Should we pursue Designer Babies through the use of CRISPR?

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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:

https://media.hhmi.org/biointeractive/click/CRISPR/

 

Ethical Considerations:

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.

Justice:
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.

Autonomy:
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.

For now:
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?

 

Citations

Please feel free to include any feedback. 

6 Comments

6 comments

  1. Hi Farah! Amazing job on your project. Your research was very well written and organized. When it comes to your questions, I agree with the points you made. I believe in the pursuit of Designer Babies to a certain extent as well. Being able to prevent deadly diseases and hereditary mutations could be very beneficial to humanity, however, I do not think it is right to change one’s physical appearance without their consent, too. I think doing this would also get rid of the beauty of humanity and how we are all unique and special in our own ways. I might consider genetically modifying my child if I knew they had a high chance of being born with a mutation or disease, but that would be the only reason. When I look at the image you included, it scares me to think about how we are at a point in time where our technology is advanced enough to start doing things like, genetically modifying people, but at the same time, I find it really fascinating. I just hope we don’t abuse our power with it.

  2. Well done! This is so interesting. In my opinion, CRISPR should not be used to genetically alter babies. Although I agree that it would be amazing to eliminate or reduce certain genetic diseases with this technology, I have doubts that it could be controlled effectively. Furthermore, given the cost of Designer Babies, it’s likely that only the wealthy would be able to protect their unborn children from such diseases. I could see an issue with ableism too. If there are people paying for babies free of genetic diseases, this could lead to the removal of both physical and mental disabilities like autism, hearing disabilities, etc. This genetic diversity is part of what makes humanity and life beautiful, and even if their appearances were left unaltered, Designer Babies could get out of hand.

  3. Hi! I was instantly intrigued when I read the title of your presentation. I have briefly learned about this subject and I found your research on it extremely interesting. While I understand the positive outcomes of genetically altered babies, I do not believe in the pursuit of Designer Babies. In my personal opinion, in theory, it sounds like a great idea. However, the further it’s pursued in my mind, the more complicated it gets. I do not support Designer Babies as it creates further division between the socio-economic classes. Because of the cost of this procedure, only extremely wealthy people would be able to afford this. As a result, people with less money will end up with more “problems”, that being certain diseases, etc. Despite that, I am constantly on the fence about the idea of using it for medical reasons. However, on the topic of genetically altering someone’s appearance, I think there is almost no scenario where that should be allowed. It gives wealthy people an unfair advantage. Having brown eyes versus green eyes is, usually, in no way a life or death situation.

  4. Hi Farah! I am in your bioethics class and was extremely interested in your project as it was a second topic I was thinking about pursuing for my own project! Unfortunately, I chose a different topic. To answer your questions, I do not believe in the pursuit of designer babies. This is because I believe that it can be taken too far if the technology ends up in the hands of the wrong people. I also believe that the pursuit of designer babies violates the bioethical principle of respect for autonomy since the baby is not able to provide informed consent for their genes to be edited. I think that if CRISPR is used, it should only be used for the purpose of preventing or curing diseases. CRISPR should not be used to edit genes for cosmetic purposes. If given the opportunity, I would only choose genetically modify my child if it was for medical purposes (preventing/treating disease) and not cosmetic purposes.

  5. Hi Farah! I just took medical problem-solving II and your topic was super interesting to me as it directly relates to the medical field. To start, I think your first question is really difficult to answer. Looking at the way our health system works now, the purpose of researchers and doctors/physicians is to cure patients. If someone can leverage CRISPR to cure sickle cell disease, cancer or treat the patient in any other way, then I feel like it falls under the physician’s responsibility to use the tool and cure their ill patients. Where this gets complicated is babies, as, similar to the whole issue on abortion, it is unclear whether emrbyo’s/fetus’s under a certain age are considered “alive.” This definition can easily change based on the person you’re talking to. Now, if you consider the fetus to be “alive” and thus human, then technically, I would say that they could also be classified as a patient, and as I said earlier, it is the physicians’ responsibility to treat their patients using any legal/non-harming means possible. In this case, I would say that ethically speaking, the physicians could/should cure the fetus of its disease.

  6. Hi Farah! I just took medical problem-solving II and was super interested in your topic as it relates to the medical field. To start, I think your first question is very difficult to answer. Generally speaking, I think that we can all agree that it is a physician/doctor’s responsibility to treat their patient to the best of their ability. Subsequently, if doctors can leverage CRISPR to cure their patient of cancer, sickle cell disease, etc. (which I would say falls under the physician’s responsibility to their patient) then I say go for it! However, this line becomes more blurred when thinking of unborn children (eg. fetuses). One area which makes this question harder to answer is the debate on whether embryos can be considered alive or not. Now, if the fetus were to be classified as alive (eg. a living human being), and the doctor knew that it has some sort of disease, then similar to the previous situation, I would say it falls under the physician’s responsibilities to treat their patient (the fetus) to the best of their capabilities, which could potentially mean using CRISPR if no other options were available.

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