What is a Designer Baby? To start, a designer baby is a baby whose genetic makeup has been altered or edited. Using CRISPR, one can edit an embryo in order to “customize” a child and change anything from hair color to height to IQ. Most importantly, this technology can treat hereditary mutations and form a resistance against diseases. Nevertheless, there are many ethical considerations one must keep in mind before attempting genetic engineering.
What is CRISPR?
CRISPR stands for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats. It is a technology that can detect and alter specific parts of DNA and change its sequence. It is known to be extremely precise and can be programmed to target particular strands of DNA, which offers a wide variety of gene editing opportunities. It can be used to fix gene defects, alter physical traits, and can even be used on crops. CRISPR is short for CRISPR-Cas19, where CRISPR is a group of DNA sequences and Cas19 is a protein that can cut strands of DNA.
How it works:
Here is a link to an interactive model that explains how we can use CRISPR and how it works step by step:
Beneficence and Non-Maleficence:
CRISPR can be used for the greater good, yet it has risks involved, similarly to any other medical procedure. Using this technology, humans can gain resistance against diseases, and we can remove life-altering diseases from one’s genetic makeup. Diseases such as Cancer that cause millions of deaths each year and are yet to have cures can be cured through the use of CRISPR. If used for the right and important reasons, this revolutionary development can be a great step in benefiting many lives. Nevertheless, since it is a new and developing technology, there is a measure of unsafety that can be brought up in the principle of non-maleficence. Although there is no purpose in doing any harm, this form of genetic engineering can cause unwanted mutations and may cause damage to genes. Furthermore, this is a risk one must take, just as they do with most procedures.
One of the main questions that appear regarding designer babies is “is it fair?”. The procedure itself is not particularly ‘cheap,’ which now causes an issue with who can afford it. This would mean that the less fortunate would not be able to afford the procedure; therefore, others of greater wealth would most likely be genetically edited in some way or form. This can cause unfairness within schools, work, and society. Those who can afford to genetically edit their babies can have smarter or faster children, which can open up more opportunities than the average person. Those who have been genetically modified will be seen as better or ‘perfect’ compared to others, which strikes the concept of equity and social class.
Since CRISPR targets the embryo, the baby has yet to have a voice of its own, meaning consent is impossible. This strikes a problem when it comes to self-autonomy. It is known that people under the age of 18 can not legally make decisions when it comes to medical purposes, but should a parent have full control? In this case, the patient is not even partially informed, yet changes to their DNA are being made. Should your genetic makeup be altered in the first place, yet by another person? Here, the baby’s rights and freedoms are being tampered with and restricted, which is morally wrong.
The case of Lulu and Nana:
In October 2018, two Chinese girls were introduced to this hectic world. They were born like any other babies, crying and healthy. However, along with their birth, skepticism has arisen. The two girls with the pseudonyms Lulu and Nana are the first CRISPR genome-edited babies. And Chinese researcher He Jiankui is responsible. Initially, He Jiankui worked at the Southern University of Science and Technology and helped people with HIV-related fertility problems. One of those people being Grace and Mark, parents of Lulu and Nana. When Grace’s husband’s sperm was sent into her egg, an embryologist also sent in CRISPR protein and instructions to perform a gene surgery to protect the girls from future HIV infection. This gene surgery removes the opening through which HIV enters to infect people. Throughout Grace’s birth, she went through a plethora of blood tests and ultrasounds to make sure everything was healthy and normal, which it was. However, many people argue that there are profound ethical problems that follow this gene editing. Still, He Jianku states that “For a few children, early gene surgery may be the only viable way to heal an inheritable disease and prevent a lifetime of suffering.” He also says that “I understand my work will be controversial… and I’m willing to take the criticism.” In the end, He Jiankui was sentenced to prison for three years due to violating government bans on clinical procedures of gene editing on human embryos for reproductive purposes.
So, should we?
After understanding the science behind Designer Babies and CRISPR, as well as taking the ethical considerations into account, there is one clear answer. We should pursue Designer Babies through the use of CRISPR to a certain extent. It is important that if practiced, CRISPR should directly benefit people. It is morally incorrect to alter one’s physical appearance without consent and can cause unfairness within society. Nevertheless, using CRISPR towards providing resistance against disease or correcting harmful mutations such as Cancer and Alzheimers is beneficial towards humanity. Therefore, using this technology towards the greater good is something that should be pursued and further researched.
It is essential to be constantly informed on new and improving technologies. CRISPR is one of the forms of genetic engineering that could be implemented within your average hospital or medicine. It is also important to understand and value knowledge and developments. Rather than trying to stop further research, we should encourage it for our future.
Some questions for you!
In the comment section attempt to answer the following questions:
Do you believe in the pursuit of Designer Babies?
To what extent should CRISPR be used?
If given the opportunity, would you choose to genetically modify your child?
What are your thoughts and feelings when looking at this image?
Please feel free to include any feedback.