CRISPR and the era of Designer babies
by Large Even-Paced Creature on February 10, 2017 - 1:28pm
A relatively recent discovery of an intracellular complex abbreviated as CRISPR (pronounced “crisper”) has given scientists potential control over any living organism’s genes – including humans’. With this technology, genes can be triggered to either express or repress themselves. New sequences can even be spliced in, and undesired ones can be excised. The result of this is that organisms – humans in particular – can be completely customized after conception but before birth to exhibit traits and characteristics desired by the parents, as well as to remove traits deemed undesirable. If this technology develops to the point of being available, these modifications can range from selecting a specific eye color all the way to curing a malady the unborn child is predisposed to. Assuming that the power of this technology can be harnessed and used without risk (a separate, much more complicated issue that will conveniently be glossed over for this essay), the question practically asks itself: Should this technology be used? For reasons that will be discussed further on, I firmly believe that this technology should be used on the condition that the parents who authorize the procedures (or don’t) assume full responsibility for their choices.
First, it is important to acknowledge the arguments that would be against the use of such a technology. While it may be tempting to think that curing a child’s illness through CRISPR technology would be a good idea, a deontological perspective would see would label this notion as immoral. Whether the parents are religious or not, the universal maxim of “do not play God” would provide a moral barrier that would prevent them from tampering with a matter that would otherwise be out of their hands. Because of this, some people, worried about the long term effects of such modifications, proposed patent restrictions that would restrict the use of this technology to “pause worrisome applications” (Guerrini, Curnutte and Scott).While the applications themselves are never specified, they concern is clear: if only certain modifications were allowed, it would be difficult if not impossible to draw the line between what should and should not be done.
However, there are also those who would be in favor of this technology and its use. The utilitarian, with his notion of “the greatest good for the greatest number”, sees the use of CRISPR technology as a net gain: after all, if there is an illness that can be cured, why not do so? An example that comes to mind would be a scenario where a scan determines that an unborn child would suffer from muscular dystrophy unless cured through a process involving CRISPR technology. If the treatment could be afforded by the parents, and would be completed without any complications (again hypothetically speaking), there should not be any reason to decline the procedure. The baby would be cured, and live a happy and healthy – albeit unnatural – life. And yet the fact that it is unnatural is of no concern to the utilitarian. According to Johnjoe McFadden, “DNA is just another bit of our body that might go wrong”, and “[if] science can be used to eliminate human suffering, then let’s get on with it” (McFadden).
My opinion on this coincides very well with Mcfadden’s point I mentioned earlier. If the parents of a child in utero find out that their baby would suffer from a disease curable with a genetic modification, then they would be morally justified in having the baby undergo the procedure. However, if the parents choose not to accept the treatment, they must be responsible for the outcomes that entails. In the earlier example, if the parents had not cured the child with muscular dystrophy, then they must support the child and care for him even with his disability. It was their choice to keep that child’s affliction, and they must deal with that just as much as the child does.
In summary, I believe that when dealing with CRISPR technology, the parents should choose whether they should modify the DNA of their child based on their own ethical frameworks, but no matter what they do they must take responsibility for their choices and accept the consequences, whatever they may be.
Guerrini, Christi, Margaret Curnutte and Christopher Scott. Playing God? CRISPR patents could reduce ‘designer baby’ ethical concerns. 27 Januaury 2017. Web. <https://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2017/01/24/playing-god-crispr-pat....
McFadden, Johnjoe. Genetic editing is like playing God – and what’s wrong with that? 2 February 2016. Web. <https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/feb/02/genetic-editing-pl....