A brief recent report of a gene editing breakthrough caught my attention, but so far I have seen no follow up reportage on the event. The Wall Street Journal reported that an international group of researchers reported that they have edited viable human embryos to correct a disease-causing defect using the gene-editing tool named Crispr-Cas9. The embryos, created for research, were not implanted in a woman according to the researchers in an article in the journal Nature.
The new tool Crispr-Cas9 has been approved by regulatory agencies for testing treatments for diseases in individuals, but the U. S. Food and Drug Administration is prohibited by law from using funds to accept applications for research using gene editing of the human germ line, the genes of sperm, eggs, or embryos, or, in lay terms, the modification of the individual that would be carried to future generations. Need I say more about the critical issues at stake?
I have written before of the need for serious transparency and oversight in the development of these technologies that have the potential to alter what it means to be human. There will be political decisions under deliberation on these issues of enormous impact and complexity over the next several decades. To hope that these decisions can be made in a moral vacuum is a delusion. Sixteen years ago, President George W. Bush appointed the President’s Council of Bioethics under the leadership of Leon Kass, which produced a masterful survey of the then current biosciences technology, its future prospects, and recommendations for policy. Maybe it’s time for a renewal and update of that project to reflect on the current status of the capabilities.
As I have said before, the rationality of man in the era of scientism doesn’t have a very good historical record on these issues. One century of mass murder perpetrated by totalitarian regimes driven by the utopian notion of the denial of human nature should have been enough to convince us that just because man can doesn’t mean he should. Beware the false promise of scientism and utility in the name of progress.