The case against germline editing
Medical technology has advanced incredibly fast over the last century. In the early 20th century physicians prescribed radium contaminated water for the treatment of impotence and arthritis, intentionally collapsing the lungs of a tuberculosis patient to promote healing, treating syphilis with mercury, and giving morphine and mercury to teething babies. At the time these were acceptable treatments that we now know to be extremely hazardous. Today we can edit the very instructions for making a human and this has amazing potential to create humans who are resilient to disease, innately more intelligent, and who may possibly live twice as long. However, like the physicians of one hundred years ago the physicians of today don’t have the benefit of hindsight to rely one; the technology is too new and the results of germline edits are unpredictable. Germline editing is the changing of DNA within a handful of embryonic cells which will then divide and multiply into an embryo and finally into a fully grown person. The changes made with this handful of cells will propagate to every cell within the adult and be passed on to the children of the subject. However, the prediction of what the edits will bring later on in development is not possible. A small change in the initial conditions of a dynamic system will produce end conditions that cannot be predicted. This is monumental concern; especially in the case of Dr. He Jianku a Chinese geneticist who used the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technique to make 2 human embryos HIV resistant; a practice that is common and the embryos are usually rendered non viable. Jianku, however, implanted the embryos into a woman who later gave birth to twin girls in October 2018. What He did went against accepted medical ethics and is exactly what we would expect from a Hollywood villain and not an esteemed scientist. He is not alone. David Grossman, a contributor to Popular Mechanics, reported that Russian microbiologist Denis Rebrikov wants to repeat the procedure to combat the HIV/AIDs epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Rebrikov states that he can “do it better.” What these men want to accomplish amounts to human experimentation not so different than that of Josef Mengele, the infamous Nazi physician who earned the shameful title “Angel of Death.” Mengele tortured, experimented, dissected, and butchered hundreds of prisoners: men, women, and children. The majority of his victims were children, incidentally, twins. His brutally inhuman acts furthered medical science at the cost of humanity itself. Germline editing is still experimentation on humans except these humans are in a gray zone of poor definition. They have no voice, feel no pain, tell no tales. Yet.
We cannot in good conscience as a people allow this kind of human experimentation to continue, regardless of its potential value to the human race, we must remain human. We cannot cast aside the few for the good of the many no matter the cost.