According to a story from ksl.com, a recent poll found that the majority of Americans are in support of using gene editing technology in order to protect newborns from genetic diseases and disorders. However, a newer poll also found that there were some gene editing modifications, such as edits to make smarter, taller, or faster children, that had considerably less support.
Gene Editing, an Ethical Minefield
These results highlight the controversy surrounding gene editing. It is such a powerful tool that has the potential to provide many benefits, but with such power comes great responsibility, and there are legitimate concerns about what could come about if it is used unscrupulously.
Jared Keener is an exhibit designer at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. He says he is opposed to using the technology to develop “designer babies,” but like most Americans, he supports the use of the technology to fight disease. For Jared, this support has a very personal element: his mother has lupus, a long term, inflammatory disease that is at least partially linked to certain genetic variants. In theory, gene editing could have prevented the genetic variants that made her susceptible from appearing.
Seeing the challenges and hardship that chronic rare illnesses like lupus can cause makes supporting gene editing a pretty easy decision for Jared. The poll also found that Americans were not only in support of using gene editing to stop incurable rare disorders like Huntington’s disease, but also supported the use of gene editing to prevent less severe conditions such as blindness. There was also strong support for using gene editing to reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer later on in life.
This poll comes in the wake of the news that a doctor in China edited a baby’s genes to make it immune from HIV; the move drew plenty of criticism, with many arguing that it was a waste because there are other ways to prevent the disease.
An Uncertain Future
Regardless, if gene editing becomes a standard procedure to prevent genetic disorders and so on, deciding what genes should be edited and how extensive it should be will be a subject of continued debate. After all, genetics play at least some role in a lot of common health problems, like obesity and depression. Only future research and healthy debate will help solve these conundrums.