Tuesday, March 14, 2017
New York Times (Feb. 15, 2017): Human Gene Editing Receives Key Panel's Support, by Amy Harmon:
In a move that some fear heralds the era of designer babies for the very wealthy and that has led other countries to ban germ line genetic editing, a panel of influential American scientists has thrown its support behind inheritable modifications of human embryos. Although touted as a way to cure disease, many see the potential for this science to be used for more nefarious motives--enhancing mental or physical endowments, for example--that smack of eugenics.
The research is explicitly aimed at allowing parents who both carry deadly recessive traits to have children who are not afflicted by such diseases as Tay-Sachs, beta thalassemia, and Huntington's. The report calls for prohibitions on using the technology for enhancements, but it does not have any legal effect. Federal law, though, currently prohibits the use of "federal money to support research that results in genetically modified offspring."
The issue arises on the heels of technology--Crispr-Cas9--that brings germ-line genetic editing out of the realm of science fiction. The tool allows researchers to insert and delete genes more or less precisely, although the possibility remains that some DNA will be snipped off inadvertently. They will experiment first on patients with cancer and blindness using genetic alterations that are not inheritable.