Genetic Engineering

Americans Afraid of Genome-Editing to Cure Sick Kids: What's Wrong with You People?

Listen to my radio interview at AirTalk discussing the Luddite aspects of the new Pew poll


Monika Wisniewska/Dreamstime

A new Pew Research Center poll reports that majorities of Americans are opposed to allowing others to use various technologies that could enhance human health and capabilities. The poll finds that 50 percent would oppose using gene editing to give babies much reduced disease risk; 66 percent are against allowing people to use a brain chip that would offer much improved cognitive abilities; and 63 percent would forbid the use of synthetic blood to provide much improved physical abilities. My first reaction on hearing these results is: What is wrong with you people?

As annoying as they are, I don't take these Luddite sentiments too seriously. There was much the same public reaction to the dreaded test-tube babies in the 1960s and 1970s. As I report in my 2010 article, "From Yuck to Yippee!," a 1969 Harris poll found that a majority of Americans believed that producing test-tube babies was "against God's will." Congress even considered outlawing IVF. Yet, just one month after the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Joy Brown, the Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of Americans approved of in vitro fertilization and more than half would consider using it if they were infertile. By 2013, another Pew poll found that nearly 80 percent of Americans have no problem with using IVF. The same thing will happen with these technologies when they are shown to be safe and effective.

During my radio interview, AirTalk host Larry Mantle focused on the "ethical" concerns that seem to motivate public opposition. Naturally, one of the main fears is that rich people would further exacerbate socioeconomic inequality by using these technologies to benefit themselves and their families. I counter that the costs of these technologies will fall and they will become widely available. Two of them—brain chips and booster blood—could notionally be provided to anyone who wants to use them—and they can be removed if an individual decides later for some reason they would prefer to "go natural."

With regard to gene-editing babies to reduce their risk of disease—what person wants to be less healthy? Just as we assume consent for fetal surgery to correct malformations, we can also assume consent to gene-editing to fix genetic traits associated with the higher risk of disease.

The Pew folks also conducted several focus groups to try to get handle on what might be motivating opposition to these technologies. The focus groups included a lot of religious believers and a couple of my favorite responses were: 

"That's always a sticking point with technology and advancements in medicine. … There are those who don't believe you should be touching what God has created. If God wanted you to be sharp in the mind … then you would have been born that way. That's the thought of some religious people. But, I'm probably in that category where the Lord gave people the ability to come up with a way to help you [and it's OK to take advantage of that]." – a 52-year black evangelical Protestant man in Atlanta.

"Just because you have faith in God, does it make you not go have your gallbladder [or] your tonsils taken out? I mean, people do things every day to lengthen their life and to be healthier." – 50-year-old Hispanic evangelical Protestant woman in Phoenix.

Back in 2010, I concluded:

We are still in the yuck phase when it comes to the public's thinking about impending advances in reproductive technologies that will enable parents to endow their children with genes and epigenetic combinations that will improve their health, lengthen their lives, boost their intelligence, and strengthen their bodies. But sometime in this century, when these technological interventions become safe and effective, yuck will turn as quickly to yippee as the response to those test tube babies did 32 years ago.

That's still true.

For more discussion of this Pew poll, click on the link to the Airtalk radio program.

NEXT: Clinton Cash

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  1. “Yet, just one month after the birth of the first IVF baby, Louise Joy Brown…”

    Once they saw how cute she was!…..593518.jpg

  2. The poll finds that 50 percent would oppose using gene editing to give babies much reduced disease risk; 66 percent are against allowing people to use a brain chip that would offer much improved cognitive abilities; and 63 percent would forbid the use of synthetic blood to provide much improved physical abilities.

    If everyone is super then no one will be.

    1. No capes!

    2. Why do we need gene editing? Just use radioactive spiders or hand out special rings!

      1. +1 Underdog Super Energy Pill

    3. I wonder if Bailey has seen Gattaca. Also, I wonder what this would do to sports. Would genetically engineered humans be barred from competition? Would there be two tiers? The vast majority is opposed to PEDs. A need for fairness is a deep biological drive, as even monkeys demonstrate. People will be opposed to this because they don’t want to be at a serious disadvantage with the new improved humans. Same reason why women will never vote to legalize prostitution.

      1. I love that movie! Especially the part where Serpico and Fredo are chanting, “Gattaca! Gattaca! Gattaca!” And everybody starts chanting and screaming it with them. Powerful scene.

        1. Was that before or after Nick Cage stopped a bio-hazard missile with his bare hands?

          1. I think that was right after he drove his car through a fuel tanker while covered with bees.

          2. No, no. Then the kickboxing scene happens.

      2. A need for fairness is a deep biological drive

        Except that when most people say “fairness” they mean “randomness”. If your genes determine you will be 5’5″, that means you’ll never be a pro at any sport (except maybe a few that already have “tiers” like weight-classes). How is that more “fair” than letting everyone mod their genes so that everyone is 6’3″?

        1. – 1 Charles Barkley

        2. Presumably, the less variation in size, the more mental aspects and conditioning will matter. Greg Maddux was no Nolan Ryan, but he made a career in the Steroid Era making hitters look at 91 mph fastballs that they should have knocked the cover off of.

        3. Cycling is a great sport for the height challenged. Then again, if your VO2 max and functional threshold power isn’t awesome, you’re still screwed.

          You don’t have to be tall, though.

      3. Why does the sports argument hold any water? What actual value, beyond entertainment, does tuning an individual body to peak physical performance bring to the human race? It can’t be passed on. It confers no advantage that can’t be overcome in other ways (you can show me that you can lift a lot of weight, and I’ll go rent a forklift to lift even more). Actors get plastic surgery, extensive dental work, etc. all the time in order to be competitive entertainers, but we don’t have boob job tests to determine whether someone is unfit for an acting job.

        Has anyone ever been barred from competition because they had an artificial joint put in? If they blew the original in a competition, doesn’t that indicate that they’re trying to perform past the abilities of their own body and that the superior replacement made of plastic and metal is an advantage?

        It might be inferred that you’re concluding that the argument is wrong “because Gattaca” from what you’ve said. There may be valuable insights worth discussing, but those should be brought up as individual points to argue on their own merit. It’s just as useful as saying that authoritarians suck “because 1984.” It’s fairer to say that Newspeak sucks, and proggies redefining the word ‘racism’ every few years to suit their political agenda is an example. That’s a point we could actually argue about.

      4. Oh, you mean the movie where some guy dooms the first mission to Jupiter because he’s a selfish prick? Yep, love that movie!

  3. And already there are probably informal discussions among influential people about the possibility of genetically-engineering a race of obedient, intelligent, strong slaves.

    We are approaching 13th Amendment territory, meaning that the government is *obliged* to tackle the situation now instead of waiting around pounding their puds until the MSM acknowledges the issue exists.

    1. What the fuck are you on about? The government must do something because some people might be talking about something that pretty much everyone agrees is totally unethical and immoral?

      1. Of course. We must all be protected from the potential, hypothetical minority. We must all be protected from them NOW!

      2. Would the Russian government agree? Or the Chinese?

        As to the United States, a society capable of killing babies is morally capable of designing babies to government specifications.

        Moral consensus has a way of breaking down fairly rapidly.

        1. Infant mortality has actually dropped precipitously in the US since the 1950s, so it seems like this society is interested in not killing babies.

            1. I think you know what he means…

              1. Sure I do. “Killing babies” is a pretty unambiguous phrase that nearly everyone would agree is to be avoided, which is why it’s so great that the US has made such strides in preventing infant mortality.

                1. That, or it’s just more socially acceptable to kill them earlier than before. Semantics I guess. What do they look like once you include abortion statistics into the mix, or are we purposefully leaving out intentional deaths? I’d click your link to see but it doesn’t show the destination so I’d rather not at work.

          1. It needs to drop some more!

            SINGLE PAYER!

          2. I mean, imagine how low it would be if we used the same broad criteria for stillbirth most other countries do!

        2. So, we should forbid this technology. Which would leave it solely in the hands of government agencies that don’t give a fuck about laws or constitutions.


        3. Government babies.


    2. Government “pounding their puds” is perhaps the best way they could utilize their time.

      1. Oh I don’t know.

        Digging holes and filling them back up again would be pretty good too.

        1. Provided they fill the holes while they are still down there.

          1. “Dig up, stupid!”

        2. In the early to mid 80’s, my brother was stationed in Germany. As a part of having military bases in foreign lands, the US pays for the privilege. Some of what the US had to promise was a certain amount of construction largess for the locals. When the base didn’t need anything of substance built, the construction companies would dig, grade, and fill in soil, building nothing. Literally digging holes and filling them back in.

          It is at least THAT LONG that the US has been pissing taxpayer money down the hole.

          Welfare (foreign and domestic) and Warfare – connected at the hip for ever and always.

    3. Don’t worry man – we’ll do you a solid like the Amish and allow you a reservation to live your ‘natural’ live on.

      But if you’re going to complain about what ‘the government could do’ with regards to enslaving people with technology then you’d better be ready to relinquish the shit you’ve already gotten – because I don’t see you giving up the phone or internet just because the government can watch your every move.

    4. possibility of genetically-engineering a race of obedient, intelligent, strong slaves

      Isn’t this what we’ve already got? When we’re toting it all up, at a 40% tax rate (or thereabout), we’re already 40% slaves to the state. Aren’t we then only arguing a matter of degree of servitude?

    5. 1) Infant mortality – unless the infant mortality rates include abortion, it’s irrelevant to what I said.

      2) What I actually would have the government do – I would suggest a law against engineering slaves. As for the details of such a law, Congress could do an investigation and find out which practices are most likely to engineer slave laborers.

      3) I don’t think this is optional on Congress’ part – Congress members are sworn to uphold the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery and involuntary servitude. Section 2 of the Amendment empowers Congress to “enforce…by appropriate legislation” the constitutional ban on slavery and involuntary servitude. So I’d say they need to ban such processes as would tend to create slaves.

  4. allowing people to use a brain chip that would offer much improved cognitive abilities

    Skullgun or GTFO

    1. I’d be happy with a crotch gun, like that dude from Dusk Till Dawn.

  5. The important question is whether genetically engineered super-babies would grow up to look like Ricardo Montalban or Benedict Cumberbatch.

    1. Jude law, until the accident. Then Ethan Hawke

      1. I’m OK with either of these options.

      2. Ethan Hawke wasn’t a super-baby though, he was a normal.

        1. He always saved something for the swim back, like Bill Clinton’s sperm.

    2. Would Tyr Anasazi be acceptable?

      1. To the C grade rodenberry already?

        1. Hey, he’s the best part of C-Grade Roddenberry.

          1. He was by far the only interesting character in the first season of that show

            1. Um… he’s certainly the only one I remember.

            2. As a young adult at the time, the ladies were way more interesting.

              1. When did you get into dudes?

            3. I had completely forgotten about Andromeda until this thread.

    3. I like Cumberbatch in general but I don’t understand the question and won’t respond to it.


        1. Into Darkness was an abomination, is what I’m saying.

          1. I was a tally kahning at into darkness for breaking the world’a heart.

          2. No more or less so than the first movie that proved that Starfleet was retarded for building starships in the first place when you could just, you know, beam there.

            Although, yeah, the second movie curing death was perhaps a bit worse.

            I can’t even imagine what they’ll fuck up next!

  6. People are scared of GMO food, what makes you think they would be OK with GMO people?

    1. I think you’ve struck it, tangentially. Various groups of hysterics have demonized Genetic modification in plants (mostly, I think, because world hunger benefits them) and that spills over.

    2. Beggars in Spain

        1. I read one (by a different author) at roughly the same timeframe I read that series where the central conceit of the (short) story was the world was incredibly rich, there were an incredible number of people on the dole having sex, why not pay them to have their gametes modified to produce specialty items by commandeering the molecular assembly machinery of pregnancy.

          Dudes get to advertise what product they were modified to produce and chicks would beg them to have unprotected sex to turn themselves into little factories to produce the item which is then turned into the owning company for a bounty.

          The ultimate in unskilled labor.

    3. Mandatory labeling! If you want a hipster girl to swallow, best get a GMO FREE tattoo on your pecker.

      1. Or just put on a Portishead album.

    4. Most of those are proggies too. Here’s how to get your very own opportunity to watch their heads explode when you hear them rant about GMO:

      So you’re saying that you’re against GMO food because organisms are complicated and there’s no way we could take into every variable about how changing a gene might cause harm?

      Prog: Yes, exactly!

      Climate is every bit as complicated as an organism. Why are you so convinced that human-caused climate change is real? Isn’t your argument just as good for being skeptical about that claim?

      Prog: What? Face is turning red, contorting into anger, steam coming out of the ears, incomprehensible babble escaping the lips…

      1. Climate is nowhere near as complicated as an organism. Where did you get that preposterous hypothesis? Did Steve tell you that, perchance?

  7. My daughter was born via IVF, but I wish they were still called test tube babies. Just sounds cooler.

    Although the truth is more petri dish baby, which is lame sounding.

    1. Is “Petri Dish Blastocyst” a good band name?

      1. Blastocyst by itself is a good band name.

  8. My daughter was born via IVF, but I wish they were still called test tube babies. Just sounds cooler.

    Although the truth is more petri dish baby, which is lame sounding.

    1. congratulations on your twin daughters.

  9. Would a brain chip really make people smarter or would it just allow them to come up with dumb shit faster?

    1. Probably the 2nd. But, the faster we get the dumb shit out, the faster we get it gone. It’s a % game.

      1. Getting dumb shit out faster allows it to be discredited faster? I’d like to introduce you to a relatively new invention called the Internet.

        1. It is new isn’t it?

          1. I guess someone will have to do a study to determine the average life of a stupid idea pre-Internet compared to the average life of a stupid idea in the Internet age. I’m betting that the answer isn’t going to be what most people think.

            1. Start with religion.

              Throw in astrology and Nostradamus.

            2. Christianity thrived for 2000 years before the internet, so…

              1. A 5000 for Judaism.

                Impressive no?

            3. “Emoji” is the Oxford dictionary word of the year.

    2. If it would actually make people smarter, you can see why the Left would be afraid of it…..

      1. That’s just because they haven’t thought about the control it could give their DNC masters.

    3. 9% of everything is shit no matter what. May as well iterate through it faster.

  10. Science is hard, moral posturing is easy.

  11. Gattica, gattica, gattica!!!

    1. Also, what do you mean, “you people?”

      1. As soon as I saw this thread, I clicked in and did a search to make sure someone had asked this important question.

        Who did Ron mean to refer to? The commentariat wants to know!

      2. What do YOU mean, “What do you mean, ‘you people?'”

        1. Virtue signaling all the way down, baby!

  12. Still waiting for my Wired Reflexes, Smartgun link, and Dermal armor

    1. Yeah, that’s the stuff. Don’t get the claws though, they’re a horrible waste of essence.

      1. Not if you get em covered in Dikote

    2. +1 Chromebook

    3. +1 Shadowrun

    4. Who cares about genetic mods, right? I want my PICA and I want it now.

  13. I don’t want a chip implant in my brain to make me smarter. It would probably ruin my hairline.

    So, I don’t want anyone else go get a chip implant either. Because equality.


    1. What if they engineered your brain into a different part of your body?

      1. [insert Bill Clinton joke]

        1. [add a funnier, more dirty interpretation to Bill Clinton joke, making him look even more like perv]

      2. You mean they finally found a way to remove it from his ass?

      3. If they put it in his ass does he become a democrat?

    2. The first “chip” they will design will be to improve people’s (men’s) hairline(s).

      Seriously, that’s probably going to happen.

      Technology intended to cure cancer will invariably first be commercialized as a way to improve your boner.

      1. Technology intended to cure cancer will invariably first be commercialized as a way to improve your boner.

        I’m legitimately shocked that gene editing hasn’t yet been talked about in the context of penis enlargement.

          1. I don’t know what that is, and I am not looking it up at work.

            1. I’m at *home* and I’m not looking it up.

        1. It’s probably not high on the list of what people think of when thinking about having children.

          1. OK, that was poorly phrased.

            Not high on the list of attributes people are thinking about for their children.

            1. I think anything that cal deliver on larger penises would make its inventor(s) very, very, very rich.

  14. yuck will turn as quickly to yippee

    That sounds like Crusty

    1. It’s a story about Winston’s mom.

  15. What is wrong with you people?

    I’m not personally opposed to these types of technological enhancements, but let’s not pretend that unintended consequences are only a problem for government policy. A lot of these technologies are based on the idea that we understand human physiology well enough to tweak it in predictable ways, but knowing something is not the same thing as knowing all you need to know.

    Is that the precautionary principle? Sure. But if people want to apply to their own individual decisions, I have no problem with it, and it isn’t necessarily irrational.

    1. ^This. Thank you.

      I’m hesitant to have people messing around with my children’s DNA, even if there would be amazing benefits.

      1. This is actually what the Pew report started with; not that people don’t want it for others, but that they don’t want it for themselves or their children.

        If someone wants to give it a try for themselves, go for it; and as for their kids, well, they are *their* kids, so why not. But leave me out of it, borgism is not my thing (and I am one who would not be here but for some pretty advanced medical assistance).


      “I didn’t mean to turn my ass of a kid into a DONKEY!”

      Is this what you all mean by, erm, precautionary tales?

  16. So is there a penile implant that gives you Doomcock? like powers?

    1. Doomcocks will be considered an assault penis in 47 states and be banned instantly.

      1. “No one needs to piss acid or drop micro-nukes from their testicles.”

        1. I thought that was “no one needs more than 6 inches”?

  17. What’s missing from this article? Oh yeah, any mention of the CHILDREN’S rights.

    Seriously, what right do parents have to make their children genetically “better” when they barely even are conscious?

    1. I mean, your DNA is the essence of who you are and, regardless of the benefits, we should be hesitant in editing it in people who are unable to consent to such an invasion.

      1. What right do parents have to bring that child into existence in the first place?

      2. Children don’t consent to be born in the first place.

          1. So why would their consent be needed to genetically enhance them?

      3. Could we at least agree that some genetic disorders are objectively harmful and any person who could make the decision would make the decision to be altered?

        1. I mean, sure, if gene-editing can cure/mitigate Down Syndrome or something equally horrible that would impact a person’s life forever, I can make that sort of compromise.

          1. That, I think, is the main goal. Getting rid of serious disorders that couldn’t be called anything other than harmful.

            When you start wading into particular psychoses I could see it getting tricky.

          2. I’ll bet there are a ton of people out there who would argue against curing Down syndrome in utero, saying there’s nothing wrong with these kids, they are just different, and in some ways they are superior to the average person.

            This already is the case with a segment of the deaf population, who actively protest attempts to cure deafness.

            1. That’s why you get to them while they can’t protest you preemptively curing the cancer that would kill them in their 50’s.

      4. No person exists to consent or not at that point, so there isn’t any rights question as far as I can see. People that don’t exist can’t have rights.
        And as others have mentioned, your children never consented to have your regular, “natural” genes either.

        1. There is an argument to be made that circumvents the need to bring up personhood. There is no need to wander off into those weeds.

    2. By that argument, who are you to make your kid wear braces?

    3. What right do parents have to create children in the first place? What right do parent have to create children by rolling the genetic dice rather than sober, planned-out, reflection?

  18. Will there be a chip to cure whatever the fuck is wrong with Tim Egan?

  19. I’ve been watching Orphan Black. That’s why I’m against gene editing.

  20. On a more serious note-

    Ron, if you’re out there, what about that NYT article the other day about DIY brain stimulation?

    As Human Enhancement Guru in Residence, I’m surprised you haven’t been all over that. Afraid we’d repurpose it for some sort of grotesquely juvenile deviltry?

  21. This seems like a good place to revive a post I made on the 2010 article:

    The stages of a scientific advance:
    1) Some dreamer considers the possibility.
    2) Someone writes a “gee whiz” science fiction story about it, usually with really bad science.
    3) Someone else writes a “ohmygod” science fiction horror story about it, invariably using really bad science.
    4) Someone makes a movie of the book in item #3, with added explosions.
    5) A lab develops a process that opens the possibility.
    6) Congress holds hearings with NIMBYs regurgitating the story from #3.
    7) Another lab moves the process forward to a viable stage.
    8) Public outrage against the new process from NIMBYs, luddites and most preachers. Also from the left because it is “for the rich.”
    9) It becomes routine and people stop worrying about it. Awards are given to the developers.
    10) The left demands that governments make it available to everyone as a “basic right” at no charge. The right demands it be forbidden as an “Offense Against God”.

    1. As usual, the left are the assholes.

      1. Well, ah, yeah.

  22. 20 year old doctors are one of my favorite stock photo cliches

    It’s up there with photoshopping in multicultural characters to diversify business scenes

    Do you want them facing left or right?

    1. I’m not going to complain in this case.

  23. I live at 5000ft. I routinely venture up to 9000-10000. I want me some damn enhanced blood…takes weeks to make the stuff the old fashioned way plus steak is expensive.

  24. [insert creepy allusion to “bedside manner”]

  25. Some people just enjoy watching others suffer.

  26. Speaking of assholes, did someone identify the gene that causes itchy assholes? The world would certainly be better off without it.

    1. Now we’re getting somewhere! Always assking the important questions, Sparky!

    2. It’s the same gene that causes one to not bathe regularly.

      Also, pinworms.

  27. My first reaction on hearing these results is: What is wrong with you people?

    Well my first reaction is to ask them why they support the use of canes, antibiotics, bypass or cataract surgery, organ transplant, blood transfusion, computers, phones, cars, airplanes, SCUBA gear, forklifts, FUCKING BINOCULARS AND BOOKS WHILE WE’RE AT IT.

    And then ask them to tell me the defining difference between using the above listed technologies to repair deficiencies in the human form and increase our capabilities above that of a baseline human (read: caveman) and gene editing?

    Maybe the resultant offspring won’t be human or it ‘
    violates human dignity’ (a bioethicists favorite cop-out)? Define Human then.

    1. Thanks for the list of other things I want banned. If you come up with any others, please let me know.
      – Mr Lu Dite

  28. More evidence that there are things and activities society and government have no rightful say in deciding.

  29. I entirely agree that genetic modification will be (if it isn’t already) a valuable resource to explore. Making humans smarter, with fewer mental and physical genetic illnesses, is essentially the holy grail of eugenics. I hate to make the comparison, but it is what it is. In a way, it’s all the good with none of the inherent bad.

    Making genetically based cancers obsolete would be akin to reinventing the polio or malaria vaccine’s. Of course, there are luddites today who believe vaccinating your child against death is bad. Not much changes, sadly, even after you prove it saves orders of magnitude more lives than it could ever harm.

    1. I did want to make a brief but salient argument; who cares what you do to a fetus? It isn’t a human until the mother decides not to abort it, so really logically speaking you should be able to do whatever you want to it up until then right? I mean, you’re allowed to outright kill a thing but you can’t make that thing better without killing it? Logic, there is none.

  30. Back in the early 70’s I knew a chick that wanted a test tube baby. As long as the test tube was at least 8 inches long, of course.

    Your welcome.

  31. Concerns regarding the combinations of some technologies, such as gene editing and inexpensive gene sequencing. similar to the scenario presented in the film GATTACA, seem to be at least somewhat valid. While I don’t suggest we allow this concern-troll to hold up technological progress (or, God forbid, allow the government to regulate them out of existence), it seems vitally important that ethicists and philosophers get a grip on the full implications of these technologies as they relate to one another so that we don’t blindly stumble into the future presented by these advancements.

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