The Ethics Behind Gene Editing

Genome editing is the act of modifying a cell’s DNA by removing, adding or substituting genes. This, in turn, will alter the characteristics of the cell. The development of CRISPR was a major advancement in gene editing as it meant that parts of the gene sequence could be specifically targeted, with the new technology allowing it to be more precise than previous techniques.

Germline gene editing is the use of genome editing in embryos or the gametes. This can be used to edit mutations in the gene sequence that could cause a genetic disease. This form of gene therapy is not currently legal in the UK due to the risks outweighing the benefits. However, there is still a lot of debate as to whether it should be legalised. Some people argue that germline gene therapy ‘enables the correction of disease-causing mutations that are certain to be passed on from generation to generation, sparing future generations from suffering from the disease’. On the other hand, some people argue that this form of gene editing has ‘unpredictable’ effects and ‘other mutations’ could be introduced.

There are also many ethical debates as to whether germline gene therapy is acceptable in today’s society. The Gene Therapy Advisory Committee (GTAC) has to approve new gene therapy techniques before they can be introduced and prevent gene editing being used to create designer babies. There are many ethical issues against germline gene therapy, for example, it could be misused to ‘improve’ the population by selecting favourable characteristics to be developed. Also, as germline therapy became more common, it could create discriminatory behaviour against people with disabilities or genetic disorders.

Personally, I think that, at present, it is sensible to strictly regulate the use of gene editing as it could easily be abused and used for reasons other than to reduce the occurrence of genetic disorders. I think that more research needs to be conducted into this field to reduce the potential risks as it is not currently safe enough to introduce to the public. I also think that, as gene therapy becomes more commonly used in the future, it should continue to be closely regulated to make sure the technology isn’t extorted for individuals’ personal gain, aside from health benefits.

Phoebe

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