Citing Ethical Issues, U.S. Will Not Fund Embryo Editing

May 7, 2015

Photograph by Sam Kaplan

By Sarah Fecht

Thanks to new genetic engineering techniques, we can edit DNA with more precision than ever before. This technology has the potential to change whether a baby lives or dies, but it also carries with it a lot of unanswered scientific and ethical questions, such as the possibility of one day creating “designer babies“.

In spite of all the scientific and ethical dilemmas that could result from editing the DNA that gets passed down from generation to generation–and despitecalls for a moratorium on such research–Chinese scientists recently went ahead and did it anyway. They attempted to delete a gene for a blood disorder called beta thalassemia from the DNA of 86 nonviable embryos. The experiment was successful in 7 embryos.

In response, Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (and leader of the U.S. effort to sequence the human genome), is making it known that the NIH will not fund such research. Editing human embryos “is a line that should not be crossed”, says the statement, noting there are “serious and unquantifiable safety issues, ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent, and a current lack of compelling medical applications justifying the use of [genetic engineering] in embryos.”

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8 comments on “Citing Ethical Issues, U.S. Will Not Fund Embryo Editing

  • What is the difference in principle between making modifications to a body to heal it when it is > 1 year old with when it is < 1 year old?

    The distinction I would think is making a mod that affects only the current generation or all future generations. For the second you need greater care.

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  • 2
    ad nauseam says:

    Yes I’ll take my baby with green eyes, black curly hair…and a side of fries…yes this is to go…pull up to the next window you say? Alrighty then…

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  • Humans are at the door of extinction. We had a good run and have been wildly successful, and we only took off in the last 10000 years. We get the fine honor of making our new replacements; we will make a new race that comes closer to blending our minds and potential to our bodies. Now is the time that we can bow out with grace, or act like children or savages. I hope very much that I live to see my grandchildren become more incredible than we have been. I would love to bounce my “designer” grand-baby on my knee, knowing she is safe from genetic disease, or the number of brain issues I have had. To think that my grand-kids would not be pledged by same ADHD or depression that have been handicaps to me is a beautiful dream.

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  • @OP – noting there are “serious and unquantifiable safety issues,

    That may well be the case – so more research is required.

    ethical issues presented by altering the germline in a way that affects the next generation without their consent,

    Since when did unborn humans give or withhold their consent??? This is nonsense!

    The key questions are about the objectives and responsibilities of those making the decisions.
    Eliminating hereditary diseases is one issue.
    Choosing a designer-baby with trendy fashion-features, is quite another!

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  • 5
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    Forget about custom ordered eye and hair color, that’s nothing… How about “Comicon” type OCD superhero fan parents who would want their child to have Wolverine claws or have Vulcan ears to look like Spock. I know this sounds far-fetched but remember: there is no limit to the stupidity and lunacy of people. For anything you can imagine, you can bet there’s some nut out there who is dreaming of doing it or has done it already.

    But even though it’s too early at this stage to worry about “designer babies”, it will become an issue sometime in the future.

    However, I’m all for genetic manipulation when it comes to preventing serious hereditary diseases like Huntingdon’s, hemophilia, etc. and correcting genes associated with a high risk of conditions like breast/utrerine cancer, diabetes, autism, alzheimer’s, etc… provided we find a way to do it safely.

    This could be the biggest breakthrough in medecine since the advent of modern surgery and we must not let emotions and fear be our guides. We must explore this avenue but prudently and wisely. And ethics must definitely be part of the equation.

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  • It saddens me that the US government won’t be funding this research. Imagine a world without Cystic Fibrosis, without downs syndrome, without schizophrenia, without Tay Sachs, etc. Our children could be immune to HIV, they could be smarter, stronger, faster. Heck, we have people with the gen sequences for superior vision, hearing, touch, smell, and so much more. With time all of humanity could be improved.

    Some worry about designer babies. But, if the price for the elimination of genetic diseases and wholesale improvement of humanity is that some people want to give their children certain cosmetic features, so be it. What does it matter if a parent wants their child to have red hair and blue eyes with Asian features and dark skin?

    The tragedy of course is not that the research will remain undone. There’s too much money to be made for the research to remain undone. No, the tragedy is that the results of the research will be monetized in such a way that only the richest will be able to afford to have G.Eng Children. At least at first, with time humanity will gain complete control over our evolution and every member of society will be enhanced. What a glorious future that will be.

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  • 7
    ad nauseam says:

    Save the gingers from extinction…make your next child a ginger today…

    We’ll all be enhanced huh?…kinda like that twilight zone…(Number 12 Looks Just Like You only with genetics)

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  • 8
    old-toy-boy says:

    We already have an unsustainable human population on this planet. Designer babies is just waste of resources for the sake of pandering to some rich egos. It contributes nothing to human civilisation, it is unethical.

    Need to qualify this, if it encouraged humans with four colour vision, resistance to aids, etc
    any clear advancement of the human species, then maybe…

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