Genetically modified children: pros and cons

November 20, 2019  12:07

Genetically modified children are highly desirable to protect people from disease and can be created within two years, CNN reported referring to an article by Kevin Smith, a bioethicist at the University of Abertay in Scotland, published in Bioethics magazine.

Gene editing currently poses such a low risk that it can be used in human embryos, the author believes.

Proponents of this method want to change the genetic structure of embryos to prevent the transmission of diseases associated with genes. However, this practice is extremely controversial due to fears that it can be used to create 'designer children,' whose genes will be edited for non-therapeutic purposes.

In November 2018, Chinese scientist He Jiankui aroused indignation by announcing that he created the world's first genetically modified children from embryos modified to make them resistant to HIV.

However, Smith believes that their creation is ethically justified.

According to Smith, from a "utilitarian standpoint" genetic modification is the "only conceivable way" to deal with multiple disease-associated genes in an embryo.

He believes that genetic modification will allow doctors to protect future people from cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia, as well as from other common diseases.

"If several common disorders could be avoided or delayed by genetically modifying humans, the average disease-free lifespan could be substantially extended," he said in a press statement.

Smith recommends delaying genetic modification programs, because now "society is largely opposed to genetically modifying humans." However, he believes that an ethical attempt to produce genetically modified children may take less than two years ago.

His work has been criticized by other experts in the field, who indicate that the risks of gene editing are still being studied.

"I do not believe that there are adequate experiments that will 'prove' that this technology is safe," Joyce Harper of the University College London (UCL) Institute for Women's Health told the Science Media Centre (SMC) in London. "So we need to tread carefully."
Harper emphasizes that editing the genome has great potential, but wants “public debate and legislation to ensure that we carefully consider this.”

Sarah Norcross, director of the Progress Educational Trust (PET), an organization that works to improve public understanding of genetics, called Smith's analysis "flawed."

Norcross noted that the public may not change their mind about genetically modified children, and more work needs to be done to understand the risks associated with technology.

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