Gene Editing Embryos: The Never-Ending Ethics Debate

Gene editing has been a highly controverted subject, no matter what scientists would try to transform. With the latest scandal of gene-editing babies, scientists at the Imperial College of Science and the Francis Crick Institute have debated at an event, which was held as part of their partnership with The Times newspaper. This event is part of a program where students talk and explore science, technology, and culture.

This year’s event took place on 26 February and had as one of the subjects the ethics of gene editing, how it can transform the future of humanity and if it’s in our advantage or not.

A Utopian or a Dystopian Future?

Tom Whipple, The Times Science Editor, asked in the opening of the panel if CRISPR-Cas9 will become a technology in the future, and what kind of world it will create. Speakers Dr. Günes Taylor, Dr. Inga Prokopenko and Professor Robert Winston each had an opinion.

Francis Crick Institute’s Dr. Günes Taylor (Postdoctoral Training Fellow) pictures a far future where humans know their entire genomes, and “understand what’s going on and we treat it like a catalogue.” However, she fears that this will be commercialized and only available to a small group that will use it for their own benefit.

CRISPR-Cas9 can be used to edit parts of DNA, by cutting and changing the genetic code in strands to repair them. The tool can be used for various issues, and of course in editing embryos, which is also this

Back in November, when the Chinese researcher announced that he created the first gene edited babies in the world, with the goal of making them immune to infection with HIV, everyone was appalled.

It called the need of regulation of such experiments, but the Professor of Science and Society and Emeritus Professor of Fertility Studies at Imperial, Robert Winston, explains that international regulation is impossible because of the different laws and enforcement across countries. He proposed “normative values,” so that researchers act with ethics and transparency in mind:

“We have to approach these techniques which are essentially very powerful with huge humility.”

Panelists at the event agreed that ethical standards were violated when He Jiankui used gene editing on embryos, Dr. Taylor concluding that no matter what, “we should not drive this debate underground because it’s not possible to put it back in Pandora’s Box.”

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Meagan Kozlovs

About the Author: Meagan Kozlovs

Meagan Kozlovs is a reporter for Debate Report. She’s worked and interned at Global News Toronto  and CHECX. Megan is based in Toronto and covers issues affecting her city. In addition to her severe milk shake addiction, she’s a Netflix enthusiast, a red wine drinker, and a voracious reader.

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