Bioethics News

A pro-life case for altering the genome

Although many obstacles remain, genetic engineering is much closer to becoming a reality with the rapid development of CRISPR. On the horizon are both human enhancement and cures for genetic diseases. But one significant political obstacle is fear of altering the human genome. It is not just pro-life activists who object; a number of scientists also fret about the commercialisation of human life.

However, things could change. In the latest issue of The New Atlantis, Brendan Foht presents a “A Pro-Life Case for Therapeutic Gene Editing”. He acknowledges the risks of altering a person’s natural endowment, but points out that while most of the time somatic gene editing will be preferable to altering the genes of embryos, there will always be exceptions: 

most forms of Tay-Sachs disease, for instance, begin to manifest early in pregnancy and are generally fatal for the child before it reaches the age of five. In such cases, correcting mutations after a baby is born may not be an effective way to reverse developmental problems caused by the mutations. Editing the genes of embryos would presumably be more effective, though also more dangerous, than postnatal gene-editing, since it would affect a much greater proportion of the body’s cells and will do so from an earlier stage of development.

Some scientists contend that using pre-natal genetic diagnosis with IVF would be preferable to using gene therapy on an embryo. However, Foht points out that there are substantial ethical issues with this “conservative” approach:

preferring PGD over genetic therapy represents a troubling attitude toward people with disease and disability.

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.