment.)

Gene editing is fairly common in China, but scientists the world over worry about how the edits could affect generations to come, since those genetic alterations would be passed onto offspring. And, in theory, it could one day enable parents to “build” offspring with greater intelligence or athletic ability. [2]

“Like so many powerful new technologies, gene editing holds potential for both great benefit and great harm,” an open letter published by the groups said.

“The implementation of heritable human genetic modification — often referred to as the creation of ‘genetically modified humans’ or ‘designer babies’ — could irrevocably alter the nature of the human species and society.

“Gene editing may hold some promise for somatic gene therapy (aimed at treating impaired tissues in a fully formed person).

“However, there is no medical justification for modifying human embryos or gametes in an effort to alter the genes of a future child.”

Gene-editing techniques can be applied to non-reproductive cells to repair diseased genes, and this is not the source of the attendees’ primarily concern. The scientists object to “germline editing” in which reproductive cells, specifically, are edited.

Related Article:DNA Downloaded from the Internet? Leading Geneticist Says Yes!

The Obama Administration endorsed a ban on germline editing in May, saying more research was needed into ethical issues surrounding the practice.

Gene editing works similarly to the “find and replace” feature on a word processor. The gene to be edited is located and the edit is made either by deleting or repairing it. Genetic modification is ridiculously simple, thanks to modern technology.

In March, a group of scientists led by the key developer of CRISPR technology called on researchers to voluntarily ban the use of the technology on germline editing due to concerns over safety and eugenics. It wasn’t long after that that Chinese scientists reported carrying out the first experiment to alter the DNA of human embryos. The announcement sparked outrage, though some defended the Chinese scientists, saying the research was careful and safe since it was used only on non-viable human embryos.

Related Article: Mad Science: ‘Genetically Modified Micro Humans’ to be ‘Farmed’ for Drug Testing by 2017

For all of its promise, gene editing could prove to be a nightmare that could basically weaponized the human race, according to CGS executive director Marcy Darnovsky:

“The worst-case scenarios are pretty horrific: a genetics arms race between nations or within societies, a world in which affluent parents purchase the latest set of upgrades for their offspring, leading to the emergence of genetic ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ … a world with new forms of inequality, discrimination and conflict,” she said.

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17 Reader Comments

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  1.' Loraine Hill says:

    Remember what happened to the cloned sheep? Our GMO food?

  2.' Jacqueline says:

    Leave it alone people!

  3.' Michelle Wilson says:

    I agree with being able to take out anything that would potentially harm a quality life. But to design a tall blonde whatever? Nope

  4.' Alex Vikoulov says:

    Prohibition rarely works, people! There will always be some places in the world where the embryo gene editing may be still legal so what’s the point?

  5.' Nancy Terrell says:

    I totally agree.

  6.' Asrat Mengesha says:

    Destroying God works is not only sin but also chrome against the beautiful life forms. Right? Humans caused extinction of animals and unrecoverable surprisingly beautiful and life saver, medicine plants by constructing temporary money making buildings and careless constructions and buildings… etc. Right? Why on earth would they need to edit human genes to create strong physical body? For what use? Destruction? To destroy others and live for ever? But, that is just delusion? Right?

  7.' Jeannette E. Garcia says:

    The body maybe able to be manipulated however the soul can not…bring it on…

  8.' Michelle Green says:

    I agree…..should be banned

  9.' Ken R. Wells says:

    Hey, I want one of them designer babies. How fun, I get to design a kid just like creating a stuffed animal in a build a bear store.

    Ain’t science great?

  10.' Danielle Skodak says:

    If I could have been born without the genes for bipolar or crohns disease I would have done it. It has a potential for abuse but there’s good that can come of this. Should we as a species suffer with absolutely debilitating diseases because its “natural”? If so why bother with antibiotics, surgery or any modern medicine at all..isn’t it more “natural” to just deal with it and die?

  11.' Judy Prouse says:

    We should not interfere with nature

  12.' Timo Halttunen says:

    life will find the way 🙂

  13.' Christopher Witehira says:

    Like i said. Its imperative. We must press on about our buisiness of becoming like God! Trust our instruments, trust our machines, trust in ourselves, and let nothing stand in our way of becoming God! It’s our ultimate destiny. whether we like it or not.

  14.' Christopher Witehira says:
  15.' Em Griesbach says:

    Definitely not ethical. Needs to be outright banned. Shades of eugenics anyone? Aryan race?? Even if you take issue with the focus on the morality of the situation and tell people they are just ‘scare mongering’ this has lots of other implications. Besides the obvious stuff of playing god and the utter repulsiveness of your natural born child not being good enough for you to have to ‘design’ them to your perfect preferences, think people. This will obviously only be available to the very wealthy. And like everything else in society, that will create a huge imbalance where they will continue to have the upper hand, and the rest of us become increasingly lower class citizens until we end up in some scary sci fi situation. It’s already heading that way. They will have access to all the resources, foods, medicines, good educations, jobs etc. We will be slowly pushed out of things more and more as the ‘chosen ones’ take over. We need LESS of this stuff, not more.

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