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HFEA and Gene Therapy

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority are considering allowing genetic editing of human embryos. These are leftover embryos from IVF clinics. This opens the door to preventing miscarriages and aiding fertility, but also to designer babies and genetically modified humans.

This could irrevocably alter the human species. At best, it helps some people have a healthy child. At worst, it affects how society regards people with disabilities and leads to eugenics. Survival of the fittest takes on a new meaning. It reveals how lightly we regard the value of human life from its earliest stages. We make babies and then experiment on those babies. Medical science helped create the problem. Now, rather than dispose of such children with dignity, scientific research uses them, as means towards an end; the end justifies the means.

There is no technological imperative. Just because we can and are able to do something does not mean we ought to do it. The moral question of the rightness and wrongness of any particular scientific procedure is not just about human capacity or ingenuity. It’s about morality.

There is a law of unintended consequences. Science has gone often  wrong and created disasters. Nuclear scientists made the Atomic bomb. It probably ended World War II, but it also led to Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and the threats of North Korea, Iran and the risks of nuclear proliferation. We can supply nuclear power to many nations, but we can also harm our world and everything and everyone in it.

Geneticists decided early that they would not test for genetic abnormalities, if there was no known cure. This is part of the difficulty of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic tests you can buy freely on the internet. They describe your genetic make-up but they don’t tell you, when you will develop a disease or how severe it might be. Many diseases are multi-factorial and genetics is just one factor in the disease. Whether you develop a disease depends on genetics, but also on diet, lifestyle and exercise. Knowing our genetic predisposition is no death sentence or definitive guide to many diseases.

Plastic surgery was honed and refined as the world faced horrific war injuries from gas, fire and weaponry. Cosmetic surgery designed to treat accident victims has burgeoned into nose and boob jobs, face lifts and tummy tucks. Medical techniques that were created to help alleviate distress and rectify a ‘wrong’, has morphed into making us conform to very particular stereotypes of beauty. God gives us one face and medicine makes another.

It is a worthy motive to prevent disease and understand what causes infertility and miscarriage. It is very different to put right something that has gone wrong, from enhancing and improving someone. If we could make our children brighter, more attractive, and healthier, then we will justify anything and everything in pursuit of our goal. Already we can select the sex of a child to prevent producing a diseased child, but that has led to severe gender imbalance in China and India. Permission can become requirement and expectation. Humanity built a Tower in Babel and it was to reach to the heavens and make a name for the builders. However fame and aspiring glory ended in confusion and division. Humanity must limit how and what it does.

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