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Video Series: John Harris Defends Gene-Editing in Human Embryos

Novel gene editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas9, allow scientists to make very precise changes in the genome of human embryos. This could prevent serious genetic diseases in future children. But the use of gene editing in human embryos also raises questions: Is it safe? Should prospective parents be free to choose the genetic characteristics of their children? What if they want to use gene editing to have a deaf child, or a child with fair skin and blue eyes? Should gene editing be regulated globally, or should each country have their own legislation? In this interview with Katrien Devolder, John Harris (Professor Emeritus, University of Manchester &  Visiting Professor in Bioethics, King’s College London) answers these and other questions, and defends the view that we have the strongest moral obligation to gene-edit human embryos, not only to prevent disease but also for the purpose of enhancement.

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2 Comment on this post

  1. Harris is a bit out of date with Hawking’s endless silly predictions. Earlier this year at the Royal Society, Hawking said that due to climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth humans will need to find a new planet to populate within just 100 years, not the 1000 years he predicted last year.

    Given there is no reason to believe a new planet would have a lesser chance of being hit by an asteroid than Earth, I am not moved by this ‘reason.’ He can only be planning to transport a few humans to the new planet, but, assuming it to be possible, it would still a massive technological protect requiring unprecedented economic resources. Presumably he thinks this vast project to ‘save’ a chosen few is a better use of resources and human ingenuity than trying to prevent the extinction of the mass of the world’s population. Even if it was not possible to prevent the extinction of most humanity, there would be surviving humans (in number probably greater than Hawking’s chosen few) who would hopefully learn from this catastrophe and build a better planet than the one populated by Hawking’s stupid unethical chosen few.

    For sure, assuming there is “life” or some form of high intelligence on Earth a few billion years from now, it will have to leave in order to survive the expansion of the Sun. But can we seriously believe that within just 100 or even a 1000 years it will be technologically easier and ethical to transport a chosen few (presumably genetically enhanced) to a new planet rather than resolve the ecological, economic and social problems of this planet?

    On the other hand, it might be easier to go along with Hawing’s prediction just to get rid of the chosen few. I wonder whether it will be 144,000.

  2. Because we can, should we? People who can’t have kids, or embryos that can’t go to term, (about half of pregnancies miscarry to start with) are just part of life, live with it.
    “Enhancement” is in the eye of the beholder.
    Besides, this: The carbon cost of a child in the USA is huge, and, bringing more onto the planet puts all of us at greater risk of near term extinction.

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