To just be, or not to just be?

Genetic engineers can now use CRISPR technology to edit human embryos with the intent of eliminating genetic diseases, such as Huntington’s disease and cystic fibrosis, and genetic defects. Specter and Harris agree that this technology has the potential to revolutionize medicine and ease the suffering of millions. Harris addresses the arguments that using this technology is “dangerous, unnatural, and does not take into account the consent of future generations” (Harris, 1). He points out that many unnatural applications of science have allowed humans to fight bacteria, overcome famine and pestilence. He also recognizes that CRISPR technology used in this regard is not more or less dangerous than nature itself- there are many dangers everywhere all the time, especially in regards to the human reproductive schema. As for consent, none of us consented to be born but here we are. For Harris, these oppositions to editing human embryos all seem completely refutable. However, Darnovsky offers a compelling argument against using this technology: “Permitting human germline gene editing for any reason would likely lead to its escape from regulatory limits, to its adoption for enhancement purposes, and to the emergence of a market-based eugenics that would exacerbate already existing discrimination, inequality, and conflict” (Darnovsky, 4). That is a terrifying thought.

Whether we should edit the human genome depends on what we believe about human purpose and progress. It is certainly not the case that natural selection is the only driver of evolution. Harari would definitely agree with Gould, that “cultural transmission is far more powerful in potential speed and spread than natural selection” (Gould, 3). Even if we are successful at eliminating diseases and defects, what guarantee is there that new genetic ailments won’t develop in time? Bioterrorism is another potential use of this technology, and as Specter admits, “do-it-yourself biology is already a reality; soon it will almost certainly be possible to experiment with a CRISPR kit in the same way that previous generations of garage-based tinkerers played with ham radios or rudimentary computers” (Specter, 3). I think that while this technology is AWE-inspiring, I’m not sure that humans as a whole have the wherewithal to use it responsibly. I also agree with Gould that if we’re going to move in this direction, we should consent to it as a society. There are just so many unknowns. But regardless of our consent, it seems like we’re moving in that direction..

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