The ‘Monstrous’ Immorality of Creating Genetically Engineered Babies

A scientist claims he used CRISPR to create gene-edited twins

Arthur Caplan
OneZero
Published in
3 min readNov 28, 2018

--

He Jiankui at the Second International Summit on Human Genome Editing in Hong Kong on Nov. 28. Photo by Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty

On November 25, He Jiankui, a scientist at Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, China announced, via YouTube, that he had created the world’s first genetically engineered babies. He said twin girls, Lulu and Nana, had been born via in vitro fertilization. The embryos used to create the twins were altered with a genetic editing tool known as CRISPR. He said the goal was to make it harder for HIV to invade and infect their white blood cells by creating a genetic message associated with enhanced resistance to acquiring AIDS. The girls, he claims, needed this protection since their fathers had the HIV virus. More genetically altered children are, He says, on the way.

“For this specific case, I feel proud, actually,” he said at a conference on Wednesday.

Some doubt that He accomplished what he says because there is no peer-reviewed paper to back up his claim. But He is no scientific slouch. He trained at Rice University and Stanford University and has been invited to many conferences of elite scientists who are perfecting gene editing technologies. He is also a moral idiot who has engaged in a renegade experiment that may well setback the very promising field of germline genetic engineering a decade or more.

Fear of changing genes that are passed from one generation to the next — germline engineering — runs deep. Altering the inherited properties of our children strikes many as manufacturing people. Add a bit of 20th century eugenics à la Nazi Germany into the mix and fear turns rapidly into prohibition.

The engineering of human embryos under these circumstances is nothing short of immoral grandstanding.

I am not among those who think it’s unethical to change the genes of our children. If it is possible to eliminate forever diseases such as cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, sickle cell disease, fragile X syndrome, Huntington’s disease, and a slew of other genetic killers that plague humanity, then I think germline genetic engineering is ethically sound and must be pursued. But pursued…

--

--