After He Jankui announced the first gene-edited babies to be successfully modified using CRISPR in China, everyone on the web started to shoot him with questions, taunts, and sometimes even anger, as many believe there is a huge bioethical aspect that should be considered before proceeding in such bio-engineering.
The Chinese government didn’t take long to comment on the incident and not only it condemned the research, but it banned all relative activity in the hi-tech field, stating that neither the government, nor the University where Jankui and his fellow researchers worked and ‘experimented on humans’, according to Bloomberg, where aware of the project’s development.
Bioethics around the world
In the U.S. and most Queensland related countries, and Europe it is prohibited to act ‘god’ when it comes to human embryos, regardless of their health status or the volatility of possible diseases carried by the organic material.
In opposition, entering an artificial pregnancy requires an embryo, which is donated by a woman to another woman as an act of support, and motherhood. The procedure is pretty much standard and it costs pretty much the same all over the globe, regardless of the ‘quality’ or ‘genetic characteristics’ of the upcoming human being. At least, it is how it should be if we followed the international laws and policies.
Of course, there is a big group of people who would pay that extra mile, in order to secure the baby gets its parent’s eye-color or even becomes a Ph.D. candidate later in his life. That kind of procedure is usually taking place under-the-table and it can cost as much as several $ million dollars US per genetic mutation.
Nobody can stop a bioinformatics engineer from doing a couple of changes in the genetic code, and nobody can stop a rich guy from wanting a super-baby. It is obvious. But how can we regulate this area with a sense of balance?
There is a huge race developing in the biotech sector, where private companies are now developing tailored embryos that meet the buyers’ criteria. Danish firms offer even a preset model of a human unit with 1,8m height, blond hair, blue eyes, and a genetic tree with several PhDs in the family root.
The US, Russian, and German military among other well-structured organizations have been confirmed to work with genetic mutations, and/or gene-editing equipment for some decades now, in an attempt to create the perfect soldier, treat rare diseases, and eliminate the risk of fatal diseases such as cancer, aids, etc.
The researcher, He Jiankui of Shenzhen, said he altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatments, with one pregnancy resulting thus far. He said his goal was not to cure or prevent an inherited disease, but to try to bestow a trait that few people naturally have — an ability to resist possible future infection with HIV, the AIDS virus says Bloomberg on a relevant article from last week.
We see that, while we are not creating monsters with horns and super muscles at the moment, keeping it simple and morally ethical (trying to save lives), it is highly possible that we will see more complex mutations in the near future, starting from the unregulated emerging black market that is already on its verge.
Why it (gene-editing) is unavoidable?
Gene-editing scenarios will become more standard as time passes, not only to ensure healthier babies with secure futures, but also to ensure parenting is not taken lightly.
Currently, there is nothing stopping you from becoming a parent (excepting occasional scenarios like the Chinese birth-law), even if you’re at your early 20s, young, amateur, and economically unstable. That can lead to a loop of regular jobs in order to sustain a family, in the end, you never get to see that much. The child then is randomly generated into society through the schooling system, and it may or may not achieve its initial goals.
Personally, I believe that setting a range of prices for gene-edited babies can help cultivate a more mature generation of parents, those who would consider every aspect of being a parent before choosing to have a child. It may sound unfair for most possible parents, especially for those economically underrated, but on the other hand; what kind of parent you are when you are ok with purchasing a random embryo with random parameters just because it was the ‘cheapest’ on the market? It is like not carrying about your child, not investing in your child’s future, and not taking the parenting responsibility seriously.
People who would choose to invest in their children’s future will be automatically compensated as they worked hard both physically and mentally to afford to have a child that will have a brighter future.
It’s like investing in an ICO; If you throw in a couple dollars, waiting that you’ll gonna have that million dollar kid, you’re amateur, and should not be permitted to be a parent. While if you are really serious about bringing a human unit into what we refer to as ‘real life’, you would and should investigate all possible scenarios of the future, and commit to generating a child that will be in accordance to it (the future).
Bioethicists shouldn’t barter about the fact whether gene-editing is ethical or not, but about the fact that literally anyone, regardless of his mental, physical, socioeconomic condition can become a parent.