Gene Editing

Genetically Modified Babies Are Ethically OK

A U.K. bioethicist makes the case for deploying CRISPR gene-editing to modify human embryos in the next two years.

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Outrage was the general researcher and media response to the Chinese bioengineer He Jiankui's announcement last November that he had used CRISPR gene-editing technology to modify the genomes of several human embryos with the goal of making them resistant to HIV infection. The result was the birth of twin girls; one with the genetic modification in all of her body's cells and another whose body is a mosaic of modified and unmodified cells. He did certainly cut both scientific and ethical corners in applying CRISPR technology to human embryos. Happily, a preliminary study in June that suggested the He's modifications might shorten the twins' lifespans appears to be wrong.

Setting aside He's moral shortcomings, is it ever ethical to use CRISPR and other gene-editing technologies to modify the genomes of human embryos? Yes, argues Abertay University bioethicist Kevin Smith in the journal Bioethics. Smith addresses the question using a rigorously applied utilitarian ethics approach. He details recent advances in CRISPR gene-editing safety and concludes that the benefits of preventing heritable diseases already outweigh the risks of using the technology.

In his article, Smith deals with "several well‐rehearsed positions and arguments" against permitting parents to use CRISPR gene-editing to fix genetic flaws in their prospective offspring. These include "claims of unnaturalness, the alleged interests of embryos, questions of identity, fears of eugenics, and simply the 'yuck factor.'" Smith points out that critics once denounced in vitro fertilization (IVF) on the grounds of that it was "unnatural." Millions of parents have freely chosen unnatural IVF techniques to overcome their natural infertility. Some 8 million children have been born via assisted reproduction since the first IVF baby was born in 1979.

Some opponents argue using CRISPR would be unethical because embryos can't give their consent to being genetically modified. A requirement for prenatal consent is obvious ethical nonsense. No one has ever given their consent to be born much less to be born the specific complement of genes they bear. In addition, it's hard to imagine that a child will later feel morally aggrieved that his or her parents had prevented them from suffering a debilitating genetic disease. Providing parents with the ability to choose to prevent heritable disease and disability in their progeny using biotechnology is not to be equated with morally pernicious state-imposed eugenics. And lots of biomedical treatments and reproductive technologies have gone from yuck to yippee as their significant benefits became evident. CRISPR gene-editing will do the same.

Smith persuasively argues that not only would the early application of the technology improve the welfare of prospective parents and their progeny now, it will usher in a human germline genetic modification (HGGM) revolution that will greatly benefit future generations. As Smith explains, "The longer we wait until commencing the HGGM revolution and moving towards a world of increased utility, the greater will be the quantity of suffering accrued meantime through genetically influenced disease."

When should CRISPR and even better gene-editing technologies be made available to parents seeking to prevent genetic diseases in their offspring? Given that some folks are still spooked by He's announcement last November, Smith prudentially suggests that "we kickstart the next biomedical revolution by proceeding not immediately but within around 1–2 years to intervene in the human germline."

The revolution, however, may start sooner than that. Russian researcher Denis Rebrikov says that he hopes to gain permission in the near future from the appropriate authorities to gene-edit embryos to repair a gene that causes congenital deafness.

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  1. I would question the ethics of this particular case from a risk benefit standpoint. The risk of HIV exposure is, for the vast majority of people, rather small, and the modification is experimental – at best. We simply do not know enough to accurately predict the lasting consequences of any such alterations to T cell lines. Overall that seems like a trip into the unknown for what may be zero benefit.

    But, speaking most broadly, the idea of inducing genetic modifications for specific goals is not, in and of itself, unethical.

    1. But, speaking most broadly, the idea of inducing genetic modifications for specific goals is not, in and of itself, unethical.

      The devil is in the details. Old fashioned genetic induction to produce blond hair and blue eyes was pretty unethical. Not sure it would be much more ethical if they’d used a ‘transdermal inducer’ to force people to bear children of the appropriate genetic makeup.

      1. “The devil is in the details.”

        Totally. Which is why the headline is nothing more than clickbait.

        This place is getting worse by the day.

        1. This place is getting worse by the day.

          IDK, at one point, Ron would’ve published this article right after one advocating forced vaccinations to guard against the marginal risk of infection of relatively benign diseases; completely ignoring the fact that modifications like the ones he favors would enable so much analogous, but worse, behavior and outcomes.

          At some point it’s going to become difficult to tell if the magazine is going down the drain or circling it.

        2. KMW is all about the clicks … and the revenue they generate. I can’t say I blame her for trying to improve the financial picture of Reason, but at what cost? At what point is it selling out the mission? (Maybe we are way past that!)

      2. Old fashioned genetic induction to produce blond hair and blue eyes was pretty unethical.

        Why? What is the principle behind your statement?

        Full disclosure: I have black hair and brown eyes.

        1. Are we essentially saying that the real problem with ethnic cleansing were the tools used to accomplish it?

          Honest question.

          1. I think that was the snarky intent. Eugenics as practiced in Nazi Germany and elsewhere.

    2. Unethical like crossbreeding with another species? I don’t see anything unethical about sex determination or trying for a natural redhead. After all, redheads are a endangered species.

      We both know that there are qualified people all over the world trying unethical experiments. One of these days, the Supreme Court is going to define “human DNA” I’m not thinking about people who don’t look quite human or play basketball beyond human abilities.

      I’m talking about people who look very human but a techie claims has DNA of his design and wants to file a patent.

    3. The risk for most people is relatively small, yes. The risk for the girls that he CRISPRed wasn’t – their father had HIV. There’s a surprisingly large HIV positive population in China, and they suffer some rather intense discrimination. The point of this particular treatment was that it could alleviate the suffering (both physical and social) in as little as one generation, if it works.

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  2. When should CRISPR and even better gene-editing technologies be made available to parents seeking to prevent genetic diseases in their offspring?

    I don’t want to be too much of an obstructionist but… kinda like the Open Borders/Welfare State discussion, we probably should get the whole transgender charade (re)settled before we start (re)writing genetic history.

    1. Unpossible. That would require recognizing that male and female brains tend to show identifiable differences in both structure and function.

    2. Why? Believing that means you also think that it’s everybody’s business what goes into every child’s DNA. Do you think Loving v Virgina should be reversed? How far down the chain should this meddling go?

      1. Do you think Loving v Virgina should be reversed?

        If the genetically-modified Richard Loving of the future intended to selectively remove the genetic inferiority found in Mildred Jeter’s native race from their children are you in His corner?

    3. The problem with CRISPR is that it is not accurate enough. There us too much danger of modifying the wrong gene.

      1. Why worry? Your kid has six fingers, but he won’t catch HIV…

      2. The problem with CRISPR is that it is not accurate enough. There us too much danger of modifying the wrong gene.

        Even if perfect, genes don’t exist in a vacuum and physics is still physics. You can’t make your children 6′ 10″ tall, layer them with lbs. of muscle, and give them fine bone structure without making them more susceptible to osteoporosis, bone breakages, and heart disease. Moreover, even if you do decide to make them 6′ 10″ tall, layered with muscles, and prone to osteoporosis, it’s not entirely clear that you haven’t committed their and, more critically, their spouses’ kids to a similar fate. It’s one thing to develop and pass on osteoporosis because you don’t know anything about the disease and your choice of mates is crummy even if you did. It’s quite another to know everything about the disease and intentionally inflict it on untold generations going forward.


        1. He details recent advances in CRISPR gene-editing safety and concludes that the benefits of preventing heritable diseases already outweigh the risks of using the technology.

          Haha, yep. What are a few broken eggs, after all? Hell, maybe they’re even right but that’s squarely in ‘spitting in gods eye’ territory. I’d still be in favor of trying to cure genetic disease, I’d have to admit, but like most technology it’s not the technology itself it’s what we do with it.

          Personally, I’m super wary of people that use utilitarianism as their ethical guide posts. The past century is littered with human debris from their ‘ethics’.

        2. Thought experiment: Say a lab created a human with green florescent glow in the dark skin. Should this person have human civil rights?

      3. They have a new more accurate process.

        1. Only when a QC/QA protocol is developed so the embryo with the wrongly modified genes can be identified will this be practical.

  3. Smith addresses the question using a rigorously applied utilitarian ethics approach.

    So we’re assuming there’s a correct answer to the trolley problem?

    1. Genetically-enhanced supermen and trolleys that run on time.

      Problem solved.

    2. Yes, the correct answer is to stay away from trolleys and streetcars.

    3. Best episode of “The Good Place”

  4. Sorry, but this bioethicist is one guy. A guy who I think is completely wrong. I love how Smith says the ‘small risks’ justify moving forward. The problem is, he never specifies just what that risk is.

    Before we sign off on a species altering event, namely genetic engineering, let’s have an extended discussion on what that means.

    1. It’s not even clear if these are species altering – ie. heritable – changes, since they are being done to already differentiated cell lines within an embryo.

      But the concern is entirely valid when applicable.

      1. The problem I have is these people are just deciding to go ahead and do it, without any oversight, or thought to the consequence. They are gunning to be the first, and the consequence be damned. It is a big problem.

        What’s the problem with slowing down and having a conversation on the potential implications?

        1. The risk is people who lead lower quality lives as a result of your patience.

          I’m not taking a side here, but I can sympathize with the sentiments of revolutionary types who screw the rules and do as they please. No matter what you do, you’re gonna tell someone who needs something that they can’t have it just yet. People are expected to suffer while institutional changes occur or people are expected to suffer as a result of forcibly changing institutions.

          1. Yes, I understand. I mean, if I had a child suffering from a terminal illness, and there were no options left at all, I could see myself doing it in a heartbeat and the conversation be damned. I have children also.

            Still though…genetic alteration IS a species altering technology. We should be having an extended conversation about it.

            1. Not if you sterilize them.

        2. Without any oversight? Are you SURE you ever even opened the book Atlas Shrugged?

    2. Before every conception, we need to get YOU to sign off on the potential species-altering event, right?

      Fuck off, slaver. Literally,mind your own business.

      1. You really are a religious fanatic.
        It’s fun watching you light yourself on fire in thread after thread.

        1. No really. Mind your own business.

          1. Lol
            That’s the humorous complete lack of self awareness that’s so likeable about you, Tony
            Never change

    3. Sleeping on a radioactive slag heap, or in a radon-saturated basement, will irradiate your gonads, thus creating a “species altering event”… So will imbibing mutagenic chemicals, of which there are plenty, man-made and natural. Or too many high-altitude airplane rides, where you absorb more cosmic rays. So will the simple passage of time and random genetic changes! We, the current species, are already (and our descendants will continue to be) the results of “species altering events”. This is REGARDLESS of what Government Almighty thinks, and however many laws are passed by collectivists who claim the the future belongs to THEM!

      Please don’t tell (or remind) Government Almighty about the radon gas and the naturally radioactive rocks and the high-altitude airplane rides, or maybe Government Almighty will start micro-managing the reproductive behaviors of ALL of us! Government Almighty doesn’t own the future of the human race, or my babies either!

    4. Sorry, but this bioethicist is one guy.

      Exactly. Bioethicists just pull stuff out of their asses.

      1. They should treat the gerbils better!

  5. “Genetically Modified Babies Are Ethically OK”

    I don’t know. I’ve meant some real asshole babies.

    1. Just a few more tweaks and they can be Ethically GREAT!

    2. +1 Bart Harley Jarvis

    3. Ah, but have you met any genetically modified assholes?

  6. The real problem will not be parents having diseases removed from their babies. But when governments decide that a child must be born sexless and some bland color ( like grey ) so as to eliminate sexism and racism ( such a practice will be both ). Or worse a child will only be allowed to be grown in a government factory so they can control population. So now here comes brave new world , but now a sexless colorless society. I’m in strong support of the technology since it will help stop ageing, plus other diseases as well. But we will need laws that will protect are right to be human and to have children.

    1. Prohibit government from initiating force.

    2. Rainbow colored and all 26 sexes dude. Monocultures have to keep up with the times.

  7. When I was a wee tadpole, I read Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, and several things seemed so obvious that they have stuck with me ever since.

    Even Asimov, a liberal, did not believe central planning worked; he had to throw in an invisible Second Foundation to keep the First Foundation on track.

    A strong emperor eliminates strong generals; a weak emperor involuntarily encourages strong generals to compete to become the next (strong) emperor.

    When Statists don’t understand technology, they ban it rather than improve it.

    Thus is it with the precautionary principle. Fuck them. Bring on all the tech possible, that’s my motto. Don’t wait for the statists to approve it.

    1. Never forget that Asimov’s Foundation trilogy gave us Paul Krugman.

      1. I won’t forget that you stigmatized gay sex and used it as an insult because you’re gross like that.

        1. Fuck off, Tulpa.

    2. “A strong emperor eliminates strong generals”

      Totes!
      I mean, Augustus had super weak generals – like that little bitch, Agrippa.
      Weak generals are definitely the key to strong emperors!
      Lol

      1. You’re talking to a person who doesn’t understand what a metaphor is.

  8. Russian researcher Denis Rebrikov says that he hopes to gain permission in the near future from the appropriate authorities to gene-edit embryos to repair a gene that causes congenital deafness.

    Rebrikov needs to do a little research on the deaf community before he starts talking about “the appropriate authorities” – those people seriously believe cochlear implants are a weapon of genocide. Might as well be talking about CRISPRing the gay gene or the excess melanin gene.

    1. Yeah. I love it when people try to “science” the answer to social questions.

      1. I used to hold the bizarre belief that everything worthwhile is discoverable empirically. Of course, a little bit of thought makes that fall on its face, since empiricism can’t philosophically support itself.

    2. “Rebrikov needs to do a little research on the deaf community before he starts talking about “the appropriate authorities” – those people seriously believe cochlear implants are a weapon of genocide. Might as well be talking about CRISPRing the gay gene or the excess melanin gene.”
      Of course it will happen, the question is, who is going to do it. The parents or the government, see my post my earlier post.

      1. It’s such a short leap to not editing your kids deafness gene away as being child abuse that it doesn’t really even need to be said.

        It will be the government.

  9. Well, if they can get to the point where they do gene-editing of an embryo without killing off other embryos, then I guess there may not be anything wrong in principle.

    With this caveat: We pretty much know that various governments are going to take this up in order to enhance the genes connected with blind obedience to orders and physical stamina – super soldiers, here we come!

    1. And once they’ve got the blind-obedience part worked out, the will delicately explore the possibilities of enhancing intelligence, to the extent it doesn’t conflict with the afore-mentioned blind obedience.

    2. We pretty much know that various governments are going to take this up in order to enhance the genes connected with blind obedience to orders and physical stamina – super soldiers, here we come!

      Don’t worry retards on social media will be doing it decades before the government can get any sort of serious program rolling.

      A HS student with flawless test scores, a 4 minute mile time, and no personality will able to get into Harvard because their genetics will clearly indicate that they aren’t Asian.

  10. You know who else experimented on twins?

    1. Ben & Jerry Epstein? Or Al Gore Vidal Sassoon?

    2. Hildebrand & Wolfmüller?

    3. The company that makes Twix?

    4. Doublemint gum?

    5. The Theory of Relativity?

    6. me? everyone should once

      1. Not everybody has a million dollars.

        1. If I had a million dollars, I’d relax. I would sit on my ass all day. I would do nothing.

    7. Sarah and Adelaide Yates?

  11. babies and crispers? they’re begging for jokes.

    1. When the diapers get crispy, it’s time to change them.

      1. He said jokes, not a gross bigot saying stupid shit about diapers.

        1. He’s bad at jokes, it’s why he unintentionally admitted he has a slack jaw and sloped forehead.

          1. Oh, look, Tulpa’s sockpuppets are having a conversation with themselves. Fuck off, wanker.

    2. Are GMO babies safe to eat?

      1. Are GMO babies safe to eat? As long as they’re crispy they’re probably kosher.

  12. I think a valid question is what the impact on evolution would be with gene editing.

    The above is not meant to be a legal excuse for preventing it – merely a point to consider.

    1. I think it’s unlikely to impact evolution. The scale is simply too small.

    1. Checking Google Translate…

      It seems that in both Ukrainian and Russian this means “three-layer parquet” or “trilayer parquet.”

      Russians, Ukrainians…is trilayer code for Trilateral Commission? I’m just asking questions.

      1. three-layer parquets are the most fun.

        1. Disagreed. 7-layer, with the beans, bacon, fried onions, and cheese on top is way better.

      2. It’s a spambot selling flooring. The question is, how does it know this is a prime target audience for flooring?

      3. A 3-some with a couple of hot Russian chicks??

  13. “is it ever ethical ”

    Talk about begging the question. Of course we can all imagine a scenario where it’s ethical.

    How about “is routine gene editing ethical”?

    And will it be mandated coverage under Obamacare?

  14. The problem with estimating low risk for such complex systems as a mammal is the same as the problem of central planning an economy. It’s virtually impossible to see all the interactions between different components, let alone understand how they work together.

    From another angle, it is very difficult to estimate the risk of something that you don’t know exists. We are in uncharted territory, so I’d say risk estimates are not worth very much.

    1. Well you are free to not do it.

  15. Sure, progressivism totally doesn’t envision a Global Socialist government dedicated to squeezing the middle class through migration policies and obtaining enough power doe a techno-eugenic cleaving of humanity into a higher and a lower caste-species…

    1. I think they envision all sorts of things. Although I’m not sure about that one.

      But they do want us disarmed, so it is safe to assume the worst.

  16. absolutely no way evil people won’t do this so good people better get out in front of it … lol “good people”

  17. Is there ever consent given to being aborted?

    1. didn’t some teenager seek a post-term abortion for herself in Holland or somewhere back east?

  18. Morality is a human construct. Being one what ever humans decide is moral is moral. So what every modification is made will soon or later if it is beneficial will be declared moral. But there is the chance that some of these changes may be beneficial to the individual but not to humanity in general. But that is another story for another time.

    1. Morality is a product of nature.

      1. Both are true… but lead to very different moral systems

  19. Jiankui’s problem is that he just went ahead and did it without knowing what he was doing. He’s experimenting on the lives of human beings. CRISPR is a technology still in its infancy, and much more testing needs to be done before we start mucking about with the human genome.

    I have nothing inherently against editing genes, but the way this guy did it was in direct contravention to established procedures developers over generations. It’s not about the state, it’s about him experimenting on human lives before the technology and consequences of the editing have been thoroughly tested.

    1. Exactly right.

    2. I have nothing inherently against editing genes,

      I do. Your own somatic lines I don’t disagree with editing and some germ line enhancements I don’t disagree with but broad germ line enhancements very much encroaches on and violates libertarian sensibilities about freedom, liberty, and free will.

      If you can commit genocide by selectively breeding a race out of existence, and I don’t think lots of libertarians would agree that such an action doesn’t or can’t exist and wouldn’t deny it to be immoral and/or criminal, then you can certainly commit genocide by inoculating people for or against specific genetic traits and it is, or would be, equally immoral and/or criminal.

      1. It’s not the editing of genes that would be the problem, it’s the editing of the genes to produce harm in the individual or population that is the problem.

        It’s like guns. Guns are not the problem, people who use guns to commit violence are the problem.

        NAP.

        1. It’s not the editing of genes that would be the problem, it’s the editing of the genes to produce harm in the individual or population that is the problem.

          It’s like guns. Guns are not the problem, people who use guns to commit violence are the problem.

          This is dumb. Like really, really dumb. Like I’m having trouble believing you typed this sober and in good faith dumb. Like my 10-yr.-old wouldn’t buy this false equivocation dumb.

      2. Genocide requires killing people or at least forcefully sterilizing them. If people choose willingly to remove some trait from their genetic line, they should be free to do that. Two parents should be able to choose for their child to what extent they want that child to represent their race- they have no obligation to that race as a whole.

        OTOH, as noted above, the doctor and the mother involved in this previous CRISPR idiocy are unethical assholes. To put your child at risk of serious medical side effects for an experiment with very little expected benefit is horrible.

        1. Genocide requires killing people or at least forcefully sterilizing them.

          Not entirely correct. There is a definition of genocide where you pretty literally rape a race/species into extinction without killing or sterilizing them. I think it’s pretty clear that forcibly inoculating them to the same effect would be equally heinous. I think it would be similarly clear that if you did so infectiously, such that you only had to inoculate a few to infect the rest, it would be just as, if not more heinous.

          I can certainly agree that people should be free to choose willingly to remove some trait from their body and conditionally their immediate offspring. They have no obligation to any race as a whole but, equally, all future progeny shouldn’t be compelled to owe them any obligation.

          Genetic manipulation is progressively turning what was a true/false test or moral question into a multiple choice one. One that libertarians should obviously recognize “None of the above.” or “I don’t know the answer.” as obvious or even default moral answers to. Not everyone should or even does have to check NOTA or IDK every time, but compelling all future generations to suffer the consequences of all the other options in perpetuity is obviously not the right/moral option.

    3. I could see it if he had edited out something like Huntington’s which is a death sentence in itself, but AIDS isn’t some guaranteed condition…unless he knows something we don’t.

  20. “Smith addresses the question using a rigorously applied utilitarian ethics approach. He details recent advances in CRISPR gene-editing safety and concludes that the benefits of preventing heritable diseases already outweigh the risks of using the technology.”

    I define libertarianism as the idea that people should be free to make choices for themselves. Utilitarianism always has problems with two interrelated things 1) qualitative judgments and 2) respecting the agency of individuals people making choices for themselves. Because of those assumptions in utilitarian methodology, utilitarian conclusions often fly in the face of libertarian thinking. The chances of getting an analysis that accounts for varying qualitative considerations and respects the agency of different people to make different choices–from a system that often fails to account for those things adequately–are highly unlikely.

    If the central question is whether doctors should be allowed to choose to offer these services to parents, you have to start from an approach that appreciates that different people have different qualitative preferences. If the central question is whether parents should be allowed to choose to inflict these risks on their children, you have to start from an approach that fully values freedom of choice–on both counts. I.e., if the central questions are about qualitative tolerances for risk and whether the agency of the child and/or the parents should be respected, why would we use a utilitarian approach?

    When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like it needs to be solved with nails.

    1. For me, the appropriate legal/moral framework is to see the parent as a trustee for the child. They have every legal right to make decisions on the child’s behalf, but they have to be making it in the child’s best interests. That would preclude performing unproven medical experiments on the child, except in cases where it was the only alternative to prevent some other harm to the child.

      As you say, there are qualitative differences between what people generally believe is “in the best interests of the child” but I am comfortable rendering that down to a case-by-case basis. Jurys and judges adjudicate the ethical decisions of trustees on estates all the time. This, to me, seems like the appropriate place to make these decisions.

      Unfortunately, this is going to slow the work on CRISPR for babies. There is going to need to be more tests, and we are going to need to find children for whom testing CRISPR is really the best alternative among many. But parents do have a responsibility to their children, and that means not jeopardizing their life for some fad.


      1. But parents do have a responsibility to their children, and that means not jeopardizing their life for some fad.

        I mean, when cutting off your child’s genitals is considered humane it’s not such a stretch to see some pretty weird outcomes coming out of gene editing. It also is enough to make one wonder how many ‘mandatory’ edits will be implemented, since theoretically not editing away your kids deafness or down syndrome could easily be considered child abuse in the Future™.

        Not that I necessarily disagree, but that’s something of a perfect world outlook.

        1. “I mean, when cutting off your child’s genitals is considered humane it’s not such a stretch to see some pretty weird outcomes coming out of gene editing.”

          People who subject their children to risk because they think it would be really cool to have a child with stylish aesthetic modifications might be a lot like a pregnant woman smoking crack while pregnant. It’s disgraceful, but I wouldn’t support throwing women in prison for it. If parents find a tattoo artist that’s willing to tattoo their 10 year old’s face like a Maori warrior, regardless of whether the tattoo artist or the parents should face criminal charges, all three parties are acting unethically in my agency book–because kids at that age can’t really give informed consent for something like that.

      2. I maintain that rights are the obligation to respect other people’s choices, and what we’re really talking about is whether we want to extend rights to people before they’re born. That comes loaded with arguments that are in some ways the same as the ethical arguments about abortion but in other ways are entirely different.

        It’s possible that the government should let parents do unethical things to their children, up to and including aborting a fetus, but in terms of whether gene editing is ethical, we’re probably not talking about something so extreme. If you’re talking about editing a child’s genes to avoid a genetic proclivity for a disease, that’s not like aborting a fetus at all–not if you were trying to improve your child’s life.

        It’s clearly unethical to drink alcohol in large quantities while pregnant because it’s all downside risk. You can’t improve a child’s odds of health and success by inducing fetal alcohol syndrome. All you’re doing by drinking alcohol in large quantities while pregnant is improving the chances that your child will have a low IQ, fail in school, and have health problems. If drinking pineapple juice while pregnant had the opposite effect (improved IQ, better chance to succeed in school, fewer health problems), we might think that it was unethical not to drink pineapple juice while pregnant.

        The downside risk of gene editing complicates that pineapple juice analysis, but the general shape of the argument for pineapple juice is still intact–so long as we’re not talking about people trying to harm their children.

        From an ethical agency perspective, this isn’t parents having an elective abortion. The risk factor is parents who are genuinely trying to improve the lives of their children but failed. I don’t know how the government can make objective judgments about the qualitative choices such parents make on behalf of their children, but I know that the government inflicting its own qualitative preferences on parents by way of coercion necessarily fails the ethical agency test.

        1. Ken…The problem with gene editing, from a moral perspective IMO is this: do we know with certainty how the gene edit unfolds over time and who it ultimately impacts? What we don’t know about the consequence of a gene edit is the essence of why it is very questionable morally to do this. We simply do not have a way to see the consequences of what we do. Until we can know the consequence, we have to be very, very careful.

          If we 100% knew a gene edit would do one thing, and one thing only, and that one thing was to cure an incurable disease, it would not even be a debate. The uncertainty, to me, is where the moral question lies.

          1. Uncertainty is the human condition. We make all of our rational choices in the face of uncertainty. Also, we never know what the ultimate consequences of our choices will be, but we should be free to make them from our own uncertain perspectives with our own limited knowledge anyway. That’s the stuff from which freedom is made.

            Did you ever hear the story of how Microsoft licensed their first OS to IBM? Two guys from IBM showed up, and they wanted to license an OS that they mistakenly thought Microsoft owned. Microsoft was trying to sell IBM a programming language. IBM refused to license the language unless they were also able to license the the OS they wanted. Gates and company had to find the guy that owned the OS, who was on vacation at the time. Once they got him on the phone, he refused to license the OS to IBM. He insisted they buy it. IBM refused to buy it. IBM insisted on licensing it. Gates ran the numbers, realized he could afford to buy the OS from the guy that owned it and license the OS to IBM–if IBM also licensed the language–and that decision, which fell in his lap by default–made him the richest man in the world.

            Bill Gates did not wake up that morning with the goal of licensing an OS to IBM and making Microsoft the most dominant company in the world. It just fell into Gates’ lap by default–because nobody else wanted to buy the damn thing. Rather, everyone else but Gates refused to buy it.

            The biggest decisions in the world are made without knowing anything 100%. Funny thing is–the smallest decisions are made that way, too. If we only let people make decisions when they’re 100% sure, we’d never let them make decisions about anything. One does not need 100% certainty in order to make rational decisions–and it’s a good thing since 100% certainty is practically impossible.

            “Fallibilism does not imply that we have no knowledge; fallibilists typically deny that knowledge requires absolute certainty. Rather, fallibilism is an admission that, because empirical knowledge can be revised by further observation, any of the things we take as empirical knowledge might turn out to be false.”

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallibilism

            The sun set in the west and rose in the east every day of recorded history. Galileo ground some lenses and saw some things no one had ever seen before, and we no longer believe that the sun orbits the earth but visa versa. If new data becomes available tomorrow that shows our present model is wrong, it’ll go out the window, too.

            The science is never settled.

            You think you know that 2+2=4, but are you sure there wasn’t a typo? Are you sure things were counted properly? Are you sure the person who entered the data doesn’t have dyslexia?

            Anyway, if we only let people make choices for themselves when they’re certain of the risk, they’d never get to make any choices for themselves or their children.

            Meanwhile, the thing that makes you the ultimate authority on your own choices is the fact that every choice has a qualitative aspect to it, and no one can know or represent your own qualitative choices better than you do. Talk about uncertainty! How do they account for the qualitative fact that Ken Shultz prefers to risk his life on the freeway by riding a motorcycle to work–because it’s fun?

            This is why utilitarianism, elitist regulation, and socialism will always fail where respect for people’s agency and market forces succeed. It’s not just that utilitarians try to quantify qualitative preferences. It’s also that, despite the uncertainty, no one can make qualitative choices for you better than you can–for yourself and for your children. We don’t know what will happen with a gene edit with certainty, but we can’t know–and we don’t need to know.

            We need to qualify, not just quantify, the risk from our own perspectives with our own preferences.

            1. What a lot of bullshit.

              You don’t get to make choices for another person. That’s the ethical position. Even as a parent your power to dictate the circumstances of a child is limited by that ethical rule. Parenthood grants you certain prerogatives over your child that you would not have over an adult. It’s the proper function of the law to delimit your prerogatives. You don’t get to abuse them without limit and without consequences.

              What you fail to grasp is that a gray area exists, just as it does with abortion. Sane individuals understand that and admit a role for the law to penalize behavior that results in suffering.

              Yes, you are responsible for your children. When you produced them you took on a very grave responsibility. You produced another human being and you must answer for what you do to them. If you don’t want that responsibility then don’t produce them.

              And it’s no different with genetic manipulation. Produce a suffering human and suffer the consequences.

              1. “It’s the proper function of the law to delimit your prerogatives.”

                Bullshit.

                The legitimate purpose of government is to protect our right to make choices for ourselves–not to limit our options.

                The reason rape is both ethically wrong and a crime is because the victim’s right to make a choice for herself was violated.

                To whatever extent the government should protect children from the choices of their parents, it must also protect the right or parents to make choices for their children.

                When the government uses its coercive power to inflict your qualitative preferences on parents and their children, it’s wrong and unjust for the same reasons rape is unethical and criminal.

                Violating people’s agency is the definition of crime and injustice, and perpetrating that in the name of your personal preferences doesn’t change that fact in the least.


  21. Smith addresses the question using a rigorously applied utilitarian ethics approach.

    And this is exactly as far as I needed to read.

  22. Libertarians for eugenics!

  23. In addition, it’s hard to imagine that a child will later feel morally aggrieved that his or her parents had prevented them from suffering a debilitating genetic disease.

    A million lawyers are slobbering over that one.

    1. “I was denied special accommodation and government transfer payments due to my parents meddling.”

      Probably not likely, for sure, but possible from a certain point of view. In the same way that it’s ‘possible’ the sun might explode tomorrow, for instance.

      I can see a special interest group for certain disabilities getting into that fight, though, since it is an existential threat. Not sure how they could spin that, though, and have anyone take them seriously.

    2. I listened to a This American Life podcast recently about a short guy whose parents had decided on his behalf not to undergo human growth hormone treatment when he was a child. The reason they elected not to undergo treatment was because, at the time, they was no synthetic HGH, so they were collecting it from the pituitary glands of human cadavers. A very small set of HGH kids would get something like kuru, which is a Mad Cow like disease cannibals in Papua New Guinea get, with holes developing in the brain, etc.

      He was interviewing a family about why they had decided to have their child undergo human growth hormone treatment. The family was telling him all these things basically justifying why they were wiling to risk these terrible side effects for their kid–out of fear that their kid would end up short. He said it didn’t really bother him, right up until the moment they asked him to stand back to back with their son. Suddenly, it wasn’t that they were willing to take these risks for fear that their son would grow up to be like some theoretical person. They were willing to risk their son’s health for fear that their son would grow up to be like him.

      Tolstoy wrote that happy families are all alike but unhappy families are all unhappy in their own way. I’ve known impressive short guys, beautiful women with small breasts, and ugly people who were impressive in other ways. Maybe they would have been even more successful if they’d been otherwise, but none of them were failures–despite not having optimal genes from an aesthetic perspective. Psychologically unhealthy people certainly don’t become more healthy because they’re beautiful. Maybe successful adults tend to be alike in terms of their ability to cope with things beyond their control.

  24. This is where the NIOF principle worshipped unthinkingly by so many libertarians gets a little uncomfortable. That is, unless you realize that genetic modification beyond some point is an initiation of force against the child-to-be. And it’s the proper role of the law to set that limit as reasonably as it can.

    It has a lot of parallels with abortion where most people accept that a woman should have a limited “right” up until the point of viability and after that, tough shit, you’ve made your bed now lie in it.

    At some point the modification of genes creates something that would not be considered human, and since it’s *human* rights we champion, wherein lies the modified being’s rights?

    That’s the philosophical question and it needs to be confronted because this issue is no longer science fiction.

    1. That is, unless you realize that genetic modification beyond some point is an initiation of force against the child-to-be.

      The creation of a human life is also an initiation of force against the child-to-be.

      The choosing of a mate comes with certain features and risks. You’re choosing your unborn child’s skin color, for example. You’re choosing to saddle them with any number of genetic problems – like sickle-cell trait.

      You raising them limits their life options also.

      At some point the modification of genes creates something that would not be considered human,

      When you can define human in a meaningful way, then this might become a problem. But right now people will consider other people to be non-human if there’s enough money or power to be gained exploiting/exterminating them. CRISPR won’t change that.

      In any case, if you edit a human’s genes sufficiently that what is produced isn’t considered human – why is this a problem? Either it is a person or it isn’t.

      Genes aren’t magical. They have no supernatural presence. They are just an information storage device. Manipulate the information stored sufficiently and you’ll end up with a magnolia – which will just be a magnolia.

      1. “In any case, if you edit a human’s genes sufficiently that what is produced isn’t considered human – why is this a problem? Either it is a person or it isn’t.”

        At the extremes these questions are always easy to answer. A dog is not a human; it’s a dog and has no rights. But modify a human to the point where that line is blurred and you better have some hard and fast rules.

        You don’t simply say, sure, we produced an organism akin to something out of a science fiction horror movie and because it doesn’t look like a human, meh, no problem, well just consider it a lower life form and do what we want with it.

      2. But right now people will consider other people to be non-human if there’s enough money or power to be gained exploiting/exterminating them. CRISPR won’t change that.

        Untrue. By proclamation and design it CRISPR will change that by the myriad of ways which people can effect their gain of money/power. You say “When you can define human in a meaningful way, then this might become a problem.” Plenty of people have plenty of meaningful definitions of ‘human’ ergo, it’s a problem. You may not agree with their definitions, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make it mean something to you or your problem.

        1. By increasing the myriad of ways…

      3. They are just an information storage device.

        Actually, depending on definitions, the majority of genes are regulatory devices. Many serve both functions.

  25. Whatever happened to just giving your partner that look, taking her by the hand and saying “c’mon. Let’s go make a baby”.

    Those were good days.

  26. A U.K. bioethicist makes the case for . . .

    This may very well be a historic event – a bioethicist making the case *for* new technology.

  27. I think the better question isn’t if it is ethically permissible, but given we have the technology, isn’t it ethically required?

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