Bioethics Blogs

A Minority Report On the Aesthetics of Human Gene Editing

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

A few weeks ago I was watching the futuristic police procedural, Minority Report episode Memento Mori that focused on the predicted murder of a U.S. Senator who was supporting a bill (Steven’s Law) to permit parents to genetically engineer their children. Steven was the Senator’s son, a child who died because of a genetic disease that (we are told) could have been corrected in utero—if the procedure was legal. Brief images of the Senator at a campaign stop show protestors with signs both in favor of and against the new bill, reminiscent of political abortion demonstrations.

If there is a need to create a law that permits such tinkering, that means that in this fictional universe of 2065, a law must have already existed that outlawed genetic editing. Of course today in the real U.S., there is no law against genetic editing, only an agreement among researchers that human engineering should not be done. A gene editing tool known as CRISPR makes genetic engineering feasible and not-so-difficult. While many have embraced the call for a prohibition, many have not as evident from a September application in London for scientists to edit the genes of a human embryo. It is difficult to put a new technology back in the bottle, once the genie has been let out.

Today’s prohibition is limited only to humans. One of the latest genetic technologies changes genes in mosquitos to make the insects resistant to the malaria parasite. The existence of chimeric animals such as cats with glow-in-the-dark jellyfish genes demonstrates this practice.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.