We all have flaws. Our eyesight may not be that good. Some go bald too early. Some people have more serious issues and they all can trace back to one place — our genetics. Our DNA is what makes us, well, us. It is the building block of everything we ever were, are and will be. With this, there come flaws such as predispositions to cancer, diabetes and heart disease. There is a new technological advancement that has the ability to revolutionize our lives. It is called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR for short.
Simply put, CRISPR is a way to edit a genetic code. I would go more into the science of it, but all you need to know is that this exists and can change all the things that you wish to change (to a degree). I want to talk about an ethical dilemma that will eventually arise once this technology goes mainstream. That dilemma is the genetic modification of the next generation.
The ethical challenge of individuals choosing to go through such a treatment is pretty straightforward. Shouldn’t people be free to do as they wish with their bodies? This is a widely accepted concept across much of the world. However, does the same go for children — especially babies?
A child, baby or fetus does not have the agency to choose what happens to them. Therefore, is it right to alter their genetics? Simply put, yes.
When people bring up the idea of designer babies, they often think about altering eye or hair color or other factors to make them more attractive. That’s not what I’m talking about. That kind of genetic modification is shallow and vicarious. I’m talking about changing the genetics of a child to help it live a longer, healthier life.
If we have the ability to make children healthier, it is an ethical imperative that we do so. I would argue that if you can make a child’s life better by decreasing the risk of metabolic diseases and eliminating the possibility of a birth defect — and then you choose not to intervene — that is immoral. With technologies like CRISPR, we can make these changes.
Let’s look at this from an existential perspective. No one chooses to be born, right? You did not pick your genetics. Nothing about you was picked. However, imagine if it were picked. Imagine being born with a genetic defect that caused some health issue for you and then you learn that your parents could have prevented it. Would that be just?
From a parental perspective, this technology also makes sense. There are people in the world who cannot have kids because they know they carry a recessive gene that can cause a severe birth defect. These people will never be able to feel all of the experiences of parenthood. If you are against genetic modification, who are you to tell others they cannot go through the steps to make sure they can have a healthy child?
Our flaws are an integral part of what makes us human. However, there are some flaws that shouldn’t exist if they don’t need to. Superficial aspects of the human condition are not the ones this technology is trying to solve. It is attempting to solve the issues that cause the most harm to people.
This seems like an out-of-this-world idea, but it is a scientific reality that is around the corner. This will be a major debate that society will have. Thinking about it today sets us up to better address the situation of tomorrow. The simple fact is, soon we will have the chance to edit our genetics. If properly utilized, we will have healthier kids and more parents that are able to have healthy kids. I have no problem with ensuring a better future for anyone. No one should be sentenced to a genetic penalty if their only crime was being born.