Bioethics, Part 1: CRISPR and Cancer

Researchers in China have used the CRISPR gene editing tool to help “cure”cancer in cancerous patients. Whether this works or not, we have yet to see. If you don’t know what CRISPR is, it’s essentially a tool that allow scientists to cut and replace parts of the genetic code. An enzyme called Cas 9 allows for the DNA to be cut, and uses the body’s natural functions to replace cut DNA (extremely condensed version).

First of all, I think this is a very, very good idea. But, using CRISPR in this fashion brings up many other questions.

CRISPR has long been a fascination of mine. I love it. I love everything about it. We’re just about to tap into its potential, and the world is about to experience a biomedical revolution, the way vaccines did. However, as humanity begins to control more and more of its genetic code, there are several questions that we’re going to tackle. Should we change the genetic code? How far should we go? When does genetic engineering cease to be morally permissible?

Genes are who we are. More and more experiments are starting to show that they play a considerable role in shaping our personality. Consider this: you and your spouse are looking to have a child. But not just any child: the perfect child. A child who will be free from any disease. A child with unparalleled looks. A child whose IQ would put even Einstein’s to shame. Wouldn’t you want that? A better world, a better life for that child? With CRISPR and bioengineering, we can do that. That dream could be a reality.

But here’s the thing: we shouldn’t. Using CRISPR in the fashion above is a wonderful idea; however, selectively choosing Embryos? The reason is quite simple: the entire idea is inherently unequal. If doing this requires a paywall of sorts, then those with money will always remain in power, because the advantages they already have will only be increased. It would be impossible for anyone who isn’t part of the millionaire class (like genetic editing would ever become cheap) to rise up in society. Genetics do play a role in intelligence (or at least, IQ tests). Imagine if only the ultra rich were allowed the keys to knowledge?

The implication is this: it allows for genetic discrimination. If you have a gene that has a BRAC1/2 mutation, then your insurance may say that it’s a preexisting condition, and refuse to help cover the cost of healthcare. Or perhaps, employers would only look at the genetic code, instead of the person’s character and work ethic.

I’m not saying that these things WILL happen- but rather, they are logical extensions of what could happen. But genetic engineering, as a method of treatment? Yes.

Let’s continue the discussion. Let me know in the comments what you think about bioengineering and gene editing!

Image Credit: http://www.vibconferences.be/sites/default/files/styles/conference_intro_image/public/event-images/%5Bnid%5D/picture_copy_0.jpg?itok=OR7cyJPF

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