As Vishal Lamba knows from first-hand experience, genome editing is here to stay. While this has many positive implications, being potentially able to cure certain diseases, there is also a potentially negative side, which raises ethical concerns.
- Upgraded Babies
One of the potential benefits of targeted genome editing is helping fetuses deal with certain diseases and conditions, possibly before they are born. The problem with this is simple: who will be the regulatory force that can allow the family only to cure potential prenatal diseases, but not make the child taller or give him or her blue eyes instead of brown? Any gene editing beyond disease control invites talk about designed babies.
- The Potential for Misuse Is Obviously High
The possibility of gene editing being misused is high. When parents see a scenario where doctors helped a child using CRISPR or another gene editing tool, and they happen to be wealthy, the temptation to have a custom child can easily increase. This can lead to scenarios in which even healthy parents who could give birth to healthy children opt for genetic editing, not because it’s necessary, but because it’s available. When people have the necessary resources for genetic editing, it is very hard to stop them, especially with something like CRISPR that promises to be a cheap and quick tool when it finally becomes widely available. This in turn could lead to side-effects which right now are not well understood.
What happens when a couple decides that they want a different kind of baby? What if the government sees this as an opportunity, simply because people are willing to pay a fortune? Professor Doudna talked about this in an article, where she described a similar scenario. Parents wanting to make their child healthier, better looking, may be willing to do anything to take advantage of genetic editing, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to regulations. Will CRISPR be heavily regulated in the early years? We don’t know yet, but regulating something as complex as gene editing is likely going to be a challenge.
- It Could Be Hard to Regulate
What makes CRISPR so promising but also potentially frightening, is how readily available it projects to be. Since it is a cheap and quick tool or at the very least it will be, regulation seems like something that would be extremely hard, at least once the products and the treatments are already on the market.