Is Germline Gene Editing in Humans justifiable?

  • September 17, 2019

Gene Editing is an extremely complicated and intricate process.

In today’s modern age, scientists have found new ways to take advantage of new advances in medical technology, specifically to prevent certain illnesses and defects. A new method called Gene Editing is being tested in an effort to prevent a child or embryo from being more prone to genetic diseases. This method is performed through the deletion of specific gene mutations in a subject’s DNA. However, because of the dangerous risks this procedure poses, Germline Gene Editing for humans should not be practiced and is not ethically justified. 

Germline Gene editing applies to altered embryos, sperm, or eggs, resulting in the deletion of someone’s gene mutations, and would be passed onto offspring.

The word “Germline” applies to an embryo, sperm, or egg cell. Gene mutations are alterations or changes in genetic material (DNA). A change in Genetic material means a change in the instructions the body uses to develop and function. 

Recently in China, the first gene-edited babies were born. A Chinese scientist used this new technology to make twin girls immune to HIV infection by editing their genes. Many scientists became especially distressed about the fact that this Chinese scientist performed this method on humans because they knew that using this method haphazardly on human subjects poses an intense ethical and physical danger. He could have easily done this procedure incorrectly, which means the children could have to live with devastating long-term defects. The dangers include unintended alterations to the DNA, because the technology hasn’t proven itself to be precise enough. HIV susceptibility, for example, can be approached in other ways such as sperm washing, avoiding risky behavior, and retroviral treatment. In this case especially, gene editing is a risk that should not be taken when there are other, safer courses of action.

Additionally, this procedure poses the risk of off-target deletions, meaning that healthy parts of the genome could accidentally be deleted as well. This is because any particular sequence may be repeated several times in the genome. If this happens, it will very likely cause various disabilities, defects, and in some serious cases, cancer. In germline modifications, these unintended changes could be passed on to future generations, resulting in unpredictable effects (if the person even lives to reproduce). 

Not only could performing this procedure on a child be dangerous, but there also have been problems with the procedure of obtaining consent. Germline Gene Editing is an extremely complicated and intricate process, and thus, a person who has limited knowledge of genetics would struggle to comprehend it. Therefore, the concept of obtaining informed consent is very difficult, if not impossible.

People advocating for the use of this procedure might argue that since this method could possibly prevent certain mutations/diseases and improve the child’s quality of life, it is worth the risk. After all, it’s not guaranteed to pose health risks to the child, and it may be reasonable to hope for a good result. Well, in reality, we do not know enough about germline gene editing to determine whether the benefits will be greater than the risk. Human beings should not be subjected to the testing of a method that the scientific community does not have a lot of knowledge about. It is not fair to treat human beings like guinea pigs. In fact, it is possible that the consequences of using this method would be worse than the side effects of the disease trying to be avoided. 

Another argument used by supporters of this method would be that the parents shouldn’t have the authority to deny their child the chance of being saved from a life-threatening or damaging disease. Again, the consequences of an inefficient deletion of a gene segment can be devastating. How would it be fair that the child may have to suffer her whole life all because of a decision her parents made before she was born?

Nobody knows what the future of gene editing holds. 

In terms of how this will affect us teens, using Germline Gene editing would change the course of nature to the point of a completely different society.  This use of gene editing has created a path to a new Eugenics movement. This movement of picking and choosing the traits and genes of a child poses a serious danger, and if this continues, gene editing could be used to alter other things in children/embryos that would not be considered a justified and serious reason. Where is the line? If it is regulated, people may be using this technology to control certain aspects like eye or hair color.  Ultimately, Germline Gene editing not only poses serious health risks to a human being, but also promotes an unnatural, unethical way of life.

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