I have heard this argument come up again and again, online, in the media, and even at school, over whether it is ethical to allow scientists to genetically modify genes.
Until recently, it has only been possible for scientists to remove cells carrying faulty genes from a patient and replace them with healthy cells from either another area of their body, or from a non-sufferer of the condition caused by the faulty gene. However, earlier this year, it was announced that in China, a group of scientists had successfully performed gene editing, in which a section of DNA can be cut out, altered and then re-implanted.
However, naturally, this breakthrough was immediately met with a number of ethical questions, such as whether it was against human morals to allow it etc, and so that is what I am going to be pondering in this blog.
Firstly, let’s look at the positives: gene editing has opened up the potential to wipe out certain hereditary genetic conditions, such as Huntington’s Disease. This is because, previously, with genetic modification, it was possible that even if someone had their faulty gene carrying Huntington’s on it replaced, it was still possible that it may be passed on to their children, but with gene editing, scientists are hopeful that it could mean that conditions such as these could eventually become extinct. As a result of this, gene editing could save the NHS and other health services a huge amount of money that would be spent on carers and treatment for sufferers of diseases such as Huntington’s or cystic fibrosis. This money could, in turn, allow another breakthrough in another area of medicine that would allow more people to live a happy life.
On the other hand, many people have raised the question over whether it is ethical to allow scientists to genetically edit embryos, as there are fears that this could lead to ‘designer babies’ in which people start asking for ‘desirable characteristics’, such as hair colour, eye colour, mental ability, sporting prowess etc…
Furthermore, this area of science is still relatively new, and we have no idea what the long term effects could be, such as the possibility that, whilst editing one gene, what is the likelihood that we damage others, causing even more severe problems, or whether, genetically edited cells will be able to reproduce properly, or once they die is that it?
As for now, there is definitely more research needed into the pros and cons of gene editing, and the likely prosperity of it, should it be deemed safe enough to introduce into general public consumption.
Thank you for reading!