When the canon for Star Trek was set in the 1960s, the storytellers envisioned a world in the 1990s where genetic engineering would create massive problems for the human race. This scientific advancement would lead to the Eugenics Wars where people with super strength, intelligence, and agility would attempt to conquer the world and rule over those without those traits.
We have had 50 years to think about the concept of creating genetically engineered babies. What is remarkable about the subject is that the pros and cons have shifted very little since the concept was first introduced to society.
News from November 2018 that suggested scientists in China, with support from around the world, created two human babies through genetic engineering brings the concerns of this technology to the forefront of our existence today. He Jiankui claims to have edited human embryos in an effort to make the children become more resilient against the HIV virus. His team disabled the CCR5 gene.
“When Lulu and Nana were just a single cell, this surgery removed the doorway through which HIV enters to infect people,” he said.
When we examine these genetically engineered babies pros and cons, it is obvious that this technology is something that we must make critical decisions on right away before there are detrimental impacts to our society.
List of the Pros of Genetically Engineered Babies
1. Genetically engineered babies could create a new field of medical science.
When we think about the worst diseases or conditions that affect human beings, it is not the measles, polio, or hepatitis that comes to mind. Genetic conditions and cancers are the focus of today’s medical research because of the adverse impacts they create on our society as a whole. If we can produce technology that offers helpful genetic engineering, then it becomes possible to stop these conditions before they have the chance to form.
CRISPR processes are already providing benefits to cancer treatments because they target specific cells instead of killing healthy and unhealthy ones at once. Genetically engineered babies take this concept to the next logical level.
2. It is an effective way to treat genetic disorders in the general population.
10% of the human population is dealing with a genetic disorder of some type right now. That means there are 30 million people in the United States with a health condition that could be treatable through the process of genetic engineering at the fetal stage. Although this process would not help adults suffering from this issue, their offspring could benefit by not being a carrier or suffering from it as well.
There are over 7,000 conditions currently known to medical science that could be treated through the use of genetic editing at the fetal stage. By replacing erroneous cells with correct information, we could provide children with a potential cure to their condition before they even begin to take shape.
3. This technology could speed up work in biopharmaceuticals.
The gene editing techniques which are associated with this subject are also a critical component of modern pharmaceutical research. Biopharmaceuticals are rapidly becoming the next frontier of medical science. Animal studies have already shown the potential advantages of this technology, from cancer treatments to improvements in fertility. The higher levels of precision, along with the potential to create medicines that work with a person’s specific genome, create a lot of possibilities for future wellness benefits thanks to the research coming from genetic engineering.
4. It would not be a process without parental oversight.
Although the idea of genetically engineered babies makes one think of scientists working in a laboratory setting, this process would not be without parental oversight. The practical application of this treatment would likely be similar to what we see today with IVF therapies. Parents would stay in control of the process throughout the entire period of conception. It would be families that are in charge of what modifications occur under the advice of a medical professional. It would not become a field filled with rogue researchers blindly experimenting on embryos to create specific results.
5. Genetically engineered babies could stop disease progression in families.
Family genetics play a critical role in the development of children in positive and negative ways. If genetically engineered babies become a possibility, then parents would have the option to stop potential disease progression before it starts. Even issues with autism could potentially receive correction before the child is born to reduce the learning impacts that would occur in the future. Even with the cost of this process, the lifelong savings that would occur from not needing specialized therapies could potentially make it a treatment that health insurance companies might cover.
6. It could reduce the need for an organ donation list.
An average of 20 people die each day In the United States because they are waiting for an organ transplant. There are over 100,000 people on the waiting list right now. The technology which allows for genetic engineering at the embryo level could also create more potential matches when the need for a donation arises. Scientists could create a similar genetic profile that would work with the highest organs in demand today, such as the kidney, to improve individual health without the same potential risks for rejection.
7. This technology could extend the average lifespan of humans.
There are some countries in the world where the average human lifespan now tops 80 years. In the past few centuries, we have doubled this figure thanks to advancements in sanitation and medical science. Genetically engineered babies are the next step to consider as we look for ways to improve life for everyone. It would give us an opportunity to stop diseases and genetic conditions before they are able to take a life prematurely. We could even reduce the most common reasons for cellular and genetic degradation to improve the health of everyone eventually because of the processes developed in this field.
8. Genetically engineered babies could reduce socioeconomic discrimination.
Although the possibility of discrimination would exist initially because of the presence of genetically engineered babies, this issue would slowly go away as families adapt to this option. It would create equality at a cellular level that could give everyone a chance to succeed if they were willing to work hard for that opportunity. We already see how people can lift themselves out of poverty with one good idea. Now more people than ever before would have this opportunity thanks to the editing processes involved.
9. It could allow some families to have children when it would otherwise be impossible.
Birth defects are the leading cause of death in the United States for newborns. 1 in 5 fatalities occurs because of this issue. About 1 in 30 couples experiences a child who suffers from a birth defect even with the extensive testing options that are available today. By taking advantage of the technologies which allow for genetic editing, it would become possible to drop this figure to almost nothing. Repairing issues while the fetus is still in the developmental stage could help them have a better chance to experience a happy and healthy childhood.
List of the Cons of Genetically Engineered Babies
1. Genetically engineered babies increase the risk of unintended mutation.
Kiran Musunuru, a research at the University of Pennsylvania, says he saw the preliminary paper prepared by He’s team in China. “I don’t want to convey that I’m categorically against gene editing on embryos ever behind done,” he told Popular Science. The issue with this technology is that it increases the risks of an unintended mutation occurring after the editing process occurs. Researchers note that the two children documented already showed evidence of off-target mutations and mosaicism.
2. There are future health risks to consider with genetically engineered babies.
The problem with genetically engineered babies in 2019 is that our technology levels have not caught up with the ideas that we have to improve the human race from a medical point of view. In the universe of Star Trek, genetic engineering was legalized as a way to stop severe birth defects or life-threatening conditions only. That is the ethical approach that modern scientists use to research this topic as well.
Although this disadvantage may disappear in the future as technology is improved, there is too great of a possibility that unintentional genetic changes can cause unforeseen health problems in the newborns who receive this “surgery. There are concerns for their future offspring as well if they can survive that long.
3. Genetically engineered babies could reduce humankind’s diversity.
This disadvantage of genetically engineered babies may be the most significant. When we begin to tinker with the genetic profiles of individuals to create specific results, then it lessens the diversity that is available to our race at a cellular level. Continued work in this area could result in additional genetic issues that are currently unforeseen today.
There are already several pockets of culture that see issues with disease and mutation at a higher level than the general population because the individuals stay together exclusively in their cultural groups. This technology would extend that problem to the rest of humanity.
4. It would be a technology for the wealth almost exclusively at first.
Technology inspires innovation, which means the cost of a new idea typically decreases for consumers as more efficient processes develop. When flatscreen televisions were first introduced in the 1990s, you would pay over $4,000 for a plasma TV of 40 inches or more. New LED products of the same size are under $500 today.
The same process would hold for genetically engineered babies. Only the wealthy could afford this technology at first. The issue here is that the offspring of the rich would have distinctive advantages that other kids wouldn’t have, so there would be a distinct shift in socioeconomic equality with its introduction.
5. Genetically engineered babies may not fix our current health issues.
Nature knows how to adapt to changing circumstances. It took bacteria about two generations in human years to start becoming resistant to our modern class of antibiotics. We might be able to treat genetic conditions or birth defects with the idea of creating designer babies now, but it may also be a short-lived benefit. There is even the possibility that we could create new genetic diseases because of the work that happens in this field.
6. Our history of genetic treatments is not one that is good.
Although there are a handful of individuals who have benefited from current genetic treatments, the majority of people find that they must either continue taking the medication given to them for the rest of their life or have their health revert to its prior state. There is an excellent chance that genetically engineered babies would require the same approach until we perfect this technology – which may be a day that never comes. We might conquer this disadvantage one day, but it is an element of science that we must still consider.
7. There are ethical considerations to look at with this process.
The most common disadvantage from an ethical standpoint when looking at the technology which permits genetically engineered babies is that people compare it to “playing god.” Although there are spiritual implications for some that would require resolution when using this technology, there are other ethics questions to answer as well.
Does this technology violate the rights of a child to develop in the natural way? Would the potential surgery create additional health risks for the mother?
These are questions that we cannot answer as of yet because the concept is so new. We are only now starting to decide what this technology means for our society. It is a disadvantage because a person’s perceived morality could stop progression of this technology from occurring.
8. It could change how children grow in the future.
Genetically engineered babies might grow up in the same way that we all did during our childhood. There is also a chance that these kids could grow up in very different ways in the future. We do not know what the full capability of cellular editing would be because we are still in the first days of this medical option. If it were to impact the physical, mental, or spiritual developmental processes in adverse ways, there would be little that could stop the condition from progressing. That is why most scientists agree today that any genetic experiments are unwise because there is such a significant potential for harm.
The pros and cons of genetically engineered babies show us a world where it is theoretically possible to limit the influence of disease. We could help children to have a faster start in life, increase human intelligence, and potentially improve our lifespan. As the story of the Eugenics Wars teach us, these benefits do not come without significant risks. There are a great many uncertainties that we must evaluate before allowing this technological process to continue advancing. Even if the first steps have been taken already, we are not in a position yet to grapple with either the advantages or disadvantages which are possible.