From Genetic Traits to Cosmetic Traits

One of the most intriguing examples of gene editing is its power to “enhance” physical and cosmetic characteristics in humans. Darnovsky summarizes the social implications of this technology in his question, “Should arranging for children with financially or socially ‘efficient’ varieties of height and complexion be considered medical intervention?” (Darnovsky). It isn’t hard to foresee a day when the culturally subjective attributes of physical stature and intelligence can be customized with CRISPR. When that happens, who will decide which characteristics are good and which are bad? It’s unlikely, but perhaps humans will become a supremely intelligent perfectly proportioned utopian species. Its more likely that nations use genetic editing for a racial, military, or a propagandistic agenda. Both outcomes appear closer than ever before. Understanding the complete social, geopolitical, and economic ramifications of human germline modification requires time we don’t have.

Gene editing for the purpose of eradicating disease and suffering should be done in my opinion. If the technology to solve diseases and ailments like AIDS or cystic fibrosis exists, then not employing the gene editing could be considered unethical, even when acknowledging the possibility of long-term germline side effects. Harris is correct when he writes that “denial” of gene editing “costs human lives, day after day” (Harris). However, choosing aesthetic, designer characteristics in future children is where I personally draw the line. While such technology may be voluntary unlike eugenics of the past, their similarities conjure dark dystopian ideas in my mind. But in the end, it doesn’t matter where I draw the line, what social reservations scholars have, or even where large nations place regulations. Dr. Jennifer Doudna is right when she says, “people will use the technology whether we know enough about it or not” (Specter, 5). Human embryos have already been edited, and some lab in Korea, Area 51, or who knows where will use CRISPR on human subjects. In fact, they may already have.

2 thoughts on “From Genetic Traits to Cosmetic Traits”

  1. Nicely done as always Ben. I agree we should CRISPR to eradicate diseases. If we could stop diseases like cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s, or HIV, then it almost seems our duty to do so. I also agree about using CRISPR for “designer” traits. Editing a gene to stop a genetic disease is fine in my eyes, but changing one’s physical appearance or something like muscle mass, is too far. If we simply change our traits at will, we might lose a bit of what makes us human. Of course, as you say, there will no doubt be people who use CRISPR as they please, and there isn’t much we can do to stop those who do. Nonetheless, we should be careful about how we use CRISPR, as it has the potential to vastly change our future as a species.

  2. Good evening,
    I enjoyed reading your blog post as I found myself agreeing with most everything you wrote. It is important that we, as a society, draw a line using ethics and logic as to where the genetic editing becomes excessive and purely cosmetic. CRISPR technology is such an important step in science in disease prevention and we must be careful not to misuse this technology. I liked the quote from Specter you used in your second paragraph about how this technology is easy enough to use that it can be applied in labs all over the world in infinite amount of unethical experiments. The question then falls on the ways in which we can govern the use of this technology. Is it possible and if so, would this cause controversy over the freedom of scientific discovery? These are all very important questions that will most likely need to be answered in the near future.

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