Timothy Rah/ Robinson Secondary 11th
If you could change one of your genetic characteristics, what would it be? Your hair color? Oh, maybe your height? The concept of choosing one’s features is a desired yet unattainable one. I mean, you can’t control your genes right?
At the conclusion of 2018, we were treated to a surprise that would prove to stir a commotion to end the year off with a bang: genetically modified babies (GMB*). Reportedly, these babies were modified in a lab in China under the supervision of a Chinese researcher, He Jiankui. The genetic modification involved gene surgery of embryos to grant protection from HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). He used CRISPR, a gene editing method that cuts out a specific section of a DNA strand, to edit CCR5, a gene that allows HIV to enter and infect immune system cells. By doing this, it prevented the possibility of the babies contracting HIV, offering them a lifetime guarantee of being HIV free. But why HIV? According to He Jainkui himself, CCR5 editing is the simplest gene surgery that could be performed, stating that only a few DNA letters need to be removed. Furthermore, He states that the lethality of HIV makes gene editing to protect the babies justifiable and necessary. However, some disagree.
He’s report on the GMB shocked the world and created mayhem amongst the medical community. As stated earlier, He utilized CRISPR as his tool to edit CCR5 and was credited as being the first person to create humans using this technology. However, GMB were not a concept unfathomable until now; researchers in the past decided not to edit embryonic genes in order to align with ethical foundations. For one, there are many risks of gene editing that could affect the GMB as they age, such as an increased susceptibility to the West Nile Virus. Additionally, the alteration of genes could cause a mutation and create a new disease that the GMB and their future lineage could be susceptible to. Then, there is the introduction of designer babies. This alteration of genes for non medical is seen as unnecessary and violating the natural balance of life. Also, creating a “perfect human” could create a tyrannical dynamic between parent to child, as it may serve as a surefire way to set a child on a certain path. While some contest GMB with these arguments, others say that using gene editing to protect babies is acceptable as long as it is for a medical purpose and is benefiting society.
Nonetheless, what is done is done, and the GMB are currently alive and, reportedly, well. At this point, all we can do is wait and see if genetic modification of embryos do more harm than good and if it will be accepted in society. With all this being said, one thing is certain: the actions of He Jiankui will serve as a realization of societal advancment’s incompatibility with societal morals. Our actions today will affect the conduct of the future, whether it be for better or for worse.
<Timothy Rah/ Robinson Secondary 11th